Conscientious objection and abortion


Sir, – Dr Brendan McDonnell (Letters, October 3rd) states that Medical Council guidelines are clear that personal beliefs must not interfere with patients’ treatment, and that a doctor with a conscientious objection is obliged to refer a patient to a colleague if they cannot provide a service themselves.

The Medical Council guidelines, available online, are not as clear as suggested. The guidelines state in section 49.4 that the doctor should “give the patient enough information to enable them to transfer to another doctor to get the treatment they want”. This could be interpreted in many ways, including simply giving the patient the telephone number or address of a second doctor. Furthermore, no doctor can guarantee that the patient will receive an abortion service from the second doctor, as a doctor cannot force a colleague to treat the patient in any particular way.

Patients don’t want the embarrassment and rejection of being refused treatment. They need to know in advance whether a doctor will or won’t provide an abortion service. The Medical Council should introduce a rule, rather than just a guideline, mandating that every doctor should clearly state his position regarding an abortion service. This information might be on the doctor’s website, on a notice in the doctor’s waiting room, or on an official HSE register of participating doctors.

No patient should have to sit in a doctor’s waiting room wondering whether or not they will be turned away without treatment. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – Dr Brendan McDonnell writes that “Medical Council guidelines are clear that personal opinions and beliefs must not interfere with treatment of patients”.

A simple inquiry into what medicine is gives the following definition: “Medicine is the science and practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Medicine encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness.”

When a healthy woman asks a doctor to end the life of her healthy baby, she is not asking the doctor to perform medicine. Instead she may be asking a non-consensual doctor to engage in a non-medical practice to victimise a third party.

The idea of forcing such a scenario smacks of a desire to humiliate and subjugate doctors who, as part of their training, took an oath not to engage in such practices. – Yours, etc,