Sunday 20 October 2019

Deirdre Conroy: What would X Case woman make of hearings?

Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

I WAS expecting twins in 2002. It went horribly wrong. I took a case against Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights, because I was forced to leave the country to have an early delivery of one dead and one fatally abnormal foetus. I didn't want any other Irish woman to endure that harrowing experience. And it never seems to go away. We are here again, front page news, TV panel discussions, proposed legislation, an Oireachtas hearing. A woman dead.

I sat in the Seanad chamber last Friday listening to the obstetric experts. Especially chilling was the silence that descended in the chamber when Dr Rhona Mahony asked: "Can anyone in this room say for certain that X would not have committed suicide?"

The thing is, under this legislation, there won't be any women presenting as suicidal. Who, in their right mind, would volunteer to be examined, assessed and certified by three to six consultants, including two psychiatrists? Somebody who isn't in their right mind, I suppose. One in half a million, apparently.

I felt nobody in the chamber really understood the human side. The doctors might be familiar with tragic circumstances, but it is quite another thing to be turned away, to have to travel to another country. I say other country but at least I was treated with grace and decency just over the Border.

A woman sitting beside me in the gallery asked if I was a journalist.

"No," I said, "I took the D v Ireland case."

"Oh, she was very brave, I read about her."

"No, I mean I am D," I said.

We both laughed, she nearly fell off her chair and nudged the women beside her, Nora Owen, Mary Banotti and Gemma Hussey – the founding sisterhood, I suppose.

From that moment I felt fine, protected.

Semantics ricocheted around the chamber for three days. It was depressing to hear "suicide" repeatedly used like it was an epidemic in pregnancy. Many times throughout, I wondered about X, was she listening to any of this; do her work colleagues know it is her?

I wonder if X, at 34, is married, has children, how she feels that her sad experience continues to exercise the people on the street, the media, the clergy and the Oireachtas. Would she be able to clarify the question at the centre of the debate, that termination is not a "treatment" for suicide. I would like to know if she thinks the legislation should be framed for victims of rape and incest, which, as serious crimes, provide a compelling case for choice.

The voice that stood out over the three days was Justice Catherine McGuinness. She spoke of humanity and reality and articulated the fatal abnormality issue; a very wise woman. It must be as bewildering for the committee as it is for me to listen to perfectly cogent arguments and frankly offensive remarks made by experts with differing ideologies. It would be hard to argue with the compassion of someone like Dr Ruth Fletcher on the final afternoon.

Yet, there was Ronan Mullen's shuddering suggestion that fatal foetal abnormality be included in a euthanasia debate.

I had given up hope for the State's defence in D v Ireland to be revisited, but there was a glimmer of hope in the summing up on Tuesday. One day I hope my claim will be vindicated, so women do not suffer, let alone die.

In the last year, three women who endured a similar fate formed a support group.

Termination for Medical Reasons group was met by TDs from all parties in Leinster House and had an opportunity to give their side of the story. It's a start.

Wherever you are X, I hope you are bearing up.

Irish Independent

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