Sunday 17 December 2017

We're in limbo on abortion law, says psychiatrist

Dr Matt Sadlier: wants some clarifications on the new law
Dr Matt Sadlier: wants some clarifications on the new law

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

DOCTORS warn they are in desperate need of a "users' guide" to tell them how they should operate the new law on abortion.

Dr Matt Sadlier, a psychiatrist who is president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said doctors and patients were left in limbo.

The law, which came into effect on January 1, allows for abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman, including the threat of suicide.

But Dr Sadlier warned the lack of guidelines was akin to giving a motorist a copy of the Road Traffic Act instead of the rules of the road.

"We have no information of simple mechanics of how the new legislation works. The only text I have that I know of is a copy of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which is written in very legal language."

A group of doctors, nurses and officials who are charged with drawing up the guidelines are behind schedule and are to meet again next week in the hope of finalising a document early this year.

"There are no guidelines available for psychiatrists who are expected to certify if there is a real and substantial threat to the life of a patient by suicide or for GPs."

While the aim of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, passed in July, was to provide clarity to both women and medical practitioners, the reality is that everyone is struggling.

The IMO has now written to Health Minister James Reilly stressing the urgency of finalising the guidelines.

Dr Sadlier asked: "If a decision is made by doctors, who do they communicate it to? There is also a need to have clinical guidelines which are consistent across the country.

"The act says real and substantial risk, but that is the only sentence we have to go on. It is important that it be fleshed out. Is it a balance of probabilities? Is it beyond reasonable doubt?

"There should be consistency around the country so that doctors and patients on the other side have some expectation of the standards applied."

The other matter which has to be clarified is what options are available to doctors with a conscientious objection.

"It is an issue people feel strongly about on both sides. Conscientious objection is an important part of this," he added.

He said he had not yet signed up to be part of a list of doctors who would sit on review panels to assess a woman who was appealing a decision to refuse a termination.

This is because he has a large workload.

Irish Independent

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