herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

Doctors facing jail in 'medical roulette' on abortion decisions

Colm O'Gorman, Exective Director of Amnesty International, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Salil Shetty, Sectary General of Amnesty International pictured at the Amnesty International launch of a new major report into abortion.
Colm O'Gorman, Exective Director of Amnesty International, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Salil Shetty, Sectary General of Amnesty International pictured at the Amnesty International launch of a new major report into abortion.
Dr Rhona Mahony, Master, National Maternity Hospital

ONE of the capital's leading medics has said that doctors in maternity hospitals are making complex decisions about womens' pregnancies under the shadow of possible jail sentences.

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, has warned that doctors are having to practise a form of "medical roulette" before deciding if a pregnant woman's life is sufficiently at risk to terminate her pregnancy,

She said the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013 still left doctors measuring what was a "substantial" risk to life - was it 10pc, 20pc or 80pc.

"When you're making these really complicated decisions with two lives together, with complex physiology - one of the most complex decisions you will make - and you're making it in the shadow of a criminal context, where you have a custodial sentence of 14 years, it's pretty difficult making these decision," Dr Mahony said this morning.

"You will always have the hard cases, you can't legislate for everything. But what we have to do is ensure there is flexibility for women and for the doctors, so that they can make decisions without fear of custodial sentences," she told Today FM's Anton Savage.

"We are always trying to protect life as doctors, but we do face challenging, clinical scenarios and we would like to be supported in that rather than be up against complex definitions of law. That is not helping women," she added.

Dr Mahony was speaking after the launch of the Amnesty International report on Ireland's abortion law, which, it claimed, still treats women like criminals.

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Dr Mahony

She said she would never forget the case of a pregnant woman in a hospital last Christmas who was kept alive even though she was brain dead. "I can only describe it as a macabre experiment," she added.

Speaking of the pain of having to diagnose fatal foetal abnormalities in a pregnant woman, she said while some chose to continue with the pregnancy, others would be forced to travel abroad to have a termination, away from their families.

"These families must find it particularly cruel," she added.

Anmesty's legal advisor Christine Zampras compiled the report, entitled 'She is Not a Criminal'.

She said some of the women spoken to thought of suicide. In one case a woman thought of throwing herself in front of a truck.

Among those whose cases are documented is Miss Y - the asylum seeker who sought an abortion here last year and had her baby delivered by Caesarean section. During her weeks in a maternity hospital, she warned: "I am going to tie a rope around my neck."

She had made an earlier suicide attempt which was interrupted, the report noted.

Amnesty's executive director Colm O'Gorman warned that women's health and lives would continue to be put at risk unless our laws were changed. He said the country continued to outsource abortion.

Ban

Ireland is among the few countries in Europe apart from Andorra, Malta and San Marino that bans women from getting abortions even in cases of rape, severe or fatal foetal impairment or a risk to their health, which is their human right under law.

The number of women from Ireland having abortions in the UK rose to 3,735 in 2014. It is the first rise in 12 years and means that on average, 10 women a day are travelling to the UK for abortions.

But the increase, up from 3,679 in 2013, is still far behind a high of 6,673 in 2001.

Figures from the UK Department of Health show the number and rate of abortions among Irish girls under 20 has also declined from 324 in 2013 to 273 in 2014. Eighteen to 19-year-olds make up the majority of women under 20 who are having abortions.

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