Friday 20 October 2017

'Gaps' in counselling services for women who have had abortions - Citizens' Assembly hears

Dr Peter McParland -National Maternity Hospital addressing the room
Photo: Maxwells
Dr Peter McParland -National Maternity Hospital addressing the room Photo: Maxwells

IRISH hospitals are “struggling” with a shortage of counsellors to deal with women who’ve had abortions and suffered psychological issues afterwards, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard.

Dr Peter McParland, of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, told the 99 members of the Assembly, that though Irish hospitals do their best to deal with women who’ve had terminations, there were “gaps” in counselling services.

“It’s imperative patients are not judged. They get an appointment and card (post abortions) and we go to considerable efforts to get that patient back for physical checks.

“But maternity hospitals do not have enough counsellors and are sometimes struggling, so we need more. There’s a gap there.

“We will do the best we can to get them through the process.”

Dr McParland said the larger maternity hospitals, including the National Maternity Hospital, the Rotunda and Coombe hospitals in Dublin and maternity units in Cork, all offered “good” counselling services.

But he could not be sure of the situation regionally across Ireland and there was no guaranteed longevity to this care.

“I’m not sure what level the smaller hospitals work but I’d hope they all offer to see the patients back (post abortion).

“We can see them back once or twice but we can’t continue to see them if someone is seriously psychologically affected. 

“There is a resource issue.”

From his own experience, Dr McParland said if a woman didn’t turn up for post termination care in Ireland, attempts would be made to liaise with her GP. 

Dr Helen Watt, senior research fellow, from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford, spoke to the Assembly from a pro-life perspective.

“Very sadly, foetuses can be found to be terminally ill, just like born children and adults.

“That does not, however, affect the status and basic rights of either the born or the unborn human being.

“Babies in the Sudan, do not lose their human rights just because they may be doomed to die.  Nor does your elderly father lose his human rights when he becomes terminally ill.

“Certainly, it would be wrong to take his life - even if he is now unconscious or semi-conscious - just because he will die in the coming months and you will find it distressing to wait for that because of his possible suffering or your own.

“We take seriously the rights of all our fellow humans - able-bodied or disabled, healthy or terminally ill, young or old, in or outside the womb.”

Professor of clinical and biomedical ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Bobbie Farsides, spoke from a pro-choice perspective, telling the Assembly the debate centred on “a complex moral jigsaw.”

“I use the example of a magnificent oak tree hundreds of years old which people want to cherish because all that’s gone into develop it,” Prof Farsides said.

“It’s not to say we’d completely disregard a tiny sapling that fell from that tree but if there were difficult choices to be made we’d possibly feel different about sacrificing the sapling rather than the oak tree.

“We do need a way to treat the foetus.  It has an unavoidable impact on how we treat the woman carrying it.”

“Currently the legal status reflects the most morally conservative position on the status of the foetus.

“This is something that many people would fail to see as a divisive factor in the abortion debate.

“However until the law changes women who hold a different view have no such freedom and I suggest to you it’s possible to hold a whole range of views, some which are more on the moral status of the foetus.

“We many not approve of all the choices but we can protect their (women’s) right to make them.”

A question and answer session at the end of proceedings saw a heated debate take place between Prof Farsides and Dr Watt.

“This is not just a challenging choice, it’s a devastating affect on women,” Dr Watt said regarding the psychological affect on women post abortion.

“This debate is not about giving people what they want it’s about giving people what is good for them.”

“That’s a very old fashioned view,” Prof Farsides said.  “We have reports from some women who say they made the right choice and what made the difference was the compassion showed to them.”

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