Irish physicians differ on grounds for abortion

Physicians testifying before a committee of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) about the proposed abortion law have expressed conflicting views about the bill.

One point of disagreement is the provision for abortion in the case of a woman threatening suicide.  Many Irish psychiatrists have protested the expectation that they will assess pregnant women in such circumstances. The issue is particularly important because it appears that the proposed law prohibits conscientious objection when a pregnant woman is threatening suicide.

The master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr. Rhona Mahony, and its clinical director, Dr Peter Boylan, asserted that suicidal threats do provide grounds for abortion.  On the other hand, Dr. Sam Coulter Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital, testified that there was no evidence to support the inclusion of suicidal intention as a reason for abortion, and that such a law would pose “major ethical dilemmas for obstetricians.”  He also criticized the proposed law for failing to set a gestational limit for the procedure. [Irish Times]

The president of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, Dr. Anthony McCarthy, stated that there would likely never be evidence that would demonstrate whether or not providing abortion would prevent suicide by a pregnant woman.  He asserted that the question to ask “is there ever a case where a woman will kill herself because of an unwanted pregnancy and, if so, what can we do to save her life and would that ever be a termination of pregnancy?”

Consultant perinatal psychiatrist Dr. John Sheehan pointed out that, in 40 years of practice, Irish perinatal psychiatrists had never encountered a pregnant woman expressing suicidal intention.  According to Dr. Sheehan said the incidence of suicide in pregnancy is between one in 250,000 and one in 500,000, so that it would be impossible for psychiatrists to predict who would likely commit suicide. [Irish Times]

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