You have to feel sorry for the electorate in Mid Bedfordshire. When they elected Nadine Dorries in 2005, I’m sure they couldn’t have know what a huge mistake they had made.
You might recall how she accused Ben Goldacre of publishing parliamentary secrets. When Goldacre pointed out that the facts he had published were in the public domain, she ignored him. When people tried to point out the errors on her web site (which she calls a blog even though it’s nothing like one) she responded by removing the ability to comment.
It’s therefore nice to be able to report that Ben has caught her out again. This time she is propagating a well-known urban legend which has been doing the rounds for almost ten years. The story goes like this. in 1999 Dr Joseph Bruner carried out an operation on a 21-week-old foetus. During the operation a photo was taken which shows the hand of the foetus apparently holding to the surgeon’s finger. Anti-abortion campaigners like to use this image to show that carrying out abortions at this age is wrong.
[Update: Previously I called the photo an "internet hoax". I think that's inaccurate. I'm not saying that the photo is faked. I'm just saying that it doesn't show what the anti-abortionists say that it shows.]
There are (at least) two problems with this. Firstly, Dr Bruner is clear that the foetus was fully anaesthetised throughout the operation. There’s no way that the foetus could have moved in the way that some people claim. Secondly, even if the foetus did move in the way described, that is no measure of the long-term viability of the foetus.
Anyway, that’s a debate that I don’t really want to go into now. The point is that the photo has been around for years and that there has been enough debate on it to at least throw severe doubt on the interpretation that the anti-abortionists (and Dorries is a loud member of that group) like to place on it. It has just taken me ten minutes with Google to work that out. Surely it’s not too much to ask that our elected representatives put in a bit of effort to verify things they publish as fact.
Let’s also remember that Dorries is very keen to mention the fact that she used to work as a nurse. So you might think that she has the medical knowledge to realise that what she is posting as fact is (at the very least) rather suspect. I know that we can’t expect MPs to be experts on every subject that they have to deal with. But this is an area where Dorries claims some level of expertise.
I don’t know if anyone in Mid Beds reads this blog. But if anyone from the constituency comes across this entry and is considering voting for Dorries in the next general election then I urge you to reconsider. The constituents of Mid Beds deserve better than this.
Update: Dorries has responded to some of the criticism in post that is laughably called “the hand of truth”. I suppose we have to give her some credit for responding. Usually she just ignores her critics completely. But her response does absolutely nothing to either address the issues or enhance her reputation as a medical expert. Firstly, she asks why the surgeon would bother to anaesthetise a foetus – apparently forgetting that the mother and the foetus share the same blood, so it’s hard to anaesthetise the mother without effecting the child. Secondly, she seems to think that the foetus must have made the incision in the uterus wall that we see in the photo as it’s jagged and no surgeon would be so untidy. I didn’t realise that a foetus had the strength to break through the mother’s skin. If that’s the case then surely it’s surprising that so many of them get carried to full term.
She also implies that the surgeon might lying about what happened because he’s in fear of the “vociferous, and unfortunately violent” pro-choice campaigners in the US. I don’t know about you, but I can’t ever remember reading about violent pro-choice campaigners. From what I’ve seen, it’s the anti-abortion campaigners that you need to worried about crossing.
But it’s how she closes which annoys me the most. She says:
Finally, don’t listen to me, don’t listen to the pro-abortionists. Trust your own eyes, believe what you see.
And she ensures that you don’t listen to the other side of the argument by failing to actually link to any of the criticism (you can find a lot of it by googling for “dorries hand of hope“). To me, that indicates that she isn’t interested in a fair debate on the subject. She just wants to lie to the electorate and push her biased view of the world.
Don’t believe what you see. Question everything you see and everything you’re told. Research the subject and see what the experts say. And decide who you’d rather believe – the surgeon who was carrying out the operation or a stupid MP who is obviously pushing an agenda.