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Eilish O’Regan: Proposal has strengths and weaknesses

THE system proposed for assessing whether a pregnant woman who claims to be suicidal should get an abortion has both advantages and disadvantages. She would be examined by two psychiatrists and one obstetrician, who must then come to a unanimous decision.

The advantage is that if this team of doctors weigh up their professional opinions, the diagnosis could be seen as having a good foundation, which would add security to their decision.

The disadvantage is that the woman, already in a vulnerable state, would have to face three doctors and this would undoubtedly place her under more strain.

It is normal for one psychiatrist to assess a patient's risk of suicide and it could be argued that it is unfair to single out a pregnant woman for different treatment. The necessity to have three doctors could be seen as stigmatising.

These pros and cons have already been highlighted by the government-appointed expert group, which reported on the options that need to be examined.

The decision of the Government to opt for this form of assessment is unlikely to be met with strong opposition by psychiatrists who believe that in rare cases a suicidal woman should receive an abortion.

But there will also be those who say it is excessive.

The right of appeal – should the first assessment result in a rejection of the abortion request – is open to the woman. But the decision of the second three-doctor panel would also have to be unanimous.

The practicalities of putting this system in place may be more difficult than imagined if several women are in this predicament at the same time.

Finding psychiatrists at short notice who want to take part may also be problematic. More than 100 practising psychiatrists believed there is no evidence that abortion is a treatment for suicidal ideation.

The proposals covering any woman whose life is under threat due to physical risk are less contentious. But it is still unclear how early a doctor can intervene.

Irish Independent