Review of resolutions on abortion refused


The High Court has refused an application by seven members of the Medical Council for leave to seek a judicial review of the council's decision to liberalise ethical guidelines on abortion.

Mr Justice Butler said he thought the seven, by going to court, were trying to use a backdoor method to interfere with what appeared to him to be a democratic decision of the council.

Mr Seamus O Tuathail SC, for the seven, said his clients had left a meeting of the council on May 30th, having voted against two resolutions in relation to abortion.

The first resolution stated: ". . . the Medical Council recognises that termination of pregnancy can occur where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a mother". The second stated: ". . . the Medical Council recognises that termination of pregnancy can occur when the foetus is no longer viable".

This did not accord with law as it stood, Mr O Tuathail said. As a result, he argued, the council's decisions were open to misinterpretation.

Taking the proceedings were Mr Hugh Bredin, a consultant urologist, Moneymore, Oranmore, Co Galway; Mr J. Brendan Healy, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Glenard, Ballincar, Co Sligo; Dr Miriam Hogan, a GP, St Anthony's, Newpark, Kilkenny; Mr Eamon McGuinness, a consultant obstetrician, The Square, Beggar's Bush, Haddington Road, Dublin; Dr Martin Mahon, hospital doctor, Cregg, Claregalway, Co Galway; Dr Helena Stokes, a GP, Clara Road, Tullamore, Co Offaly; and Dr Rosemary O'Connor, a public health doctor, Clonkeen Drive, Foxrock, Dublin.

Mr O Tuathail said the agenda for the meeting on May 30th had included a discussion on the report of the all-party Oireachtas committee on abortion. However, the notice to members did not suggest resolutions would be put to the meeting.

The council also ignored the fact that it had an ethics committee and could not have passed the two resolutions without first withdrawing from it the competence to make its own decisions, Mr O Tuathail added. The council had adopted a report produced by the ethics committee in 1998.

Following the passing of the two resolutions on May 30th, the council met again on May 31st when its president said it should agree that the existing guidelines had force until October 2001, and the Fitness to Practise Committee should continue to observe those guidelines.

In an affidavit, Dr Healy said his proposal that the motions passed at the May 30th meeting be declared invalid had been adjourned to September. The motions remained a statement of the council's policy and were in conflict with the guide it had published.

Mr Justice Butler refused the doctors leave to seek, by way of judicial review, a declaration that the council's decisions of May 30th/31st purportedly changing the council's ethical guidance on induced abortion were beyond the council's power and were invalidly adopted.

He also refused to allow the doctors to look for an order quashing the council's decisions. There was no evidence to show the council did not have the power to entertain these resolutions.

Rather than use the democratic process within the council, the applicants had tried to use a back-door method.