Abortion Bill risks normalising suicide, says leading psychiatrist

Prof Kevin Malone warns of sending wrong signal to vulnerable young men

Prof Kevin Malone of UCD at the launch of his report Suicide in Ireland 2003-2008 yesterday. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Prof Kevin Malone of UCD at the launch of his report Suicide in Ireland 2003-2008 yesterday. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

 

The Government’s plans to legislate for abortion could have the unintended consequence of pushing more young men towards suicide, according to a leading psychiatrist.

The inclusion of a suicide clause in the legislation could cost more lives than it saved by “normalising” it, Prof Kevin Malone told the second day of the Oireachtas health committee’s hearing on the proposed abortion Bill .

Dr Malone, professor of psychiatry in UCD and co-founder of the charity Turn the Tide of Suicide, had earlier in the day launched a major report on suicide among Irish males. By highlighting suicide, the State could be seen as legitimising it, thereby sending the wrong signal to young men who were most at risk, he warned.

There were sharp divergences in the stance of the 13 psychiatrists who gave evidence to the committee yesterday, with claims by some witnesses that they were excluded from the decision-making process of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland.

The college, which supports the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, said its position was arrived at by its council, the decision-making body representing more than 800 psychiatrists in the State.


Lack of unanimity
Amid the continuing lack of unanimity among professionals over inclusion of the threat of suicide as a ground for providing a termination, there were also signs of further restiveness among Fine Gael backbenchers over the proposals.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames described abortion as “a medieval solution to crisis pregnancy” and said Ireland had “done the right thing” by waiting so long to legislate for the X case. She shared Prof Malone’s concerns that Ireland could be “legitimising” suicide by including it in legislation on abortion.

Dublin TD Peter Mathews accused the Government of rushing the Bill and said he wished the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were present for the hearings. “This is their Bill and they should be here, not just the Minister for Health. They’re over there in America but here is where the focus is for this country.”

About 50 anti-abortion activists protested against the attendance of Taoiseach Enda Kenny outside the Boston College graduation ceremony, where he was the guest speaker yesterday. The protesters held placards and banners outside the college’s Alumni Stadium where the ceremony took place, objecting to his appearance over the Government’s abortion legislation.


‘Hopelessly divided’
Independent Senator Ronan Mullan summarised the first two days of evidence at the Oireachtas hearings by saying that “the obstetricians are split over abortion and the psychiatrists are hopelessly divided”. That “tells its own story,” he said.

Dr Anthony McCarthy, president of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and one of only three perinatal psychiatrists in the country, acknowledged there was a wide range of opinions in the profession on abortion, reflecting the deep divisions in society on the issue.

He said the issue was seldom black and white, and attempts to present it as such did a great disservice to anyone with mental health issues.

“The question here is not ‘does abortion treat suicide?’ but is there ever a case where a woman will kill herself because of an unwanted pregnancy, and if so, what can we do to save her life and would that ever be a termination of pregnancy? This Bill is about legislating for that very small but real possibility”.