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Head of Australian Hospital at Center of Late-Term Abortion Controversy Resigns.

Controversy continues to swirl at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, where doctors aborted a 32-week-old unborn baby diagnosed with dwarfism.

Dr. John De Campo, the hospital's chief executive officer, has announced that he is stepping down at the end of September. Dr. De Campo, who served as head of the hospital for three years, had made the decision to suspend three doctors involved in the abortion and to refer them to the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria.

The abortion occurred January 31, and De Campo suspended the doctors July 2 while a hospital board considered the case. The hospital board later issued a report saying that the doctors had acted in "good faith," and they were reinstated to their positions (see NRL News, July 2000, p. 6). The Medical Practitioners Board, which investigates and disciplines doctors for misconduct, has not yet issued a report on the case.

Asserting that the public outcry over the abortion did not contribute to his resignation, De Campo told The Australian, "Those things [controversial issues] happen all the time." However, De Campo admitted that some hospital workers disagreed with his decisions.

"The medical staff didn't like the idea of suspension -- that's of course their privilege -- but I think this was a significant event and to protect the staff and the organization we need to react appropriately," he said. "I have to do what's right for the organization and I think involving the press, involving the public, in a controversial issue is what ensures our reputation is maintained."

The doctors - - an obstetrician, a clinical geneticist, and a psychiatrist - - said they considered the baby's 40-year-old mother "suicidal" when she demanded an abortion in January, The Age reported. Glenn Bowes, the hospital's medical director, told the newspaper that the woman had no previous history of mental illness.

The hospital is located in the state of Victoria. Abortions are allowed at any stage of pregnancy if a woman's life or physical or mental health is endangered, according to a 1969 state Supreme Court decision.

"Our matter of concern relates to the extent to which there was a possibility that the death of the foetus was induced prior to delivery," Bowes told The Age. "Clearly the fact that this was a late gestation pregnancy and that the foetal malformation present was not one that was lethal are matters that were substantive to our concern."

Although Bowes said he did not know which abortion procedure was used, he speculated that the baby received a lethal injection before being delivered stillborn shortly after, according to The Age.

Dwarfism, in which a person grows to less than 4 feet, 10 inches at maturity, can be caused by a number of genetic or medical conditions. Dwarfism itself is not a severe disability, although it is often accompanied by orthopedic problems that may require surgery and physical therapy.

"The overwhelming majority of LPs [Little People] enjoy normal intelligence, normal life spans, and reasonably good health," asserts the web site of Little People of America.

"We as short-statured individuals are productive members of society who must inform the world that, though we face challenges, most of them are environmental (as with people with other disabilities), and we value the opportunity to contribute a unique perspective to the diversity of our society."

Many Australians expressed outrage that the hospital board, which called the abortion "acceptable to both the patient and her experienced and respected practitioners," approved the abortion of a 32-week-old unborn baby because of a non-fatal disability.

A spokeswoman for the Short-Statured People's Association of Australia told The Age that the "decision was based on preconceived notions about dwarfism."

Her opinion was confirmed by a poll released the same week the doctors were suspended. Almost 80 percent of Victoria obstetricians polled by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute said they would approve of aborting a 13-week-old unborn baby with dwarfism, according to The Age. However, support for aborting these babies declined to 14 percent if the baby were 24 weeks old.

Others feared that the baby's death is part of a larger societal problem that values appearance over the sanctity of human life. With the mapping of the human genome, which will make it possible to identify any genetic imperfection in unborn children, it is feared that many more babies with non-fatal disabilities, like the baby killed in Melbourne, will be targeted for abortion.

"The worry is that in our quest for perfection, we may miss the point - - every life is worth living," wrote Editor Johanna Bennett of Sydney's Catholic Weekly. "It is not how perfect our beginnings are that matters, but how we live our lives. And how our children, however perfect or imperfect, live theirs too.">EN
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Title Annotation:John De Campo resigns from Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia
Author:Townsend, Liz
Publication:National Right to Life News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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