Disposing of aborted embryos has become a major political and ethical dispute in Texas. As of December 19, new regulations from the Health Department will force abortion clinics and hospitals to cremate or bury foetal tissue, no matter what the stage of development. Texas will be the first state to require this.
Until now, clinics in Texas used third-party special waste services for fetal remains. Previous rules permitted foetal remains to be combined with other medical tissue, ground up and treated as sewage, incinerated, or handled by some other approved process before being disposed of in a landfill.
The new rules are the latest battleground over abortion rights in Texas. Back in June, the US Supreme Court struck down Texas regulations which required abortions to be performed in hospital-like surgical centers and for doctors to have admitting rights in nearby hospitals. If implement, these regulations might have closed more than half of abortion clinics in Texas.
In the wake of the controversy over the sale of foetal tissue by Planned Parenthood clinics, Governor Greg Abbott declared a “life initiative” to “protect the unborn and prevent the sale of baby body parts”. The requirement for burial and cremation is part of this. ““I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life,” the governor wrote in a fund-raising email to supporters.
Abortion-rights supporters are up in arms. They claim that the regulations will add substantially to the cost of abortions. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas says that cremation or burial serves “no medical benefit and [does] nothing but impose an undue burden on Texans seeking abortion care”.
A spokeswoman for the Health Department denied this. “What we found through our research is that the proposed rules won’t increase total costs for healthcare facilities,” she told the Dallas Morning News. “While the methods described in the new rules may have a cost, that cost is expected to be offset by costs currently being spent by facilities on disposition for transportation, storage, incineration, steam disinfection and/or landfill disposal.”
Expect another visit to the US Supreme Court.
California’s assisted suicide law came into effect on June 9. Betsy Davis, an artist with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was one of the first to take advantage of the legislation. She drank a lethal cocktail on July 23, after a long party with close friends. I’m afraid that we missed the story at the time.
Reading her sister’s account of Betsy’s death, which is full of loving sorrow at her passing, I was struck by how quickly Californians started to ignore all the careful safeguards. It is clearly specified in the law that the person must “self-administer” the drug. But she was too weak to hold the cup and drink it quickly, so her friends held it for her. They may have broken the law.
People tend to think that a lethal barbiturate brings about death quickly. This wasn’t true in Betsy’s case – she lingered on for four hours. Given that the drug was a homemade cocktail of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate which smelled like paint, her friends were “lucky” that it worked. Some assisted suicide patients in Oregon have woken up to discover that their suicide has failed.
It wasn’t a good beginning for the law.
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