Wednesday 23 October 2019

Psychiatrists won't use 'hocus-pocus' with suicidal pregnant women, says health chief

Dr Tony Holohan
Dr Tony Holohan

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

PSYCHIATRISTS who will be assessing a suicidal pregnant woman seeking an abortion will not be resorting to a form of "hocus pocus" to determine if she is going to take her own life, the country's Chief Medical Officer said today.

Dr Tony Holohan was speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

It is discussing the heads of the Government's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill which will allow for abortion in limited circumstances.

Questioned on how difficult it will be for a panel of two psychiatrists to assess a pregnant woman who is suicidal and seeking an abortion, he said that it is "not a hocus pocus method".

He told the gathering of TDs and senators that there is genuine clinical method and evaluation and "simply the assertion that there is uncertainty behind" it does not negate the science of psychiatry.

He said cases of women who are pregnant and suicidal looking for an abortion are not commonplace, but he could not rule out this situation happening.

"I could not put a number on it," he added.

He said women in this situation would not face a "remote panel" of two psychiatrists and one obstetrician.

The referral would happen in the normal way after a woman presents herself to a GP who then decided to refer her on.

General psychiatrists would be involved in these assessments and it would not be confined to perinatal psychiatrists - experts in the care of women who are pregnant or have given birth.

Earlier, Health Minister James Reilly outlined the Bill but left after his address and did not take questions.

His absence was criticised by a number of Oireachtas members who said he should have remained to take their questions seeking further clarification.

Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford described the decision of the minister to leave the hearings early as "bizarre".

The Senator is married to Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton who has expressed reservations about allowing risk of suicide as possible grounds for abortion.

A spokesman for the minister said that Dr Holohan and the Secretary General of the Department of Health, Ambrose McLoughlin were best placed to provide the committee any detail required .

The key first element in committee hearings is to provide clarity on the heads of the Bill and this should happen ahead of political debate on policy matters.

Addressing the gathering the minister said the Bill does not provide for any new rights that are not already lawful under the X-case ruling.

He said all hospitals who carry out terminations for physical or pyschological reasons will have to make a report to the Department of Health.

However, this can be done without the disclosing the names of the women involved.

If a doctor has a conscientious objection he or she will have to ensure the woman is referred on.

He defended the decision to have an obstetrician involved in assessing a woman who is pregnant and suicidal. The obstetrician would would be looking at her risk of suicide but it would be necessary to examine her to determine facts such as as how far along she is in the pregnancy.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News