Family and Life, Iona Institute, Pro Life Campaign and Youth Defence (Continued)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Joint Committee on Health and Children Debate
Vol. 1 No. 66

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Ms Caroline Simons:] The Government should give a commitment to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe that guidelines will be drawn up by the appropriate bodies of medical expertise within the medical profession based on medical practice, addressing the case of A, B and C v. Ireland and giving the clarity required. The Government should give a commitment that the difficulties associated with the X case will be examined and the options for clarifying identified and that it will keep the committee informed of progress. The Committee of Ministers has acknowledged a significant increase in the number of cases relating to complex and sensitive issues which it needs more time to resolve.

  This issue is, indeed, complex and it is certainly sensitive, but this committee's efforts over the last few days have clarified much of what was confused. For this, we owe the committee our thanks. Now that they are clearly identified we may finally address the problems posed by the X case and ensure that every woman in Ireland can be confident of the continued highest standard of maternal and foetal care.

Dr. Eoghan de Faoite: I would like to share my time with Dr. Seán Ó Domhnaill of the Life Institute.

  My name is Dr. Eoghan de Faoite. I am a medical doctor and a member of Youth Defence, a pro-life group. I have been involved in pro-life activities since my late teens and I thank everyone for the inviting me to address the committee on the current debate.

  First, the 2010 decision of the European Court of Human Rights on the A, B and C v. Ireland case is, largely, the reason we find ourselves in this room today. Contrary to many media reports and some statements made by Government officials and others on the ruling, the European Court of Human Rights did not demand or even require that Ireland legislate for abortion. In fact, no legal right to abortion exists in the European Convention. Instead, the court asked that Ireland provide clarity which can, of course, be provided without legislating for the X case.

  Second, abortion and maternal health care is the crux of this issue. It goes without saying that Ireland is a world leader in maternal health. Our excellent track record and high standards of maternal health care, coupled with our extremely low rate of maternal mortality, are second to none. We have achieved such high standards without legalised abortion. This is because Irish obstetricians and other specialists will always intervene to save the life of a mother when she has a life-threatening complication of pregnancy. This practice of intervening, which includes premature delivery of the baby even when the baby has little of no chance of surviving, is permitted in Ireland today. It is permitted under Irish law and by the Medical Council's ethical guidelines and is within pro-life principles. As a medical practitioner, I believe the current Medical Council's guidelines are crystal clear on the question of intervening in pregnancy when a woman's life is at risk. I echo Professor Fionnuala McAuliffe's recent comments that obstetricians know they have absolute freedom to intervene to save the life of a woman, even if it means the loss of the life of her unborn baby.

  This brings us to a crucial distinction which was clarified during this committee's hearing on Tuesday last but is all too often misunderstood. That is the distinction between the termination of pregnancy and the termination of the life of a child. Irish doctors have such freedom to intervene under current Medical Council guidelines because there is a clear difference between intervening to save a woman's life, which includes premature delivery of the baby, and abortion, which intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child. The blurring of the distinction between these two practices is what is contributing to public confusion. Birth, an emergency caesarean section and premature induction of labour are all terminations of pregnancy. Thanks to the expertise of our obstetricians and neonatologists many of these premature babies survive. How can these be described as an abortion?

  The questions offered by Senator John Crown directly addressed this distinction during the hearing on Tuesday. Senator Crown asked if it is necessary in permitting a life-saving termination of pregnancy to kill the foetus in utero or can the pregnancy be delivered to give the life-saving treatment the woman needs. The Master of the National Maternity Hospital responded by saying:

We never kill a foetus. That is not our aim. Occasionally it is required that we deliver a pregnancy before the baby is viable or capable of surviving in our neonatal intensive care unit. When there is any possibility at all that we can preserve the life of the baby we will do so. We are able to do so from very low gestations, from 23 weeks on and in those cases Members can be very certain that we will make every effort to preserve life.

  It was also established that there were no known instances where a mother had needlessly lost her life because of any supposed lack of clarity in the legal framework.

  Third, claims are often made by pro-abortion campaigners that women need to leave Ireland to access, so called, life-saving abortions in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. Many of my medical colleagues find it grossly insulting to their profession to suggest that we are risking women's lives by not permitting abortion in Ireland. Almost always, these claims are made without foundation or fact. Figures freely available under Freedom of Information legislation from the Department of Health show these claims to be entirely false. The most recent data from the Department of Health for the years 1992 to 2010, inclusive, show that zero abortions were carried out on Irish women in Britain under category F of the Abortion Act which records abortions carried out to save the life of the mother. Furthermore, zero abortions were carried out on Irish women in Britain during the same period under category G, which records abortions carried out "to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother". That number is zero because Irish women are never denied the life-saving care they need during pregnancy. A review of this evidence, easily undertaken, reveals that Irish women are not travelling to the United Kingdom to undergo, so called, life-saving abortions because they are being denied treatment in Ireland. The truth remains that Irish women are safe in Ireland and are receiving, today, whatever life-saving treatments they need.

Dr. Seán Ó Domhnaill: Members of the committee, members of the public and public representatives, I am a consultant in general adult psychiatry working in the public, independent and voluntary sectors where I deal with the broadest possible case mix. I have also worked as a consultation liaison psychiatrist with particular responsibility for perinatal psychiatry in Ireland for more than two of the last three years.

  I began my career in psychiatry in Jersey in 1997 one month before the legalisation of abortion on that island. My very first assessment of an attempted suicide victim occurred in my first weekend on call in Jersey when I was asked to review a 19 year old girl who had taken a large overdose of medication. During the assessment, when I asked her why she had sought this ending to her life, she indicated that she had been pressured six months earlier by her parents and boyfriend to undergo a termination of pregnancy, and because abortion was not legal in Jersey at that time she was forced to travel to Southampton where she had the abortion against her will. Six months later she had descended into a profound depression and attempted to end her life as a result. At the time of the assessment as I tried to discuss with her how she would recover from this depression, and I remember it clearly, she said, "Can you tell me I have not killed my own baby? Can you tell me I can undo what I have done? Can you tell me how to bring my baby back?".

  I hope I am in a better position today to answer those questions which are asked of me on a frequent basis. In may day-to-day work I frequently come across women who find themselves in situations they describe as crisis pregnancies or unplanned pregnancies. In the past 12 months alone, I can refer to a case of a lady who, 22 years previously, had undergone an abortion. Her husband reported that in the intervening 22 years, for a period of approximately three weeks around the anniversary of the abortion, she suffered a marked depressive mood. I also know of a 21 year old patient who presented for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, having had an abortion on the advice of her mother and her aunts seven years previously. These people have been left out of the hearings, to a large extent.

  The third edition of Revision Notes in Psychiatry, edited by Professor Basant Puri, which is the major text book on psychiatry states, "Only 10% of women suffer with severe or prolonged sequelae as a result of induced abortion". The word "only" shows the approach being taken to women who suffer as a result of abortion. This percentage amounts to approximately 19,000 women in Britain and 400 in Ireland per year.

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