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

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed] We have an extremely good record in terms of safety in our maternity hospitals for women and this is newsworthy because it is so rare. That is a fact that holds up to international scrutiny. I accept there is a debate about how those figures are constituted but they hold up to comparison with any country in the developed world, including the United States.

  It is also apparent, with a few exceptions, that we have moved on significantly in this debate in terms of the capacity to have a civilised discourse on the issue and to be tolerant of different views, and there are many different views. The death of Savita Halappanavar has generated an enormous number of communications with constituents and citizens that fall into one or other side of the debate on how we should move forward. What has struck me most are not the generic e-mails I received but the people who took the time out to construct their own emails and to cogently express their concerns. Middle Ireland has a view that might be simply interpreted as not wanting, in any circumstances, to compromise the lives of mothers during pregnancy and we all share that outlook in this debate. It is important as we try to chart a roadmap on this difficult issue to accept that we start from fundamental values we hold. The lazy labels go back to the 1980s when this issue was first raised during the scramble for a constitutional referendum and the context in which it was conceded. Those lazy labels do a disservice to all sides and it is important to remember we all share a certain fundamental approach on this issue.

  Conservative or liberal are other labels that go with this. I would be on the conservative side of this debate but on other related issues, such as human assisted reproduction, I am on the record as saying that it is disgraceful we have not legislated for this or provided legal certainty for children born through surrogacy and who have second class status in the State akin to the former status of illegitimacy that we legislated to abolish. Those labels are lazy.

  The political context of the debate is simple. We campaigned on the basis of not legislating for the X case but establishing an expert group. The Labour Party position was quite clear that it was its policy to legislate for the X case. As in any arrangement for government between two parties, a compromise was established in the programme for Government, which established the expert group. The issue of concern to me is if the outcome of the debate was a foregone conclusion given the circumstances and terms of reference for the expert group. Annex 2 of the report stated that the terms of reference were to recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgment, taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this area and the overriding need for a speedy action. It appears to me that in many respects the group was channelled into pursuing a certain course of action.

  None of us wants a situation where doctors in the labour wards must refer to the small print of the law to deal with an individual case of pregnancy. I have never been lobbied officially by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, but if their voices now emerge in the context of the Savita Halappanavar case, and the existing Medical Council guidelines must be given statutory impact, I have no difficulty with that. No one wants a situation that compromises any mother's life in the slightest.

  The issue in the context of the X case is how to deal with suicide as the threat to life of the mother. Regrettably in society today, suicide has far too high a currency and happens all too frequently. I have sought the statistics for threats to the life of the mother due to suicide and I heard one of the heads of one of the Dublin maternity hospitals say it could arise once every 25 years. Be that as it may, none us would want in any circumstances to deny a mother the appropriate treatment. People fear the principle of the Trojan horse, whereby we make provision but find subsequently that it was not sufficiently legally watertight and would in future lead to unintended consequences.

  The dilemma is the divergence between the legislative intent of the public when they passed Article 40.3.3° in 1982 and its interpretation by the Supreme Count. It would be one thing, and this is not a criticism of the Supreme Court as it vindicated the right to life of the mother, for the interpretation of the Constitution to have diverged from the legislative intent of the citizens but for that to happen a second time as this House grapples with the necessary legislation to underpin that ruling would be an unforgivable error. We must remain true to the democratic imprimatur given for our efforts to protect the life of the unborn while bearing in mind the equal right to life of the mother while giving the legal certainty that is required.

  Much has been said about 20 years of inactivity but that is not entirely true. There have been four referenda in the intervening period, two of which were passed and two of which were rejected. While I have reservations about the suicide issue, I am cognisant of the other side of the argument that states that on two occasions the public rejected referenda to exclude suicide as a grounds on which to secure a termination because of the threat to the life of the mother. I know that is open to argument and dispute because of the circumstances of the debate but I am also cognisant that given the high incidence of suicide, there is a distinct possibility that if a single issue referendum was held on suicide, the public would reject it and then we would have to reflect on the consequences of that and how it might be interpreted by others as a vote for a more liberal approach to the issue. It is complex.

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