Abortion legislation should be repealed, says professor

Fergal Malone believes terminations in fatal foetal abnormality cases should be allowed

 The Rotunda: Prof Fergal Malone says the hospital wants to provide all available services for women diagnosed with a fatal foetal anomaly.  Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The Rotunda: Prof Fergal Malone says the hospital wants to provide all available services for women diagnosed with a fatal foetal anomaly. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The legislation on abortion should be repealed to allow for the termination of pregnancies involving a fatal foetal abnormality, according to a leading obstetrician.

Prof Fergal Malone, the incoming master of the Rotunda, said some of his patients were having to return the remains of their babies from the UK in shoeboxes or by courier as a result of the ban on terminations in such circumstances. This was causing huge added emotional trauma.

He said the Rotunda wanted to be able to provide all available services for women diagnosed with a foetal anomaly leading to the death of the child at birth or shortly after. At present, the hospital provides non-directive counselling to all such women, many of whom he says are “troubled and traumatised” following their diagnosis.

“My personal view on abortion has no place in that discussion, and we never reveal our personal viewpoints because we have to remain completely objective with the patient,” he said.

Complete care

Of the 50-60 women a year who receive a diagnosis of a fatal foetal anomaly such as anencephaly or trisomy 18, three-quarters opt for termination after receiving counselling. Under current legislation, such terminations cannot be performed in Ireland, so the women must travel to the UK for the procedure.

The Rotunda had a working relationship with the UK hospitals where such terminations were carried out, Prof Malone said, so it was able to “demystify” the process as much as possible.

“Once the patient has had their termination there, they return here and we give them complete care in a non-judgmental way,” he said.

Emotionally difficult

He said he was struck by how emotionally difficult it was for the women who choose a termination and have to take the added step of travelling to England.

“We’ve had parents who bring their child’s remains back in a shoebox in the back of a car. We’ve had parents who have had their child’s remains sent back by courier, to arrive by DHL,” he said.

“Our position is that we would wish to provide all care to our patients here. We do not believe it is right that individual patients who make that choice should not be able to have that procedure here.”

He described anencephaly as a lethal condition, but acknowledged not all babies die before or shortly after delivery. “We never say it is 100 per cent guaranteed your baby will die within the first hour. We give the patient the actual statistics . . . we are very explicit.”