Sunday 22 September 2019

HSE to finally aid parents in cases of fatal foetal abnormality

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Damien Eagers
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Guidelines on how health service workers deal with grieving parents are to be updated to acknowledge cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, the Irish Independent has learned.

Hospital staff and other care workers are to receive instructions on how best to help parents in the aftermath of such tragedies, regardless of whether the mother carried the child to full-term or travelled abroad for an abortion.

The development is likely to be welcomed by women's rights groups and be seen as a significant development by campaigners seeking the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

To date, the State has struggled to define "fatal foetal abnormality", including just before the Dáil recess when the Attorney General advised members of the Cabinet not to support a Mick Wallace bill that would have allowed for legal terminations in such cases.

It is understood that the exact term used in the new guidelines will be "fatal foetal anomaly".

Health Minister Simon Harris and HSE director general Tony O'Brien will jointly launch the 'Standards for Bereavement Care Following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death' tomorrow.

It is estimated that approximately 14,500 parents are bereaved in the Irish maternity services each year.

The new guidelines will seek to inform healthcare professionals about the best approach to helping parents dealing with a variety of scenarios, including miscarriages, neonatal death and stillbirths.

A source confirmed: "This will also be the first time that fatal foetal abnormalities will be acknowledged in this way.

"It's a significant development and will ensure that parents will be entitled to bereavement counselling, no matter what their circumstances."

The guidelines are described by the HSE as a "global document" which puts a focus on the level of bereavement care across the country.

It stresses the need for every parent to receive "personalised care" that takes into account their specific circumstances.

The document also notes that bereavement training for staff who communicate bad news deserves as much emphasis as their technical expertise.

The move to specifically acknowledge cases of fatal foetal abnormalities has been partly prompted by the case of Amanda Mellet, which was investigated by the United Nations.

The UN found Ms Mellet had been subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment because of Ireland's abortion laws.

As part of her complaint, she noted that, after travelling to the UK to terminate her unborn baby, she did not receive any after-care at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

She felt she needed bereavement counselling to cope with the loss of her pregnancy and the trauma of travelling abroad for a termination but while the hospital offers such counselling to couples who have suffered a spontaneous stillbirth, this service does not extend to those who choose to terminate the pregnancy as a result of fatal foetal impairments.

In the wake of the UN report, Mr Harris made a Dáil speech in which he apologised to Ms Mellet for her treatment in the health service.

He also asked the HSE to review the clinical and counselling services in place to support women and their families who have to deal with a pre-natal diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News