Sunday 25 September 2016

'Parents travelling to end an unviable pregnancy got the remains in DHL box'

Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30

New Master of the Rotunda Prof Fergal Malone. Photo: Peter Houlihan
New Master of the Rotunda Prof Fergal Malone. Photo: Peter Houlihan

Parents forced to travel abroad to terminate an unviable pregnancy have suffered the anguish of being delivered the infant's remains in a courier box, the new master of the Rotunda Hospital has revealed.

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Professor Fergal Malone has called for the abortion law to be extended to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The master told how other parents whose baby had been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality, and who made a similar emotional journey to the UK, had endured the trauma of returning home with their baby's remains in the back of the car.

Prof Malone said distressed parents had to go through the upset of receiving remains in a "DHL box".

The father of four described how he has been struck by the plight of these parents over the years. He is adamant that a woman should have the right to have the procedure carried out in Ireland.

"We would like to perform the complete care of our patients here at our hospital," Prof Malone said.

Professor Fergal Malone has called for the abortion law to be extended to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities
Professor Fergal Malone has called for the abortion law to be extended to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities

"We see patients who are very troubled and traumatised by this. Day in, day out, we have a challenge around this group and we would like change. We have a very clear position on it."

All pregnant women who are told prenatally that their unborn baby will die in the womb or shortly after birth are given non-directive counselling at the Dublin hospital.

The decision on whether to have a termination or continue with the pregnancy was entirely theirs, Prof Malone stressed.

Abnormality

Fatal conditions include anencephaly, where parts of the brain and skull have not developed, and Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18), which is a chromosomal abnormality.

Around three-quarters of the couples whose unborn baby is diagnosed with these conditions choose to terminate. The Rotunda sees 20 to 30 such cases annually.

"My personal view on abortion, pro-life, pro-choice, political, ethical or religious has no place in that discussion and we never reveal our personal view because we have to remain completely objective with the patient," added the 47-year-old.

Asked how accurate the doctors were when mothers were given this diagnosis, Prof Malone, who is an expert in maternal-foetal medicine, said it was possible to be completely assured that detection of anencephaly was completely correct.

The majority of these babies die either during labour or immediately afterwards. A very small number will survive one week, and fewer for one month. One baby in Colorado survived for three years but this was "exceptional", Prof Malone said.

"We never tell parents it is 100pc guaranteed your baby will die within first hour.

"We give them the actual statistics... we are very explicit. We do use the word lethal, and we then go on to qualify exactly what we mean by lethal. We would feel we did a disservice to a patient if we told them 'your baby will die in the first hour of life' and then a week later the baby is still there."

Irish Independent

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