Doctors must not allow their personal moral standards to influence their treatment of pregnant women, Irish Medical Council president Prof Kieran Murphy has said.
Prof Murphy told the opening session of
Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children hearing into abortion this
morning that those with a conscientious objection to a course of action
must explain this to patents and make the names of other doctors
available to them.
"The right of conscientious objection must be
balanced against the right of the patient, particularly in the case of a
medical emergency," he added.
The 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 politicians.
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.
The hearings are part of
three-step process to arrive at a legislative solution to end the
uncertainty over what is legally permissible with abortion.
Prof Murphy said legislation and/or regulations should set out criteria for independent monitoring of the proposed structures.
to the judgement in the A, B and C v Ireland of the European Court of
Human Rights, 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.
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.
He said it was a
matter for the Oireachtas to pass the legislation on the issue, adding
that the protection of the public was paramount. The guidelines
published by the council were not a legal code but must be consistent
with the law, he said.
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 legislation.
There will be further public consultation.
Once that 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.
The hearings 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
submissions. 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.
Dr John Crown, a committee
member from Seanad Éireann, doesn’t agree with the inclusion of churches
or lobby groups. He said yesterday that the committee was being asked
to assess the information in preparation for legislation and that
information should be medical and technical. He said views for and
against abortion should be for another forum.