Thursday 19 September 2019

Doctors who are anti-abortion must refer a woman to another medic, says new Medical Council rule

Medical Council president Rita Doyle
Medical Council president Rita Doyle
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion can opt out of the procedure but they must refer a woman who is seeking a termination to another doctor, new Medical Council guidelines state.

The guideline from their regulatory body clears up any confusion about the obligation on an anti-abortion doctor to refer a woman to another service where she will get a termination.

This became an issue during the debate in the run up to the referendum on repeal of the Eighth Amendment when some doctors, who have an objection to abortion, said they should not be obliged to refer on a woman.

It says if a doctor holds a conscientious objection to a treatment, they must inform the patient that they have a right to seek treatment from another doctor.

They must give the patient enough information to enable them to transfer to another doctor to get the treatment they want.

When they refer a patient or facilitate their transfer of care” they should make sure that this is done in a safe, effective and timely manner.

“You should help make it as easy as possible for the patient. When discussing the referring and or transferring a patients’ care to another health professional, you should be sensitive and respectful so as to minimise any distress your decision may cause.

“You should make sure that patients’ care is not interrupted and not impede their access to care.”

The guideline forbids any false or misleading information which would wilfully obstruct a patient’s access to treatment based on conscientious objection.

“If the patient cannot arrange their own transfer of care, you should make these arrangements on their behalf.

“In an emergency situation, you must provide – as a matter of priority – the care and treatment your patient needs.”

Chairperson of the Ethics Working Group, Dr Suzanne Crowe, said :”The majority of the amendments made are to be read from the practising of medicine point of view and not in isolation for any one procedure.

“The Ethical Guide contains guidance and information on a variety of matters which affect the medical profession on a daily basis, and we urge doctors to consult this edition for the most up-to-date, relevant and inclusive advice.”

Dr Rita Doyle, Medical Council President said, “When the eighth edition of the Guide was launched three years ago, it was envisioned that rolling changes would be incorporated to keep the Guide up to date, and this is the first of these changes. The current medical landscape can be fraught with uncertainty for doctors, and this Guide aims to clarify the Medical Council’s advice in these areas.”

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