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Wednesday 1 March 2017

Listen to doctors on guidelines for abortion - expert

Prof Rebecca Cook, Prof Emeritus Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital and Dr Caitriona Henchion at the Irish Family Planning Association's meeting to discuss what regulatory framework could follow repeal of the Eighth Amendment to support best medical practice in reproductive healthcare. Photo: Arthur Carron
Prof Rebecca Cook, Prof Emeritus Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital and Dr Caitriona Henchion at the Irish Family Planning Association's meeting to discuss what regulatory framework could follow repeal of the Eighth Amendment to support best medical practice in reproductive healthcare. Photo: Arthur Carron

A leading obstetrician who chaired a panel of inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar has described the criminalisation of women seeking an abortion as "unacceptable".

Prof Sabaratnam Arulkumaran also said his fellow obstetricians should assemble a forum and advise the Government on Ireland's guidelines on abortion.

The distinguished healthcare professional was speaking at the Irish Family Planning Association's (IFPA) annual seminar last night, which also invited members of the public to enter the discussion.

Tackle

The seminar, entitled "Reforming Ireland's abortion laws: Developing women-centred healthcare practice in post- repeal Ireland", discussed measures that could be taken should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.

"My thought would be to assemble all obstetricians into a forum to take the responsibility to tackle this problem, but it can't be tackled as an individual," he said.

"Who else can provide the guidelines and disadvantages to lawyers and Governments other than our own profession?

"If a woman goes to get an abortion, it isn't as if she is going to the dentist. She is going under severe trauma, and yet she is treated like a criminal. That is unacceptable."

Prof Arulkumaran chaired the panel of inquiry into the death of Ms Halappanavar, who was denied a termination after suffering a septic miscarriage.

Ms Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, was admitted to Galway University Hospital in October 2012 when she was 17 weeks pregnant.

A developing infection went undetected and she was repeatedly refused a termination because the foetal heartbeat was present. Days later, she went into septic shock and died.

Also speaking at the seminar was Dr Rhona Mahony, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, who said medics should not have legal matters as their primary consideration.

"As a medical professional and practitioner, we have many challenges for our patients, which we see on a daily basis," she said.

"My difficulty is that clinical decision-making is distorted by our current constitution and, at the same time, our constitution protects women who wish to travel outside of Ireland for an abortion.

"Our primary consideration should be clinical, it should not be legal, and sometimes we find clinical decision-making is distorted. This is not a good thing."

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