Friday, January 04, 2013

Law 'won't affect' suicidal women travelling for abortions

Most pregnant women who have suicidal thoughts and want an abortion will still go to England to have one even if the law is changed here, according to one of the country’s only perinatal psychiatrists.

Dr Anthony McCarthy, who works in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin, also said that pregnant women presenting with suicidal thoughts while pregnant is a rare event. 

In an interview in today’s Irish Times health supplement, Dr McCarthy said pregnant women who are suicidal and want an abortion will not want to wait for the judgment of medical professionals before making their decision.

The expert group on abortion recommended that two psychiatrists and an obstetrician should decide whether or not a pregnant woman’s suicide threat is genuine before allowing her to have an abortion.

Dr McCarthy said: “If a woman feels really suicidal in pregnancy and they want to get rid of that baby, they are not going to come into me in Holles Street. They are going to go to the UK. The circumstances in which this happens are rare. The circumstances are going to remain rare.”

Threats versus ideation 

Dr McCarthy said psychiatrists distinguished between suicidal ideation and suicidal threats. Suicidal ideation means that somebody has an idea to kill themselves and usually wants to get rid of those thoughts by talking to somebody about it.

This is different, he says, from suicidal intent where the person is actually planning to kill themselves: professional help is essential in these circumstances. A third scenario is where a person presents threatening to kill themselves. They, in turn, feel threatened by their feelings and want help.

“Another person may say they will kill themselves unless some specific thing happens. They are seeking a specific solution and are telling us this deliberately, and this must be understood differently again and assessed appropriately and professionally.”

Dr McCarthy said psychiatrists were well trained to assess the genuineness of a suicide threat. 

The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children will begin three days of hearings into the abortion issue next Tuesday.

The committee will hear contributions from medical practitioners, legal experts, representatives of churches, religious groups and advocacy groups.

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