Suicide criteria could strain services - psychiatrist

Thu, Dec 20, 2012, 00:00

Mental health:Allowing the threat of suicide as a ground for terminating a pregnancy could place further strain on the State’s already stretched mental health services, a consultant psychiatrist has said.

Speaking after the Government committed to use a combination of legislation supported by regulations to allow limited abortion, Dr Siobhán Barry said she was pleased to see greater clarity being brought to the “limbo situation” facing her colleagues in obstetrics.

The move would add “some level of clarity, certainty and protection all round”, she said.

Asked about the possibility of abortion being allowed when suicide was regarded as a risk to the life of the mother, as outlined in the 1992 X case judgment, Dr Barry said she was “somewhat uncomfortable about suicide in and of itself as a reason” for abortion.

She said considerable numbers of Irish women went to the UK to have pregnancies terminated annually and that in many cases it was not an easy decision and placed considerable stress on the woman.

Dr Barry said she was fearful that people with enduring mental illnesses and psychotic disorders could come second if vying for care with “articulate” people who “have needs that they want to have met in a very short time frame”.

“ With the mental health services configured as they are at the moment, I could see potentially a huge increase in demand for services to the detriment of people with enduring mental illness who won’t be able to articulate their needs as well.”

Patricia Casey, professor of psychiatry at UCD and consultant at the Mater hospital, said a measure to allow abortion on the grounds of suicidality would be “unnecessary” and there was no evidence that abortion worked as a treatment for suicidality in pregnancies.

Former master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Peter Boylan said: “At the moment it is very difficult for us to know how sick a woman has to be before a termination is a reasonable proposition and we would be hopeful that the new situation will bring some clarity . . .”