Concerns over doctors unfounded, says Binchy
Trinity College professor William Binchy has dismissed claims that doctors will remain legally vulnerable without abortion legislation.
On Tuesday, Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, told the Oireachtas committee she needed to know “that I will not go to jail if in good faith I believe it is the right thing to save a woman’s life to terminate a pregnancy”.
Replying to the committee yesterday, Prof Binchy said the concern that doctors would be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned, was not real. “The law operates in this area on the basis of a bona fide approach on the part of doctors.” People had to take reasonable care relating to the law of negligence. “We must take reasonable care driving a car, minding children and, specifically, doctors must take reasonable care of their patients.” A “level of lack of specificity, lack of legislation, lack of nailing everything down is part of medical practice throughout all disciplines”.
Prof Binchy said what was required was clarity in the law rather than, necessarily, legislation. “The word ‘legislation’ has, at this stage, equalled X decision, Supreme Court case.” He added that there could be clarification provided by protocols and standards of practice with the greatest of specificity.
Prof Binchy argued that the first incorrect aspect of the Government’s position was that the European Court of Human Rights required Ireland to introduce legislation in accordance with the Supreme Court decision of 20 years ago. “In that case, the Supreme Court, having heard no evidence from any psychiatrist, held that it was lawful to take the life of an unborn child on the ground of suicidal ideation. The European court does not require us to give legislative substance to such an unjust and mistaken decision.’’
What it required, said Prof Binchy, was something quite different: that our law in medical care during pregnancy be transparent and that there be a possibility of review or appeal from medical decisions.
Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness said doctors were worried. “I am sure they probably know that the Director of Public Prosecutions is not out there watching every doctor waiting to prosecute them. But it is there in the back of their minds.”
Ms McGuinness, who stressed she was present as a lawyer, said the Supreme Court had reached its decision in the X case with an authoritative interpretation of the wording of the 1983 constitutional amendment. “There have been other cases since, some of them not very well known because they were held in camera. But this interpretation stands.”
Ms McGuinness said thousands of Irish women travelled abroad for abortions. “To say that we have no abortion in Ireland is simply not true. We have abortion in Ireland – we just have it elsewhere.”