Tuesday 23 January 2018

Medical Council tells ‘abortion committee’ that doctors’ own morals must not come into it

Clodagh Sheehy

NO complaints about doctors carrying out a termination of a pregnancy have ever been received by the Medical Council, its president and CEO confirmed today.

Kieran Murphy told the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that “to be best of my knowledge” the Council had not received a complaint in relation to this part of their guidelines.

He could not say how many cases had arisen where a pregnant woman claimed to be suicidal because of a pregnancy saying the Council was only made aware of situations where a complaint was made.

Mr Murphy also told the meeting that the Council did not see any need for specific guidelines for emergencies where the health of the mother or the baby was at stake.

“We do not believe it is necessary. We feel the principle underlying decisions are similar whether the situation is an emergency or a non-emergency.

In response to questions about the Council’s opinion on the location of maternity units around the country, Mr Murphy said this was a matter for the Minister.

Mr Murphy and Council Chief Executive Caroline Spillane were the first two experts to address three days of sittings of the Committee to inform the Government regarding the drafting of Abortion legislation.

Asked about cases where a doctor had a conscientious objection to the carrying out of a pregnancy termination, Mr Murphy said doctors must not allow personal moral standards to influence their treatment of a patient.

If they had conscientious objections they should make this known to the patient and offer them a list of alternative practitioners.

Ms Spillane said there were about 18,000 doctors registered in this country and last year there had been 420 complaints in relations to treatment or professional standards.

To the best of her knowledge the Council had not received any complaint about pregnancy termination treatment.

If a complaint was received from a member of the public or another doctor it would come before a preliminary complaints committee who had powers to investigate.

Mr Geraldine Luddy of the Department of Health outlined the history of abortion legislation in the state since 1861.

She said it was “clear that much work remains to be done by the department on the policy requirements to be given effect to by a new legislative framework”.

Ms Luddy added that the department was confident that the hearings would lead to a legislative response that would stand up to “public and parliamentary scrutiny”.

Today was the first of three days of hearings by the Oireachtas committee on the Government decision to legalise abortion in limited circumstances at some point next year.

More than 40 witnesses and 20 groups will give evidence. They include medical and legal experts, the churches, civil society bodies, pro-choice and anti-abortion groups and, of course, politicians.

The evidence will range from complex and technical factual material to emotive advocacy from groups representing both sides of the debate.

The aim is to inform the Government to allow a legislative solution to end the uncertainty over what is legally permissible with abortion.

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