Department of Health to review guidelines before 'final version'
GUIDELINES for doctors who must operate the new abortion law are to be re-visited by the Department of Health before they are finalised, it emerged yesterday.
The long-delayed guidelines, which have been circulated to the representative bodies of the various specialists and have also been sent to some doctors for consultation, have been ready in draft form for months.
The Department of Health said yesterday the expert committee who drew up the guidelines are finalising them and they are "expected to be ready for publication shortly".
"Once finalised the document will be circulated to the professional bodies and published on the Department of Health website," a spokeswoman said.
"The guidance document that is in the public domain is not the final version," she added.
It is unclear why it has taken so long to provide advice to doctors who have to implement the complex and challenging decision to grant an abortion, particularly in the case of a pregnant suicidal woman.
Once issued, the doctors' representative bodies, such as the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, as well as the College of Psychiatrists, can organise training courses to improve the doctors' interpretation.
It is understood the Government may have been reluctant to release the guidelines in the run-up to recent elections amid fears they could spark a damaging abortion debate.
The cabinet re-shuffle and the summer holidays have also meant that they have been held up, even though the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was published last year and came into effect from January.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said yesterday the three doctors who examined the young woman at the centre of the current controversy had recommended a "termination" through delivery of the baby by caesarean section, after it was agreed she was suicidal. But the rape victim had requested an abortion.
Gaps in the guidelines have now been highlighted.
The draft guidelines say the best course of action may be early induction, or caesarean section, when pregnancy is advanced. But they do not explicitly exclude abortion.
The section also fails to explicitly advise what should happen if the woman objects to a termination through delivery and insists on an abortion. It does not give guidance in such instances where the woman remains suicidal.
The guide states that doctors are required to "preserve unborn human life" as far as practicable but "they cannot compromise the woman's right to life".
Once delivered, medical staff should ensure the necessary care for the baby in accordance with clinical guidelines, it states.