The closing date for submissions to the Oireachtas Committee, currently considering the abortion question in Ireland, was 5pm on May 8th. We intend to publish some of the submissions over the next few days and start with an important submission by Fr Kevin Doran.
The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill traces its origins to the judgements of the Supreme Court in the so-called X case (1992) in the course of which the Supreme Court provided an interpretation of the Article 40.3.3 which I, in common with a great many citizens, believe to have been fundamentally flawed, because it provided for circumstances in which the life of the unborn could be directly ended by abortion, thereby implying that the right to life of the mother has priority over, rather than being equal to the right to life of the unborn child.
It has been argued by the Government that two opportunities were given to the people to reverse the effects of that judgement, by means of referenda. The truth is that both of those subsequent referenda gave the people a choice between a little abortion and a lot of abortion. No opportunity has been provided since 1992 to restore the constitutional position intended by the people in the eighth amendment to the constitution when article 40.3.3 was inserted in 1983.
My concerns with the present Bill relate primarily but not exclusively to Heads 2, 3 and 4.
Observations on Head 1:
To define a ‘medical procedure’ as including the provision of any drug is extremely loose.
I note the appropriate definition of a psychiatrist as a medical practitioner who is registered in the specialist division of the register of medical practitioners. Regrettably, the Supreme Court in 1992 did not have recourse to a psychiatrist but rather to a clinical psychologist. Nor has the government, in preparing this bill, shown itself willing to hear the majority view of psychiatrists that abortion is never a treatment for suicidal ideation.
The definition of the ‘unborn’ as human life following implantation until such time as it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of the woman is controversial to say the least. There is no scientific basis to exclude the pre-implanted embryo which is a distinct living human being from the definition of the ‘unborn’.
Observations on Head 2:
This section of the Bill provides for the medical care of women in pregnancy, taking into account the legal obligation on medical practitioners to preserve the life of the unborn as far as practicable.
a) It is perfectly consistent with respect for human life and with the ethos of healthcare that during pregnancy the mother should always be provided with any life-saving treatment which is necessitated by her medical condition, even if that treatment results in the unintended death of the foetus (or unborn). This is nothing new and it is the basic principle which has guided medical practitioners for generations.
b) The Bill refers to the carrying out of a medical procedure, in accordance with this head, in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended, but it also refers in the explanatory note to the termination of pregnancy as if it were itself a medical procedure. This is far too loose. There is a fundamental moral distinction between an unintended though foreseeable consequence and a directly intended action. This distinction is reflected in the terms of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalises only an action which is intended to procure a miscarriage. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill makes no distinction between the directly intended termination of pregnancy on the one hand and the unintended death of the unborn as a result of normal medical treatment on the other. When there is confusion between medical treatment and termination, it is inevitable that termination eventually ends up being considered as a medical treatment in its own right.
Observations on Head 3:
I agree with the stated principle that Doctors should not be prevented from saving a woman’s life in a situation of acute emergency. I am concerned, however, that – as in the case of Head 2 – the distinction between a life saving intervention which results in the ending of the pregnancy on the one hand and termination of pregnancy as a direct act, is not at all clear.
Observations on Head 4:
As stated in my opening remarks, the judgement of the Supreme Court in the X Case seems not to have due regard to the equality of rights as between the unborn and the mother. Mr. Justice Finlay maintained that the threat to the life of the mother (which was a matter of speculation or at best probability), carried greater weight than the actual threat to the life of the unborn (which was certain). His judgement also failed to take account of the fact that, while the pregnancy was the circumstances in which the young woman in the X case found herself (through no fault of her own), whatever risk there might be to her life was not from the child in the womb but from herself. Finally, no psychiatric evidence was heard which would have suggested either that the woman in the X case could not be successfully treated, or that abortion would have resolved her problems.
The heart of the issue, however, is not whether the woman might actually have committed suicide OR whether good psychiatric care might have prevented this. The heart of the matter is that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, provides for the first time under Irish law for the deliberate destruction of innocent human life. I would submit that the very name of the Bill is deceptive in that the only “novelty” introduced by the Bill is the right to kill.
The right to life is a fundamental human right and the common good cannot be served while such a fundamental right is withdrawn by society for whatever reason. If it is acceptable to deliberately end the life of an unborn human being in the hope that her mother will not then commit suicide, how much more acceptable would it then appear be to accelerate the death of a critically ill adult in order to make space in the intensive care unit for someone else who is at risk. The acceptance of natural death is perfectly reasonable and the withdrawal of treatment which is no longer of any benefit is perfectly ethical, but the deliberate killing of the innocent, even if it appears that he or she may die anyway, is in a completely different category.
People sometimes talk of “opening the floodgates” to abortion on demand. In my view, the acceptance of the principle that innocent human life can ever be deliberately and directly terminated, extends far beyond abortion to undermine the very basis of our care for the sick and the dying.
Observations on Head 12:
I welcome the inclusion of a provision for conscientious objection on the part of medical practitioners and other healthcare personnel. I totally reject the manner in which the Bill specifically excludes the possibility that an institution might refuse on grounds of ethos to implement elements of the Bill, when enacted, for example what is provided for under Head 4. This is totally unacceptable to me as a Director of a Catholic Voluntary Hospital
Observations on Head 19
In the context of Head 4, Head 19 is relatively meaningless, because the overall import of the Bill is to say that it is an offence for a person to do any act with the intent to destroy unborn human, except under those circumstances when it is not an offence.
For all of the above reasons, I do not find the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill to be acceptable and I would strongly request that the Oireachtas reject it.
Note from Fr Doran
This submission is made in a personal capacity by Fr. Kevin Doran, currently administrator of Donnybrook Parish. The author holds a PhD in philosophy, and is a specialist in the ethics of healthcare. He is a board member of the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and has been active for over thirty years in the provision of voluntary services for women in crisis pregnancy.