Anthea McTeirnan: The Eighth Amendment shown up by two wise men

Broadside: It was December 2014, and Christmas was coming but not to everybody

“The angels were in the Four Courts last Christmas, but the angels were human.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

“The angels were in the Four Courts last Christmas, but the angels were human.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

What’s another year; for someone who’s lost everything that he owns? What’s another year; for someone who’s getting used to being alone?

As we closed the doors on 2014, and Ireland battened down the hatches for the festive season, the country was shutting up shop.

They were selling off the last of the mistletoe on Moore Street. Children were hustling to get a final shot on Santa’s lap. There were tidings of comfort and joy sweeping the nation.

Those tidings had not reached the High Court, however. The wind was rattling down the Liffey. It was cold. It was dark. The three judges, who had come in to court when their colleagues were probably wrapping presents and doing last-minute shopping, had eschewed wigs and robes for a more casual look. It was the holidays, after all.

Christmas was coming, but it was not coming to everybody.

And yet it was. A small man was about to step up and give us all the message of love we needed.

As doctors procrastinated, concerned that the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution stopped them from doing the decent thing, this man was here to plead his daughter’s case. His love for her was tangible.

Those of us in the High Court to bear witness to this nation’s indignity to women sucked in our emotion. Here was a man who was living and breathing grief. But here also was a man who was living and breathing love.

He has seen his daughter several times as her body lay in bed in a Dublin hospital, machines doing the work that her own young lungs had once done.

“I was devastated,” her father told the court. “Each time she looks worse. She is deteriorating. Her body is swelling and she has a rash on her chest.”

Last time he saw her – and he saw her often – “she didn’t look like my little girl”.

Listen here

The family was here to ask the court to allow life support to be withdrawn. They wanted the machines turned off, he said.

Her partner speaks

During the hearing, which lasted until the last window on the Advent calendar was almost opened, another man would show how much he loved this woman. Her partner, who was in court too, had been in a relationship with the woman for four years.

He was wearing black. He was young and good-looking. The man and his dead partner had two names ready, he said, one for a girl and one for a boy. He told the High Court what those names were. They were lovely. To hear them felt like another violation. The beautiful names should have gone to the grave with Ms P. They were not for us. We did not feel worthy.

The State, which had dragged this man to this cold, empty place on a winter’s day, did not feel worthy.

“I am the father of that unborn,” he said. (The courts had decided the term “unborn” should be used in preference to “baby” or “fetus”).

“I have no objection [to switching off the life support machine]” he said. “It’s the best decision.”

He loved her so much.

Her father loved her so much.

“Our decision is that the life-support machine should be turned off,” her father told the court. “We expressed that this was written into her notes. We were told that this was not possible.”

“The unborn” and the woman, whose brain was liquefying, both kept their own counsel in our perverse system.

Counsel for the “unborn” asked whether a 15-week-old fetus could be kept alive in the body of a dead woman. The medics told the court it couldn’t.

“I don’t want it to happen,” the woman’s father said simply. “My daughter is dead. I just want her to have dignity and to be put to rest.”

St Stephen’s Day decision

The four-year-old and six-year-old children of the dead woman would have to wait until Santa had been and gone before the court would return on St Stephen’s Day and reveal its decision. Her dad and her partner would have to try to eat some turkey. They would have to try to eat something while they waited for the woman they loved to be released by the Irish State.

“Both children know that their mother is sick and waiting for the angels to come and get her,” the woman’s father had told the High Court.

The angels were in Ireland’s Four Courts last Christmas, but the angels were human. The angels were men who loved two little children and wanted them to have some sort of Christmas. The angels were two men who desperately loved a woman and were prepared to fight for her dignity.

I’ve been crying such a long time

With such a lot of pain in every tear

What’s another year?

Let’s hope there are men of this calibre ready to fight for all of us women.

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