News

BMA annual meeting: Doctors who carry out abortions should not face criminal sanctions, says BMA

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j3116 (Published 28 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j3116

Re: BMA AGM 2017 On Abortion – A Damning Verdict on My Genetic Defect and Family Members’.

BMA AGM 2017 On Abortion – A Damning Verdict on My Genetic Defect and Family Members’.

The news published by Abi Rimmer and Rebecca Coombes [1] made me think of those of us born with genetic defects. Pregnancies have been terminated in the UK for extra digits found on Ultrasound Scan. I was born with extra digits (as are 1% of all Ghanaians [2]). Wind forward several decades and, in the UK, you will find the likes of me have been aborted. I joined those who voted Tuesday 27 June to reject Motion 50. I first revealed my Mendelian Dominant extra-digits inheritance in the BMJ July 21 1984 [3] when I protested against aborting sickle cell disease phenotypes after prenatal diagnosis. What I said so impressed Professor Sir David Weatherall FRS of Oxford University that he reproduced my objections verbatim in his priceless book "The New Genetics and Clinical Practice" [4, pages 246-247].

GENETICISTS WITH AN ETHICAL DIMENSION

Sir David and another world famous Human Geneticist Professor George Fraser [5] are among a very few top rate human geneticists with an ethical dimension. As I write today, pregnant women from Africa and Mediterranean countries in the UK are routinely screened for sickle cell disease phenotypes with a view to advising abortion. I can name scores of adult sickle cell disease persons (patients) who are eminently brighter and often more beautiful than siblings without sickle cell disease. Education plus non-intervention Genetic Counselling is the answer [6], not aborting would-be geniuses some of whom though not ever having Hb levels above 9 grams per deci-Litre were yet able to become great Achievers. Sadly too, some doctors do not even know the difference between Sickle Cell Disease and Sickle Cell Trait and have gone on to abort Sickle Cell Traits. My book "The Sickle Cell Disease Patient" [7] which was reviewed in The Lancet by Sir David Weatherall [8] shows the cover photo of a Ghanaian family with a world record: Sickle Cell Disease man marrying a Sickle Cell Disease woman, and producing 13 children (9 alive) none, as expected, with a single normal haemoglobin gene. This book caused anger in some quarters in the UK when I asked: “Should all this family of 13 have been aborted because every one of them had a disease phenotype?”

I myself come from a family with Abnormal Haemoglobin Trait parents who had 11 of us, 3 with sickle cell disease, 4 with Trait, and 4 with normal Hb genes from each parent. My parents would certainly have qualified in the UK now to be advised in each pregnancy for my mother to submit to ante-natal diagnosis and selective abortion of my then immediate elder brother Victor Agbetey, my immediate younger brother Jerry Tei and the fifth of their 11 children beautiful Sussie Koryo all three of whom had sickle cell disease known in the tribe as hereditary cold-season rheumatism (hemikom) [9]

WHO WILL SPEAK UP FOR THOSE WITH THESE GENETIC DEFECTS?

I have written about this matter many times [3 6 7 9-12]. Abi Rimmer and Rebecca Coombes mention Melody Redman at this BMA 2017 AGM as saying: “Fundamentally this motion is about removing the legal safeguards which are currently in place to balance the rights of women with those of the developing fetus. The law had an important role in safe guarding the vulnerable” [1]. Quite so! O for more humane Human Geneticists like Sir David Weatherall and Professor George Fraser in this country that I love so much!.

Conflict of Interest: Ability to discern the vast difference between human rites (renamed “rights”) and Divine Rights is considered now in UK something to be declared as a Conflict of Interest in writing this article even when I am known as a believer in The Lord Jesus Christ.

Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu MD(Lond) FRCP(Lond) FRCP(Glasg) DTMH (L’pool) FGA FGCP FTWAS FWACP Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics, University of Cape Coast Ghana and Former Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle Cell and Other Haemoglobinopathies, 9 Harley Street, London WIG 9AL

felix@konotey-ahulu.com Twitter@profkonoteyahul

References

1 Rimmer Abi, Coombes Rebecca – News BMA annual meeting: Doctors who carry out abortions should not face criminal sanctions. BMJ 2017; 357: j3116 June 28.
https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j3116

2. Bonney GE, Walker M, Gbedemah K and Konotey-Ahulu FID. Multiple births and visible birth defects in 13000 consecutive deliveries in one Ghanaian hospital. In Proceedings of the Second International Congress on Twin Studies Part C Ed Nance W. Progress in Clinical and Biological Research 1978; 24 Pt B: 105-108.

3. Konotey-Ahulu FID. Ethical issues in prenatal diagnosis. BMJ Clin Res Ed 1984; 289(6438): 185..http://www.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/289/6438/185-a.pdf July 21

4. Weatherall DJ. Ethical issues and related problems arising from the application of the new genetics to clinical practice Chapter 12 (pages 347-348) of The New Genetics and Clinical Practice Oxford University Press Third Edition 1991.

5 Fraser GR. Human Genetics Today: Hopes and Risks. In Fifty Years of Human Genetics – A Festschrift and Liber Amicorum To Celebrate the Life and Work of George Robert Fraser Ed. Oliver Mayo & Carolyn Leach, Wakefield Press South Australia 2007, pages 299-309.

6 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Sickle Cell Disease: The Case for Family Planning. ASTAB Books Ltd. Accra, Ghana 1973.

7.. Konotey-Ahulu FID. The Sickle Cell Disease Patient. Natural History from a clinico-epidemiological study of the first 1550 patients of Korle Bu Hospital Sickle Cell Clinic. The Macmillan Press Ltd 1991/92 London & Basingstoke. Reprinted Tetteh-A’Domeno Company Watford Herts 1996.

8 Weatherall DJ. The Sickle Cell Disease Patient by FID Konotey-Ahulu. Book Review. Lancet Vol. 337, p 1590. June 29 1991.

9.... Konotey-Ahulu FID. Sickle Cell Disease in successive Ghanaian generations for three centuries. In FID Konotey-Ahulu The Human Genome Diversity Project: Cogitations of An African Native. Politics and the Life Sciences (PLS) 1999, Vol 18: No 2, pp 317-322. [Invited Commentary on Professor David Resnik's article: The Human Genome Diversity Project: Ethical Problems and Solutions]

10. Konotey-Ahulu FID. Antenatal diagnosis of haemoglobinopathies March 12 1977. thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(82)92572-7 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(77)92020-7 Lancet 309 (8011) 597-98.

11.... .Konotey-Ahulu FID. Antenatal screening for sickle cell disease and beta-thalassaemia. BMJ Rapid Response Oct 12 2010 ] http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c5132/reply#bmj_el_242914

12. Konotey-Ahulu FID. Antenatal sickle cell disease haemoglobinopathy screening. http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c5243/reply#bmj_el_243447 Rapid Resp Oct 2010

Competing interests: Conflict of Interest: Ability to discern the vast difference between human rites (renamed “rights”) and Divine Rights is considered now in UK something to be declared as a Conflict of Interest in writing this article even when I am known as a believer in The Lord Jesus Christ.

30 June 2017
Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu
Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of Cape Coast, Ghana
Former Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle Cell & Other Haemoglobinopathies 9 Harley Street, London W1G 9AL
14 Imperial Way, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP3 9FJ England.