Medical Council ready to reconsider guidance if law changed
REACTION:The Medical Council would reconsider the guidance it provides to doctors on abortion if the legal position changed, its president said.
Prof Kieran Murphy said the council’s guidelines on abortion were decided in 2009 after extensive consultation, and reflected the legal position at the time. If this situation were to change, the council would “obviously reconsider its guidance”.
The guidelines say that where rare complications arise, termination of a pregnancy may be required at a stage where there may be little or no hope of a baby surviving. In such circumstances, “it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”
While the guidelines have attracted some criticism in the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s death, Prof Murphy pointed out that they were awarded a stamp of approval for “plain English” from the National Adult Literacy Agency.
He was speaking at the council’s annual conference in Dublin, where, despite a lengthy discussion under the heading “The Medical Moral Maze”, there was no debate on the dilemmas facing doctors around abortion.
Master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street Dr Rhona Mahony called for more guidance to help doctors deal with a “grey area” arising in cases where there was a risk to the mother’s life.
Dr Mahony said she was concerned that the X case and Supreme Court judgments on the issue were “open to interpretation” and were somewhat ambiguous. “We’re looking for more clarity in cases where, although the mother is not immediately at risk of dying, there could be a real risk to her life as the pregnancy develops.”
Dr John Monaghan, a consultant obstetrician at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, said he didn’t know of any clinician who had found himself in a serious quandary over the law on terminating pregnancies.
Dr Monaghan, who was involved in drafting the council guidelines, said he never felt inhibited by legal constraints in his 35 years of obstetric practice.
In the aftermath of the inquiry into Dr Michael Neary, who was found to have carried out excessive hysterectomies at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, some practitioners were hesitant in dealing with pregnant women who presented with unmanageable bleeding, he said. This could contribute to a delay in treatment in some cases.
A doctor should always act in the best interests of the mother even if this leads to the death of her unborn child, said Dr Monaghan, who is anti-abortion and organised a symposium on maternal healthcare along with other doctors of a similar view last September.
However, Dr Monaghan said Ms Halappanavar’s case was being used for “a different agenda” to legalise abortion.