Tuesday 25 October 2016

Nothing to see here, just a case of moral cowardice

When it comes to the Eighth Amendment, there's a queue of people scuttling for cover. Have we lost all conviction, asks Sarah Carey

Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30

'The Eighth Amendment has been in place for 32 years. And in that time has any doctor in Ireland ever been required to explain to a judge why they deliberately terminated a pregnancy?’
'The Eighth Amendment has been in place for 32 years. And in that time has any doctor in Ireland ever been required to explain to a judge why they deliberately terminated a pregnancy?’

There's no doubt about it: there's a single tyrannical narrative in this country, and every personal tragedy that can be, must be shoehorned into the official view - that the Eighth must go.

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Personally, I think the Amendment has no place in the Constitution - but when I observe the sad stories of women and their babies being mangled to fit that narrative, to the exclusion of all other issues and facts, I get annoyed.

And if you think that I'm exaggerating just look at how Michael McDowell was treated last year when he spoke out about the Right to Die case, the inquest into which was held last week.

What happened to poor Michael McDowell? He was ignored. That never happens. He's a conversation changer. When even he couldn't change the conversation about that case, we know we're in trouble. Which only goes to show us that while Goldman Sachs might have all the money, the liberals sure get all the airtime.

I'm sure you'll recall the awful case. A pregnant woman who complained that she had an unbearable headache was diagnosed as suffering from hyperemesis - extreme morning sickness. She was only 15 weeks pregnant.

When she finally succumbed to the brain tumour she actually had, after appalling pain and fear, her doctors in Beaumont Hospital panicked that withdrawing life-support would violate the right to life of her unborn child. They might get in trouble. Someone might take some sort of constitutional challenge. So they looked upwards in the HSE for someone who would make a decision.

Peter Boylan is the chief proponent of the claim that doctors fear that their honestly-made medical decisions could result in a constitutional challenge.

But what is the basis for that fear?

The Eighth Amendment has been in place for 32 years. In that time has any doctor been required to explain to a judge why they deliberately terminated a pregnancy?

Terminations take place from time to time in our maternity hospitals for medical reasons, and no doctor (that I know of) has been hauled off to the courts as a result.

In the meantime, according to the State Claims Agency, 130 claims were made against the maternity services last year alone. Which shows that people aren't behind the door when it comes to taking legal cases when they think their pregnancies have been mismanaged.

Doctors get sued all the time, and until someone sues them for terminating a pregnancy unnecessarily I refuse to accept the legitimacy of this oft-proclaimed fear.

But what happened when the doctors looked for sign-off from a bureaucrat for their actions? I believe what happened next can only be described as institutionalised cowardice.

Rather than give the permission, a grotesque circus ensued.

Given that there were no circumstances under which the baby could have survived, to allow the body of this human being to rot under medical supervision while managers and lawyers crowded into a court room was disgusting.

This was nothing other than moral cowardice and is a thing of shame. No one was asking that the woman's life be maintained. Not her doctors. Not her family.

If I were on the Dail Health Committee, I would have demanded to know why the case was allowed to proceed. I still would.

Instead, all we got were pro-choice campaigners insisting the macabre spectacle was a consequence of the existence of the Eighth Amendment. It wasn't. It was a consequence of an appalling failure by the responsible parties to make a decision.

"Ah well!" you might say. "This was, after all, a unique case. We've never been here before - so 'clarifcation' had to be sought."

And that's where Michael McDowell comes into it.

Because there was another case. He wrote an article in this paper explaining that when he was Attorney-General a similar case arose. He was asked what should be done and without hesitation he rightly assured the carers they could switch off life-support.

If he could do that; why didn't Maire Whelan do the same? I asked the question and was formally told that the "HSE has no recourse to the Attorney-General". Because the HSE is some kind of agency and not directly involved with the Government I suppose.

That's rubbish because, as McDowell pointed out, the AG is charged by the Constitution to protect the constitutional rights of the defenceless and to ensure that "the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured". And McDowell said it was blindingly obvious that life support could be withdrawn.

Maire Whelan, therefore, had the power and the moral obligation to stop that case - and she didn't.

But no one talks about it - because she's a Labour appointee and when it comes to abortion, Labour can do no wrong. If Maire Whelan was an FF or FG appointee, the Labour sympathisers in the media would have attacked her.

It was remarkable that Whelan kept her job given her outlandish behaviour over the Garda tapes issue and the conclusions of the Fennelly report. But Martin Callinan has a big pension and he'll live.

Denying a 26-year-old woman the right to die with dignity was a far graver error.

Sunday Independent

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