Saturday 24 February 2018

State could cover foetal return costs

Government may soon begin to pay repatriation costs in abortion cases involving fatal foetal abnormality

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Women who have abortions in the UK may have the remains repatriated to Ireland at the State's expense under proposals being considered by the Government. And social services, including psychological supports, could also be provided to women in certain circumstances, the Sunday Independent has learned.

In a contentious move in the highly emotive abortion debate, women who terminate a pregnancy in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality, would be covered by proposals being considered by Health Minister Simon Harris.

The Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) group - which is calling for the legalisation of abortion in circumstances of foetal unviability - say parents have been quoted over €1,000 for the transport of cremated remains by courier from the UK.

TFMR insist the State must now provide adequate financial and psychological supports for women and their families, including bereavement counselling.

Minister Harris met the group on the July 6. Now, having considered the issue, the Department of Health confirmed Minister Harris is deciding whether the State should cover repatriation costs in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

He is also considering "within the law" what other services and responses can be put in place to help women and their families who find themselves in these traumatic circumstances.

A spokeswoman stressed, however, that other issues raised in the meeting with TFMR will be matters for the proposed Citizen's Assembly.

The first meeting of the assembly - which is being established to examine the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution - will take place by November.

"The minister looks forward to meeting the group again in the coming months,'' said a statement.

Gaye Edwards, of the TFMR, says one member was quoted about £895 (€1,070) to have cremated remains couriered from the UK.

"Two years ago, couriering of the cremated remains was included in the charge of the hospital, so it wasn't an additional charge.

"This is a recent development. People must travel up to three times. There's one trip to undergo the procedure, and then they are notified when the cremation will take place, maybe two weeks later.

"By and large, people are going back for the cremation, and it necessitates a third trip because you can't take the remains with you, on that particular visit. There's also the trauma of being stopped by airport security, and being asked to explain 'what's in the box?'. There was a recent case where a woman's husband went ahead with the bag, anticipating this would happen to them. It showed up on the scanner and she told them, 'It is the cremated remains of my dead baby.' That put an end to any conversation, but it's an additional stress at a time, you could do without it."

Her husband, Gerry Edwards, said many couples who terminate a pregnancy in the UK simply do not have the additional money to get the remains home.

"For those that want to bring their baby home for a burial, they have to deal with going to buy freezer packs from the supermarket to try to preserve their baby's remains, while they're in transit.

"In recognising that this is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, I would be hopeful that the State will make that contribution, pending getting the legal changes required to make sure people don't have to travel anymore.

In a statement, the Department of Health said the proposal to pay for repatriation of remains is being considered in the context of the department's response to the UN Human Rights Committee's ruling in the Mellet v Ireland case. The case of Irish woman, Amanda Mellet, made headlines worldwide after the UN found she suffered discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, having been forced to go to the UK to terminate a pregnancy.

The foetus had been diagnosed as having a fatal abnormality. She travelled to the UK, but had to return home 12 hours after the procedure, as she could not afford to stay longer, despite the fact she was bleeding and felt light-headed. Three weeks after she had the termination, the ashes of the foetus were unexpectedly delivered to her by courier.

The UN said Ms Mellet had undergone financial and emotional suffering.

Niamh Ui Bhriain, spokesperson for the Life Institute, accused Health Minister Harris of using the term "fatal foetal abnormality", which is not a "medical phrase" and is "misleading families".

"We know none of these conditions can be described as a fatal foetal abnormality because with all of these conditions, some children live beyond birth.

"In fact, most children live beyond birth, even if it is for a short period. It seems to me that Simon Harris isn't looking at the medical evidence as regards to this."

Asked for her view on the State covering repatriation costs, she said: "Abortion is not the answer. Parents should be given the support they need in this country, so that the lives of their children can be valued, and they have time with their children."

Sinead Kennedy, secretary of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said while the State should cover repatriation costs, it should only be an "emergency or interim measure".

"We would be concerned that this will be presented as some kind of solution for couples. They shouldn't have to travel."

Sunday Independent

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