Health

Thursday 2 October 2014

We'd rather give up medicine than perform an abortion

Maria Coleman had just started medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons when she became pregnant through difficult circumstances. Canadian by birth, she grew up in a culture where abortion is available on demand up to full term.

The 24-year-old went to her GP and was told that abortion was the best route to take; that having a baby would mess up her career. Maria was surprised. It was the sort of reaction she expected from a Canadian doctor, not an Irish one.

By that point she had made her mind up anyway. That happened the moment she did a pregnancy test.

"From the second it showed positive, I knew there was another life growing inside me," she recalls.

"There was no denying that. As easy as it might have seemed to get rid of the 'problem', I knew I had no right to end another human life."

Almost three years on, Maria has a beautiful two-year-old boy who is the light of her life. Now in her third year of medicine, she's also a first-class honours student.

Her personal experience has deeply informed her professional ethic as a young medic planning to specialise in obstetrics. She has observed the recent abortion controversy here with deep concern, fearing that if Ireland legislates for abortion, it will end up going down the road of her own country, where up to 100,000 terminations take place every year.

"We all know there is no difference between a baby five minutes before it's born and five minutes afterwards, but in Canada, they don't consider it a human being until it has arrived in the delivery ward," she says.

"Until the baby has fully exited the birth canal, anything can be done. In a 10-year period, about 490 babies have been born alive in Canada after failed abortions. They are left to die on a cold table.

"For me, as a trainee doctor, that is nothing less than criminal. Every day in college, we are reminded of our Hippocratic oath which we take on graduation – 'above all, do no harm'.

Maria has decided to continue her medical career in Ireland but may change her mind if abortion is legalised.

"I would give up medicine before doing that sort of work. I just have to look at my son to realise that. He's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Dr John Monaghan has been an obstetrician for more than 30 years. Based at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, he is one of a significant number of Irish doctors who are opposed to abortion legislation and believe the guidelines of their regulatory body, the Medical Council, make it 'crystal clear' that they can and must end a pregnancy when a woman's life is in clear danger.

"I have never encountered a clinical situation where I needed a legislator to tell me what to do," he says.

"We are the experts and many of us see absolutely no grey areas. In my opinion, most of us believe the guidelines are perfectly adequate. They cover every clinical situation I have ever been involved in.

"If a woman's life is in immediate danger, you have to end the pregnancy. A properly trained obstetrician is well able to make that decision on their own or in consultation with their colleagues. We don't need lawyers telling us what to do."

"Yet you only have to look at Britain where a woman just has to say she is feeling suicidal and she gets an abortion. Today, more than 90pc of abortions there are done on mental health grounds."

Dr Monaghan also believes there is growing concern within the world of Irish obstetrics that doctors may be compelled by the HSE to perform terminations under their terms of employment.

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