The Eighth Amendment


Sir, – I was saddened and indeed shocked by the article of Fr Kevin O’Reilly, a theologian at the ancient Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas in Rome (“Sisters of Charity must reject any NMH deal that will destroy innocent life”, Opinion & Analysis, June 13th).

Yes, it is true that the Sisters of Charity have found themselves at the centre of a great controversy, and I regret that many of them must feel that they have been treated harshly – we owe a great deal to them and we should remember and value all the good that they have done. I have a great deal of sympathy for them and wish them well.

But times have changed and I think many people understand and admire the Sisters for taking a dignified decision to withdraw from running public medical institutions. They were in an impossible situation.

Now Fr O’Reilly places a huge burden on them; he says that they and their representatives must pull back from any deal that is “ordered to the destruction of human life”.

Having worked so hard all their lives, and now most of them in their later years, they are to take orders from a distant theologian, who seems as insensitive to their welfare as those he criticises, and presumably direct their representatives to return to battle.

My friends in the hospitals must be holding their heads in their hands.

Well I cannot imagine that his article will help the Sisters of Charity at all. Nor will it help many of us, lesser beings, Catholics and non-Catholics, who do think seriously about problems of life and death.

How he is so elevated to assert that it is “almost only some Catholics who are capable of understanding the notion of the inviolability of all human life” – note that only “some” Catholics are up to this task.

By the way I do not find it difficult to understand the notion, even if my interpretation of it is somewhat different from his. And how revealing to claim that his exceptional quality of moral judgement – which he charmingly says can be accepted by anyone “who possesses some degree of moral common sense” – has been strengthened by “supernatural faith”; it is just that, the reliance on the supernatural, which weakens so many religious pronouncements.

In the modern world human beings can be moral without the benefit of the supernatural advice, while the reverse is plainly not always true.

And what are we to make of the implication that only Fr O’Reilly and his select band are “morally attuned”?

He avers that the rest of us are just sentimentalists living in a post-truth world. Such scorn does not sit well with a man of the cloth.

Many of us have wondered about the independence of the clinicians of the National Maternity Hospital on the new site, and indeed of all clinicians and other medical staff who work in hospitals that are strongly influenced by Catholic medical ethics, and therefore we are concerned for the health of patients under their care.

We worry about the pressures that are applied behind the scenes to make staff conform. When we read the likes of Fr O’Reilly, we know it is urgent that the Government take steps to ensure that all of our public hospitals formally adopt medical ethics which reflect “compliance with national and international best practice guidelines and the laws of Ireland”, as promised by the board of St Vincent’s. Compliance includes allowing staff to follow their consciences on major medical interventions. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

A chara, – There seems to be an unvoiced subtext to the article “Accessing abortion is a ‘lottery’ under Irish rules, says psychiatrist” (June 13th) that a woman who is pregnant and suicidal should automatically be granted an abortion.

However, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act requires the medical practitioners involved to jointly certify in “good faith” that there is a real and substantial risk to her life by suicide which can only be averted by an abortion. The doctor treating the young woman in question apparently did not believe he or she could make such a certification in good faith.

This is hardly surprising as the preponderance of medical evidence given during the hearings that preceded the enactment of the legislation was that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation during pregnancy. – Is mise,


Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – In order to be eligible for an abortion under Irish law you have to prove that you want to die by suicide. That very statement is sufficient to have you involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, with fewer rights than prisoners. I fail to see justice or logic in this. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – The first priority for the incoming taoiseach must be to fix a date for a referendum on repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Only if the amendment is repealed can we legislate to provide women with access to the abortion services needed in Ireland. This week, we were given three stark reminders of the need for repeal. First, in the appalling reports of a young child sectioned under mental health laws when she sought a termination. Second, in the UN Human Rights Committee ruling against Ireland for denying a woman, Siobhan Whelan, access to abortion following her diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality – mere months after a similar ruling was made in Amanda Mellett’s case. And third, because we were told that last year alone, 3,265 Irish women travelled to England for abortions. The Eighth Amendment has failed successive generations of Irish women and girls, many thousands of whom have had to travel abroad for abortion over the decades. It is incumbent on the new taoiseach to confront this reality and act swiftly to name a date for repeal. – Yours etc,


Seanad Eireann,

Dublin 2.