herald

Thursday 23 October 2014

We need law on abortion now - doctors

A SENIOR consultant in St James's Emergency department has called on the government to clarify the circumstances where an abortion is legal.

Professor PK Plunkett, a consultant in the Emergency Department at the Dublin hospital, echoed comments made by the Master of Holles Street, Dr Rhona Mahony, in calling on the government to clarify a "grey area" for doctors in the wake of Savita Halappanavar's death following a miscarriage.

In a letter published in today's Irish Times, Prof Plunkett called for legislation to clarify when doctors can intervene and terminate a pregnancy in a bid to protect the mother's life.



Termination

At present, a doctor's liberty could be at risk if he or she conducts a termination for a woman regardless of the circumstances, he wrote.

Saying he feels sad for Savita and her husband Praveen, he said he also feels sad for "all those doctors who, day in, day out, have to deal with critical illness in pregnant women".

"Theirs is a heavy burden, made all the heavier by the knowledge they are held in a legislative limbo that threatens their personal liberty and their livelihood," he said.

"The Constitution acknowledges the right to life of the unborn 'with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother'. It is that grey area which poses both a challenge to doctors and a threat to them and their patients," he added.

In the absence of modern legislation, Prof Plunkett says, there remains a real risk to the liberty or livelihood of a doctor who terminates a pregnancy for any reason in this State.

"The risk is that another person, whether a colleague, or a member of the public who comes to know of the matter, may report it to An Garda Siochana, or to the Medical Council. The inevitable outcome is a rearguard, defensive position of the doctor," he said.

Master of Dublin's Holles Street Hopspital Dr Rhona Mahony said there needed to be more guidance on when to intervene when the probability of a risk to the life of the mother leaves them in a grey area.

"I think it is very disappointing that 20 years after the 'X-Case' we don't have legislation, and I think that it really does need to happen," said Dr Mahony, stressing that women and doctors need to be protected by the law.

"I think everybody needs to be protected. The women of Ireland need to be protected, they need to know that they are going to get the appropriate health care that they need," she added.

"I think the doctors giving that health care need to know that they are also protected in their ability to do their job."



Confusion

However Dr Sam Coulter Smith, master of the Rotunda maternity hospital, said he sees no evidence of confusion in medical ranks over whether or not a woman can have an abortion if her life is at risk -- but agreed it would be preferable to have legislation to bring clarity.

"I think the majority would be of the view that if there is a risk of death and we are dealing with a foetus that is not viable, there is only one answer to that question, we bring the pregnancy to an end," he explained.

"It's a complex area. There are a whole series of issues that need to be resolved," he added.

"What is reasonably clear is that in a position where senior clinicians feel a woman's health and life is at risk then it is permissible in this country to end the pregnancy," he said.

Dr Berry Kiely, medical adviser to the Pro Life Campaign, said if legislation is introduced it "must make clear doctors have a duty of care to both mother and baby," she said.

hnews@herald.ie

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