Tuesday 28 January 2020

Siobhán's story: 'My baby had no chance of life, I was told to let nature take its course'

Siobhan Whelan. Photo: Michael Debets/Alamy Live News
Siobhan Whelan. Photo: Michael Debets/Alamy Live News
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Siobhán Whelan's heartbreaking story began with the devastating results of an ultrasound scan and ended with the ashes of her baby being couriered to her from a Liverpool crematorium.

In between, she believes she was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to the extent that she felt like a criminal when she travelled to the UK for an abortion.

After considering her case, the United Nations Human Rights Committee agreed with her and issued a damning report, criticising Ireland's abortion laws and calling for change.

It was following an ultrasound scan at Wexford General Hospital on January 4, 2010, that Ms Whelan found out her unborn son was affected by holoprosencephaly, a congenital brain malformation. Only 3pc of foetuses with the condition survive to delivery.

She was informed by an obstetrician at the hospital that the baby would likely die in the womb and that if it was carried to full term it would probably die during labour or soon after birth.

According to her complaint to the UN committee, the obstetrician said if it was in another jurisdiction she would be offered a termination "but obviously not in this country, due to Irish law".

The obstetrician said she would continue with the pregnancy, attend ante-natal appointments "as normal" and "wait for nature to take its course".

Ms Whelan said she was not given further information or referred to anyone to discuss the diagnosis, the care she would be offered in Ireland or the possibility of travelling abroad to terminate the pregnancy.

Three days later, the diagnosis was confirmed following another scan at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. Then, on January 12, further tests showed the unborn child was also suffering from a chromosomal condition associated with severe intellectual disability and physical abnormalities. Ms Whelan was told the condition was "incompatible with life".

A doctor gave her a report of the scan "in case she wanted to travel", but no information was offered on counselling services or options open to her. Ms Whelan said she didn't feel that she could discuss the possibility of a termination with the doctor.

Given her earlier experience with the Wexford obstetrician, she "felt it was illegal to even discuss this or ask too many questions for fear of having the door slammed in our faces or of not receiving any help whatsoever".

She sought advice from several crisis pregnancy services, but most said they were only able to assist where pregnancies were no further along than 13 weeks. Ms Whelan was around 21 weeks pregnant at this stage.

Eventually, she obtained contact information for Liverpool Women's Hospital and made arrangements for a termination. To do this, she had to return to Wexford General Hospital in order to obtain her records.

In her complaint, Ms Whelan alleged that several staff members there were insensitive towards her, with no regard for the devastating news she had received only a few days earlier. She said she finally managed to consult a locum doctor, who was very understanding.

Ms Whelan said she was so consumed with making arrangements for the journey to England that she did not have time to process her grief.

On January 17, feeling "like a criminal leaving the country", she travelled to Liverpool. The following day, she underwent scans at the hospital and was informed of the procedure for terminating the pregnancy. An injection of intracardiac potassium chloride was administered to stop the foetal heartbeat.

On January 20, she gave birth to her stillborn son at 21 weeks and five days.

She and her husband spent the night in the hospital and were able to hold their son and say their goodbyes.

The next day, she met a bereavement counsellor but this person only had information about services in the UK and not in Ireland.

The couple had to leave the baby's remains in the hospital. They were heartbroken to part with him in a foreign country. The baby was cremated in Liverpool three weeks later and the ashes were sent to Ms Whelan and her husband by courier a few days later.

The termination, cremation, travel and stay in Liverpool had cost €2,900.

Irish Independent

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