Saturday 22 October 2016

Irish people must be allowed to decide on abortion, says Holles Street master

Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30

Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Dr Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, has called for a referendum to let the public decide on whether termination of pregnancy should be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

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"The people of Ireland should be allowed to decide whether a termination should be permitted in such cases, and the likely way for that to happen is by a referendum," Dr Mahony told the Irish Independent.

She is the second master of the three big Dublin maternity hospitals to speak out about the heartbreak faced by parents who are told their unborn baby will die in the womb or only live for a short time after birth.

Earlier this month, Dr Fergal Malone, the new master of the Rotunda Hospital, said these mothers who have undergone non-directive counselling should have the option of a termination in Ireland rather than travelling to Britain.

As master of Holles Street and a specialist in foetal medicine, Dr Mahony said: "I have had years of direct experience of caring for families who know they are carrying a baby affected by such challenges. They know life will be very, very short.

"These babies may die in the womb or survive for a very short time after birth - for just minutes, hours or perhaps several days.

"In modern foetal medicine practice, such life-limiting conditions are well understood and include conditions like anencephaly, renal agenesis and trisomy 13."

She said these diagnoses are "devastating" for couples.

"Women will choose to navigate these tragic circumstances in different ways, and to me that is understandable," she said.

"In some cases, women wish to continue their pregnancy knowing what will be, and the very short time spent with their baby is of infinite importance to them. It is so important that women and their families are practically supported in this decision.

"Other women, however, find themselves unable to continue their pregnancy in these circumstances. At the moment, these women must travel to a different jurisdiction to obtain a termination of pregnancy because termination of pregnancy in Ireland in this context is a criminal offence.

"This means they must access complex care far from home and family, and deal with a range of additional difficulties. These families can feel a very strong sense of abandonment at a time of exceptional emotional distress."

A spokeswoman for the Coombe maternity hospital said the personal view of any doctor in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities does not arise. The hospital is "committed to acting in the best interests of each of its patients at all times".

Health Minister Leo Varadkar reiterated yesterday that he supported the option of termination for fatal foetal abnormality, but said it needed to be discussed in a public forum.

Irish Independent

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