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A survey of health professionals' views on acceptable gestational age and termination of pregnancy for fetal anomaly.

  • Crowe, Lisa1
  • Graham, Ruth H2
  • Robson, Stephen C3
  • Rankin, Judith4
  • 1 Institute of Health & Society, Baddiley-Clark Building, Newcastle University, NE2 4AX, UK. Electronic address: [email protected]
  • 2 School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, 5th Floor Claremont Bridge Building, Newcastle University, NE1 7RU, UK.
  • 3 Institute of Cellular Medicine, 3rd Floor William Leech Building, Newcastle University, NE2 4HH, UK.
  • 4 Institute of Health & Society, Baddiley-Clark Building, Newcastle University, NE2 4AX, UK.
Published Article
European journal of medical genetics
Publication Date
May 16, 2018
DOI: 10.1016/j.ejmg.2018.05.011
PMID: 29777898


Termination of pregnancy for fetal anomaly is legal in the UK with no upper limit, if two doctors, in good faith, agree "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped". This is Clause E of the Human Fertlisation and Embryology Act. The most commonly sighted Clause is C, which states "the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman". This study aimed to investigate health professionals' views on gestational age and acceptable termination of pregnancy for fetal anomaly (TOPFA). We undertook a questionnaire survey of UK health professionals working in fetal medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology and neonatology. A study pack consisting of a self-completion questionnaire, an invitation letter, participant information sheet, and a stamped addressed return envelope, were sent to health professionals. We used four fetal anomalies as case study examples in the questionnaire: isolated cleft lip, hypoplastic left heart, spina bifida and trisomy 21. These anomalies were chosen as they differed in terms of the type of anomaly, the type of impairment, and the perceived severity. Forty-one study packs were returned. For anomalies deemed less serious, later gestational ages were an important consideration when deciding acceptable TOPFA. The prognosis of an anomaly was considered an important factor in deciding whether a TOPFA was acceptable alongside gestational age. Clause C of the current UK legislation, which allows a legal termination prior to 24 weeks gestational age if continuing with the pregnancy would impact the mental health of the mother, was deemed a reasonable option for termination when parents are requesting a TOPFA. For each case study example, health professionals responded that TOPFA at '25 weeks and over' was acceptable (cleft lip n = 1; hypoplastic left heart n = 19; spina bifida n = 13 and Trisomy 21 n = 10). Professionals also distinguished between their personal and professional views. These findings offer new insight into how gestational age considerations influence professionals' conceptualisation of acceptable TOPFA.

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