We'd rather give up medicine than perform an abortion
Published 16/12/2012 | 06:00
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."
Dr Monaghan has grave reservations about the abortion regime which would be introduced here if the "X case" judgment is legislated for. The 1992 Supreme Court ruling does not mention time limits and could allow abortion on the grounds of a threat of suicide.
"In my entire career, I have never seen any evidence that abortion can cure somebody of suicidal feelings," says Dr Monaghan.
"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.
"My understanding of the expert group report on abortion is that conscientious objection may not be allowed for, and that your employer may be able to force you to carry out terminations.
"As a professional, I am not prepared to accept that I would be directed to perform abortions by my employer or the State. If I receive a direction to do one, I will not do it and will face the consequences. I think the bulk of Ireland's obstetricians would feel the same way.
"I will not practise obstetrics if I am compelled to kill babies."
Another obstetrician who fears the arrival of abortion to Ireland is Dr Eileen Reilly, who came from Scotland to work in Galway. Some of her concerns are based on her experience of Britain, where more than 200,000 abortions are performed each year.
"On my first day in the job in the UK, I was asked if I was 'a terminator'," she says.
"It was just shocking. I went into gynaecology to bring life into the world, not to destroy it.
"It's the most privileged speciality of them all. Doctors do not have the right to play God nor should they have to.
"In my job, I have two patients to look after: one who can talk and one who can't. We must give a woman every help we can during a difficult pregnancy, but if we consider ourselves a civilised society, we also have to defend the rights of the other life who has no voice."
Dublin medical student Cormac Duff would also refuse to perform abortions when he qualifies as a doctor.
"When abortion was introduced in Britain, it was supposed to be very limited. Now babies with Down's Syndrome can be aborted up to 36 weeks.
"Ireland very proudly hosted the Special Olympics in 2003. We have a great tradition of recognising that not everyone is equally able but they can still contribute a lot to society. We don't believe children with special needs should be obliterated, just because they might not go to college. It is morally reprehensible to say that because someone is not genetically as good as the average person that we can take their life away.
"As a doctor, my job will be to preserve life, not to take it. And I know very few people in my class who would have the stomach to carry out abortions."