Two groups of Donegal doctors have entered the debate on the abortion referendum to share their experiences and views from everyday practice.
Medical professionals in Donegal have come out in support of both sides: ‘Donegal Doctors for Yes’ have said the Eighth Amendment restricts them from carrying out their duty of care to pregnant women. On the other hand, Donegal doctors in defence of the Eighth Amendment say the law does not prevent doctors from saving lives. Both groups have brought the case of Savita Halappanavar into focus to discuss the circumstances of the Galway dentist’s death.
We have included the full statements issued by Donegal doctors in recent days:
Donegal Doctors for No:
As pro-life doctors in Donegal we refute and take issue with the pro-choice movement’s repeated claims that the 8th Amendment puts the lives of pregnant mothers at risk. This is not the case. As recently as December 12th 2017, the Maternal Death Inquiry (Ireland) found that deaths in Ireland were extremely rare – this would not be the case if doctors were prevented by the 8th Amendment from saving lives.
In fact, the Medical Council guidelines in Ireland oblige doctors to act even if that means the baby’s life may be lost.
The guidelines state that during pregnancy rare complications can arise where a therapeutic intervention is required which may result in there being little to no hope of the baby surviving. In exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.
In plain English, that means if a doctor feels that a pregnancy poses a real threat to the woman’s life, even if that threat is not immediate, they may perform a termination of pregnancy, usually by delivering the baby*. In fact, our mortality rates are lower than the UK and USA where abortion is freely available.
The pro-choice lobby seems to claim that Mrs Savita Halappanavar died because of the 8th Amendment. Mrs Halappanavar in fact died due to chorioamnionitis and septicaemia which was mismanaged.
There were three investigations into her death by HIQA, the HSE and the coroner. All reports concluded that her tragic death was caused by the medical mismanagement of a virulent form of sepsis. The coroner’s inquest found that she died from medical misadventure. No mention was made of the 8th Amendment. Numerous medical personnel concurred with those conclusions.
Donegal Doctors for Yes:
We are a group of doctors, working in or from Donegal, who currently work across various medical specialties. We refer to a recently published letter from a group of doctors calling for a no vote. Their statement, that the Eighth Amendment does not put the lives of pregnant women at risk, runs contrary to the testimonies of Ireland’s leading obstetricians, including Prof Peter Boylan (former Master of National Maternity Hospital, Holles St) and Dr Rhona Mahoney (current Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles St). These are the current experts in maternal and foetal health and deal with some of the most complicated pregnancies, many of which are dealt with away from rural GP practises because of their complex nature.
Furthermore, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which has representation from all 19 maternity units across the country, has publicly declared its support for the recommendations made by the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment.
Maternal mortality rates are not an indicator of successful pregnancies. This is evidenced by the countless number of Irish women who are sharing their experiences of having to choose between a forced pregnancy and travelling to the UK to access healthcare.
63 women listed a Donegal address when seeking a termination in England/Wales in 2016. Others have ordered abortion pills online and taken them in their home without any medical supervision. Maternal mortality statistics fail to capture these experiences.
Indeed, death is a very low bar by which to set the standard for maternity services in Ireland. The current system has failed these women, many of whom are our sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, cousins and friends, as well as patients.
Regarding Savita Halappanavar, the author of the independent report into her tragic death, Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, has publicly stated that a timely termination could have saved her life, as has her husband. In addition, her family have urged the Irish electorate to vote Yes in the upcoming referendum. In his report to the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, Professor Arulkumaran said the following:
“She did have sepsis. However, if she had a termination in the first days as requested, she would not have had sepsis. If she had the termination when asked for it, the sepsis would not arise”
“We would never have heard of her and she would be alive today”.
It is becoming clear that a minority of doctors wish to retain the Eighth Amendment. We respect these views and support legislation that will ensure that no doctor will be forced into providing abortion services against their conscience. However, in the face of ever growing medical evidence and the real life stories of Irish women, this ideology can no longer be afforded the constitutional protection it currently relies on. That doctors cannot agree on the issue is a strong enough argument in itself for introducing legislation rather than continuing with the ‘one size fits all’ model of the Eighth Amendment.
As Irish women will attest, no two pregnancies are the same.
Donegal women will continue to need access to termination services, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. However, we now have an opportunity to allow this to happen in a safe and compassionate environment, near the support of family and friends, and without fear of prosecution. As doctors, our duty is to support, not export, these women.
Dr Anna McHugh
Dr Paul Stewart
Dr Noel Sharkey
Dr Padraig McGuinness
Dr Deirdre McLaughlin
Dr Clare Stewart
Dr Roisin McDaid
Dr Killian Mac an Bhaird
Dr Lauren Harkin
Dr Sarah Shiels
Dr Claire Sharkey
Dr Samantha Davis
Dr Bill Anderson