Sir, – I have a number of concerns relating to conscientious objection and abortion.
The recently published heads of Bill define termination of pregnancy as “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus”.
If the referendum is passed, this is the procedure that will be available on demand for any reason up to 12 weeks and after 12 weeks on vague health grounds.
First, it is of great worry to Irish practitioners that doctors, nurses and midwives cannot avoid participation in abortion in an increasing number of jurisdictions, including Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Bulgaria.
Second, in the UK supreme court, two midwives lost their battle to be treated as “conscientious objectors”, and to be excused from participating in abortions.
The midwives were told that while they could refuse to carry out the procedures themselves, they were obliged to delegate these duties to other staff and to supervise the staff during the abortions.
Many doctors and nurses consider that if their conscience prevents them from intentionally ending the life of the foetus, they should not be required to supervise and organise this same act.
The legislation proposed if the Eighth Amendment is repealed will oblige GPs and other healthcare professionals who conscientiously object to transfer care to another doctor and to inform the patient in writing that they may seek review of the objecting doctor’s decision.
Third, in 2013 a resolution to restrict the right of doctors and nurses to conscientious objection was narrowly defeated in the European Parliament. Some Irish MEPs voted for this. In the recent Dáil debates some politicians argued against a doctor’s right to avoid participation in abortion.
We have seen how one political party expelled a number of members for voting with their consciences in 2013 and how another party suspended one of the youngest female TDs in Dáil Éireann for exercising her conscience in a vote last month.
Fourth, some academic campaigners have been arguing for the removal of conscientious objection across Europe, claiming that it can be used as a “subtle method for limiting access to abortion”.
Finally, under Minister for Health Simon Harris’s plans for abortion, GPs and others will not be entitled to conscientiously object to participating in the intentional destruction (not delivery) of the foetus where there is a risk to the life or health of the patient in an emergency.
No evidence has been produced to show that intentional destruction of the foetus is necessary to avoid risks to the life or health of a pregnant patient.
I would urge GPs and our colleagues from other disciplines who are also in the front line of patient care to inform themselves fully of the implications for the practice of medicine should this referendum be passed. – Is mise,
Dr ANDREW O’REGAN,
(General Practitioner and Senior Lecturer),