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Report of the Expert Group on the Judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland Case: Statements (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 3

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Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen Like other speakers, I welcome this debate. I also welcome the opportunity for Members to analyse and respond to the expert group's report. As Deputy McHugh has said, it is important that we, in conjunction with others outside this House, consider this report in its entirety, including its recommendations and options, and offer our response to them. As much as people want this issue to be resolved - some want it resolved as soon as is humanly possible - it is only right and proper that an opportunity for in-depth analysis is given by society as a whole. I await the Government's comments on the exact procedures that will follow from the Committee on Health and Children after Christmas, including what its terms of reference will be and for how long it will engage with experts and the professions affected and associated by what may be proposed thereafter in legislation.

  There are many wide-ranging views on this area. Many people are very stringent in their views. I expect and hope that Members will continue to respect the sincerely held views and opinions of all Members of this House. It is impossible to discuss the contents, findings, recommendations and options of the report, as well as the background to it and the reasons for it, without being conscious of the recent death of Savita Halappanavar. Our entire country was saddened by this horrible and unfortunate event. The outpouring of grief exercised the nation in a manner we have not seen in recent years.

  That case in its own right cannot be judged in isolation until the relevant investigations and explanations come from the process that has begun. On the issue of that investigation and efforts to establish the chronological order of events, I want to place on record my disappointment at the manner in which the Government, in particular the Minister for Health, handled that process in the immediate aftermath of that terrible event. The insensitive manner in which they dealt with the family was unfortunate. I hope that, even at this late stage, relationships in that regard can be retrieved and that there can be a mechanism and process that will meet with the support of all parties involved.

  In the immediate aftermath of that event, we heard the masters of the maternity hospitals state that existing legislation needs further legal clarity with regard to the safeguards of the mother in the event of the threat to her life being real at the expense of her unborn child. I would have thought that the existing legislation catered for this matter, as allegedly was the case in Galway. I think the majority in this country would have thought that the existing legislation was sufficient in that regard. Since then, I am sure the country is also united in its wish to uphold that existing legislation and strengthen it, if that is what has to be done.

  With regard to the expert group and its recommendations following the judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case, we acknowledge the expertise concerning the configuration of that group. We welcome and respect its report and we expect a considered and informed debate on the options contained therein.

  Many speakers have referred to the series of events that have followed the 1983 referendum and more specifically the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 on the X case. To say that nothing was done or attempted by governments since then is somewhat disingenuous. The 2002 referendum was held on both a text for the Constitution and a supporting legal framework to allow medical practitioners to intervene to save the life of the mother where there was a real and substantial risk of loss of life other than by self-destruction. It also involved the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the State Act 1861. In 2002, the Government felt that it was a moderate proposal excluding suicide as a reason for abortion. However, it was rejected by 10,000 votes. Irrespective of whether it was rejected by one vote or hundreds of thousands of votes, that result charged the State with a responsibility to act on the Supreme Court's decision.

  The decision of the European Court of Human Rights has reinforced that onus of responsibility. We will have to look at the debate that has ensued recently. Some commentary could lead one to believe that any mechanism - whether it be by the options mentioned or by legislation ensuing from them - could lead to the provision of limited abortion on demand or abortion as an option for those affected by rape, incest or those carrying children suffering from foetal abnormalities or which cannot survive outside the womb. Obviously, however, that is not necessarily the case. It is only in that context and as a result of any of those issues, that suicide is emanating from those horrible predicaments. It is only then that those issues become real.

  It therefore needs to be clarified that the expert group's findings, recommendations and options contain only options which cater for a framework to deal with the X case. Our Constitution guarantees the right to life and we must uphold that right for all our citizens and protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is against that backdrop that one must consider the options proposed by the expert group. It is against that background that one must also consider the response to these options from the medical and legal professions. Only then can we afford the legal framework and clarity for the medical profession to carry out its duties.

  Make no mistake, it remains a most difficult procedure for this State to provide specifically for the findings of the X case while protecting the right to life as enshrined in our Constitution.

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