By Hilary White

LONDON, February 1, 2008 ( – Seriously disabled children should be considered non-persons and would be better off having been aborted, according to a Peer speaking in the House of Lords Tuesday. Attempting to couch her assertion in terms of children’s “rights”, Molly Baroness Meacher told the Lords that children born with severe disabilities are “not viable people”.

The comments came as the Lords debated an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, put forward by Lady Swinton, Baroness Masham of Ilton, that would have protected unborn disabled children from abortion after the 24 week gestational time limit. The amendment was defeated by 89 votes to 22.

Under Britain’s abortion law, children judged to have some form of disability, including such comparatively minor disabilities as club foot or cleft palate, can be aborted up to the time of natural birth. 

Referring to two children she knows who were born prematurely with severe cerebral palsy, Baroness Meacher said, “They were natural births. Those two children cannot breathe naturally; they have to be helped to breathe. They will never talk. They lie on their backs and can do nothing.”

“My belief is that there are children, born at those very early ages, who are not viable people. It would be in their best interests to have been aborted.”

She said, “I want to speak about the rights of the child. The Mental Capacity Act refers to the child having capacity; if they do not have capacity, it is important for the professionals to consider their best interests.”

“There rests my case. We need to consider the best interests of these babies.”

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, wrote that Baroness Meacher’s comments support what SPUC has said about recent British legislation, that it creates a mandate to kill the disabled and vulnerable. SPUC has pointed out regarding the Mental Capacity Act, “that [the term] ‘best interests’ in that legislation can be defined in such a way that mentally incapacitated patients may now be killed in their ‘best interests’.”

“Baroness Meacher,” Smeaton said, “clearly considers that her own capacity and achievements in life put her right to life in a different category from the right to life owed to people with cerebral palsy – that she is ‘viable person’ but ‘they’ are not ‘viable people’.”

Others in the Lords, however, do not share Baroness Meacher’s extreme form of eugenic thinking. Robert Shirley, Lord Ferrers, said he was “apprehensive” about abortion at early stages “because you are destroying some form of life”, and “deeply apprehensive” about abortion in later stages, since it is “difficult to tell…when [the child] becomes a human being with a soul.”

Lord Ferrers said he hoped the amendment would pass, “because I do not think it right that human beings should decide at one moment that this child, who is a human being, should not be born.”

Baroness Tonge, a leading supporter of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said that the children referred to were not “disabled human beings” but “grossly abnormal human beings”. Citing the “grotesque appearance” of children with anencephaly, Tonge said, “many of those whom I have seen bear little resemblance to human beings.”

But Baroness Williams of Crosby said the permission to kill the disabled before birth is at odds with the nation’s efforts to help disabled people throughout their lives. “We have a society where once people are born we increasingly go to extraordinary lengths to look after them if they are disabled.”

“One of the things that really frightens me is that, if we pick out the potentially disabled at the age of 25 or 26 weeks, we will sooner or later develop an attitude towards the severely disabled who have been disabled since birth,” she said.


Molly Baroness Meacher
  The House of Lords,
  London, SW1A 0PW