Stillbirths here after fatal foetal abnormality abortions cause alarm

Growing trend for women to seek terminations but returning home for stillbirths

The Department of Health’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is “very concerned” about the patient safety implications of the trend for women to travel to the UK for terminations after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and then returning to Ireland to deliver  stillborn babies. Photograph: Getty Images

The Department of Health’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is “very concerned” about the patient safety implications of the trend for women to travel to the UK for terminations after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and then returning to Ireland to deliver stillborn babies. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A growing trend for women who travel to the UK for terminations after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and then returning to Ireland to deliver their stillborn babies, is causing alarm in the Department of Health.

The department’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is “very concerned” about the patient safety implications of the trend, which was outlined to him in correspondence from the master of the Rotunda Hospital, Sam Coulter Smith, according to a spokeswoman.

She said Dr Holohan and Dr Coulter Smith had met to discuss the issues raised in the correspondence. “The chief medical officer has taken initial soundings which appear to indicate that this practice has not been identified in every maternity service in Ireland.”

It was “too early” to say the trend was confined to the Rotunda, the spokeswoman said. Dr Holohan would be contacting the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the National Clinical Programme for Obstetrics to establish the further extent of the practice, she added.

“The department has great sympathy for the many couples who receive a diagnosis of foetal fatal abnormality. State-funded support services are available which provide appropriate counselling to women in these difficult situations.”

Under UK laws governing pregnancies which have passed the 22-week mark, the termination of a pregnancy is first effected by administering an injection to stop the heart of the foetus. In a second step, the women is given drugs to induce the birth and asked to return to the hospital at an appointed time for delivery.

According to last night’s RTÉ Prime Time programme, Dr Coulter Smith’s letter noted that some women are returning to Ireland for the second step in this process.

The number of women involved is believed to be small, but Dr Coulter Smith said this was happening “with increasing frequency”. He also warned about the potential for “adverse publicity” if something went wrong with one of the cases.