Hospitals have no right to opt out of abortion law, priest told

Fr Kevin Doran: objected to lung cancer drug in 2005

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

HOSPITALS do not have a legal right to "opt out" of terminating a pregnancy to save the life of a woman under the terms of new abortion legislation, despite concerns expressed at board level at the Mater Hospital.

The Department of Health was responding to a statement by Fr Kevin Doran, a member of the board of the Dublin hospital, that abortion would be in conflict with its Catholic ethos.

Fr Doran intends to raise his objections at the next scheduled meeting of the board of the Mater, which is expected to take place in early September.

But a Department of Health official said that the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act made clear that an institution could not take a conscientious objection to carrying out a lawful termination of pregnancy.

"While the legislation does provide such a right to an individual, it does not apply to a hospital," he added.

Health Minister James Reilly has also made clear that a hospital funded by the taxpayer would have obligations under the law.

Fr Doran, however, suggested that the European Directive on discrimination may make provision for the protection of institutional ethos.

"I believe that Catholic voluntary hospitals as a body must make it clear, both to legislators and to their own staff, that while they will always provide life-saving medical treatment for women in pregnancy, they will uphold their ethos and will never facilitate or tolerate the deliberate termination of human life, at any stage," he said.

A spokeswoman for the hospital could not comment yesterday on the workings of the 12-member board or say if a majority decision was needed to allow the terminations to take place.

Fr Doran previously featured in an Irish Independent probe which found in 2005 that he was among three members of the Mater board who delayed trials of a drug for lung cancer patients.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Mater Hospital cardiologist Dr Kevin Walsh said it was necessary to extend the new abortion legislation to allow for terminations outside of maternity hospitals.

A woman who is pregnant and critically ill with heart disease would need to be in an acute hospital with an intensive care unit and relevant specialists.

"This clearly would not be the case in any of the Dublin public obstetric hospitals. The termination would likely be on an urgent planned basis rather than immediate emergency basis," Dr Walsh said.