Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony said legislation should be broad enough “to allow regulation to provide the detail and flexibility necessary to deal with current and future circumstance”.
Speaking on the opening day of hearings in the wake
of the expert group report on the European Court of Human Rights
judgment against Ireland, Dr Mahony said she supported the Government’s
option of legislation and regulation for lawful access to termination of
pregnancy in accordance with the X case.
She also called for the
removal of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act and said “I need to
know that I will not go to jail if I believe in good faith” that
maternal death would occur without pregnancy termination. She said a
mother could also be jailed under the Act.
She said “doctors must be trusted. What we are asking for is legal protection.”
of the Rotunda hospital Dr Sam Coulter Smyth said the legislation
“needs to have within it flexibility to allow the medical profession to
make appropriate decisions”. He said doctors sought a change in
legislation to support doctors in performing the life saving operations
they had to do.
He said that “in our hospital last year we had six situations where if
termination had not occurred death would have occurred” and in response
to questions from Senator John Crown about the number of terminations
nationally, suggested it was in the region of 20 to 30.
Coulter Smyth believed the incidence had risen in recent years because
of the increase in maternal age, increase in complexity of illness and
in the rise in obesity levels.
He said “we need to trust in our medical practitioners and in the judgment of those individuals”.
Mary McCaffrey of Kerry General hospital said the right to
conscientious objection in the case of pregnancy termination should be
Dr McCaffrey, representing the 12 small maternity units
across the State, where one third of Irish babies are born, said: “I
know that my peers will always act in the best interest of their
patients in emergency situations. A person who has a conscientious
objection must be allowed to follow their conscience.”
Irish Medical Council president Prof Kieran Murphy told the committee
that doctors should not allow their personal moral standards to
influence their treatment of pregnant women.
Prof Murphy said
those with a conscientious objection to a course of action must explain
this to patients and make the names of other doctors available to them.
right of conscientious objection must be balanced against the right of
the patient, particularly in the case of a medical emergency," he added.
committee has begun three days of hearings on the Government decision
to legalise abortion in limited circumstances at some point next year.
More than 40 witnesses and 20 groups
will give evidence, among them medical and legal experts, the churches,
civil society bodies, pro-choice and anti-abortion groups and
The evidence will range from complex and technical
factual material to emotive advocacy from groups representing both sides
of the debate. As such, it will be the first substantial foray into a
debate that will dominate and divide Irish political discourse
throughout 2013; as it did in 2002, in 1992 and in 1982/3.
hearings are part of three-step process to arrive at a legislative
solution to end the uncertainty over what is legally permissible with
Responding to the judgement in the A, B and C v Ireland
of the European Court of Human Rights, Prof Murphy said the council
believed that doctors should have legal clarity when making clinical
decisions, insofar as legislation underpinned by regulations, would
provide that clarification to doctors.
Replying to committee
members, Prof Murphy said that, to the best of his knowledge, the
council had not received complaints regarding the handling of the
termination of a pregnancy.
The Oireachtas committee, chaired by
Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, will draw up a report for Minister for
Health James Reilly. He and his officials will then publish draft
There will be further public consultation.
ends, the Bill will be published and debated in the Dáil. Dr Reilly has
predicted that the fresh legislation can be enacted before the summer
recess. In reality, it may be the end of the year.
have been divided into four discrete sections.
Today, members will hear
from medical experts, particularly in the areas of obstetrics, and
Tomorrow, they will hear from legal experts, particularly
from those with knowledge of the Constitution and medico-legal areas.
Thursday, the four main churches as well as the Islamic faith will make
Most of the focus will obviously be on what the Catholic
hierarchy has to say.
Later that day groups advocating anti-abortion and
pro-choice positions will appear.