Legal clarity sought on issue


Medical council:It was in the public interest that doctors had legal clarity when making clinical decisions on terminations, Irish Medical Council president Kieran Murphy told the hearing.

“Insofar as legislation, underpinned by regulations, will provide that clarification to doctors, the council supports its introduction.”

Prof Murphy also said doctors must not allow their personal moral standards to influence their treatment of pregnant women, and those with a conscientious objection to a course of action must explain this to patients and make the names of other doctors available.

“The right of the conscientious objection must be balanced against the right of the patient, particularly in the case of a medical emergency,” he said. Legislation and/or regulations should set out criteria for independent monitoring of the proposed structures to be put in place.

On the qualifications of doctors, the council believed clinical decision-makers must be registered in the specialist division of the register of medical practitioners. This required that a doctor had undertaken medical education and training benchmarked to the highest international standards, he said.

Public protection

Replying to committee members, Prof Murphy said it was a matter for the Oireachtas to pass legislation on the issue, adding that the protection of the public was paramount. Guidelines published by the council were not a legal code but must be consistent with the law.

Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh sought a definition of a distinction between abortion, termination of pregnancy and therapeutic intervention. “What is the evidence base for suicide as a grounds for termination, in your view, today?” he asked.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, also of Fianna Fáil, said he understood Prof Murphy had said the guidelines were awarded the stamp of approval for plain English. “Do you still believe that the guidelines are plain English?” he asked.

Fine Gael TD Terence Flanagan asked what clinical research supported the idea that abortion was an appropriate treatment for suicide.

Prof Murphy said the council had produced its draft guidance after consultation with all stakeholders. It received complaints if a doctor was deemed in breach of the guide and, to the best of his knowledge, no such complaints had been received.

On suicide, the principles underlying the council’s guidelines were that doctors needed to be well-informed when making clinical decisions.

The council’s guidelines were not the only point of reference doctors worked through, he added.