In Britain, the Medical Research Council has established a programme to test whether multi-vitamin pills given to pregnant women can prevent spina bifida ocuring in their babies.

Two thousand high-risk mothers (most of whom already have at least one spina bifida child) will take part in the programme. While 75% of the women will take the vitamin pills, a “control group” of the other 25% (500 women), will be taking a ‘dummy’ pill containing no vitamins. These women will be tested, and, if their babies are found to be handicapped, they will be offered an abortion.

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) has mounted a campaign to try to stop this programme. A picket was established outside a store in London owned by Boots the Chemists. Boots is the pharmaceutical company which is providing pills for the project.

The campaign is being run by Mrs. Alison Davis, a spina bifida woman, who is head of the Handicap Division of the SPUC.

“The trials are completely immoral and show an utter contempt for the rights and dignity of handicapped people,” says Mrs. David. “To suggest that by a deliberate omission a handicapped baby may be conceived, but can then be killed by abortion, is to treat the handicapped as so much garbage. Everyone wants to see the true prevention of handicap, but the handicapped still have as much right to life as anybody else.”

The programme has been opposed by leading scientists and doctors working in research. Among them is Prof. R.W. Smithells, who led the original research on the use of multi-vitamins and folic acid as a means of preventing spina bifida. Others include the geneticists, Prof. Malcolm Fergus-Smith of Glasgow.

Alison David points out that the multi-vitamin treatment has already been tested and has achieved great success. “A study conducted at a number of centers in Britain under the leadership of Prof. Smithells, Leeds University, has already shown very successful results which indicated that spina bifida recurrence rate, in women given vitamins and folic acid treatment, drops to one in 150 compared to one in 20 in untreated women.”

“If all high-risk mothers were given the multi-vitamin treatment, a drop in the incidence of spina bifida would prove the effectiveness of the regime without the need for ‘dummy pills’ said Mrs. Davis

The information in this article was taken from Human Concern, the quarterly newspaper published by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child.