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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 David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton] This is another major issue because we have heard reports that pregnancies in other countries have been terminated after 24 weeks and the babies left to die. My interpretation is that after 24 weeks, doctors here are obliged to try to save the baby and keep him or her alive. The issue arises regarding how to deal with a suicidal person before 24 weeks and the risk that one could lose both.

I would be very interested in hearing the debate in the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on this issue. This forum is probably not the best one to tease out the detail and the committee will probably be the place to do that. I do not think we can or should have a referendum because we have to deal with the legal situation as the Constitution outlines and as the people have spoken way back. It is very complicated from a medical and legal point of view but we should be able to-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett For the sake of other Deputies, I must ask Deputy Stanton to conclude because we must finish at 4 p.m.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton We should be able to move forward.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I welcome this debate.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett This debate is not concluding today.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell It is a very important debate. I have listened to the debate on this subject, which has been widely discussed recently. The public is looking for a consensus on the issue. It is fair to say there is a broad consensus among politicians and the general public that there is a need to legislate and regulate for best medical practice. What we must do is ensure that we preserve the reputation of Ireland in terms of medical practice as one of the safest places in the world for a mother to give birth to her child, both for mother and child. In that regard, the investigations under way into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar need to be carried out in the quickest possible fashion. They need to be made public both in terms of her husband and family receiving the truth. It has been a tragedy. The investigations will also help inform best medical practice in this area.

In respect of suicide, on which there is no consensus, it is imperative for us to hear the best available medical evidence, particularly in psychiatry. There is a need for education and for politicians and the wider public to be properly informed. The public wants that level of knowledge. As legislators and representatives of the people, it is incumbent upon us when deliberations get under way in the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to consult widely. We are looking at best medical practice and the lives of both the mother and child. We cannot lose sight of the fact that in Ireland, we have a terrific medical system. We have excellent doctors and nurses across the spectrum who deliver babies daily in hospitals and seek the best situation for the mother and child.

Like everyone, I have thought long and hard about this issue. We need consensus and to be properly informed. I was delighted to hear the chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Buttimer, say that he is looking to consult widely and bring in a range of medical expertise from across the spectrum. This is vital. People have come a long way and there is broad agreement on the need to legislate for best medical practice. It is there in guidelines but in terms of bringing clarity to the situation, it is extremely important that this takes place. Working in that framework of consensus, it is critical that the committee brings in psychiatrists and other personnel such as the masters of the various maternity hospitals and gets a proper overview of the current situation from a medical perspective. I welcome the debate which was extremely important for the House and I look forward to further deliberations on the issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Griffin can commence his contribution and I will ask him to adjourn at 4 p.m. He can resume on the next occasion.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin I welcome the time allotted to Deputies to make statements on this matter and commend all those Deputies who have availed of the opportunity to do so. I acknowledge that I am another man standing up to speak on a sensitive topic that will never directly affect me. When I use the word "directly", I use it in the context of my own body. On a personal basis, as the husband of an expectant mother, this is a matter about which I feel very strongly and by which I am indirectly affected, as is every man in the country. It should not be forgotten that men are also affected by this matter. As public representatives, we have a duty to speak on this matter and make our views known. Before I go any further, I want to express my sympathy to the women and families affected in any way by this topic and acknowledge that public discussion, be it here in the Dáil or on radio or television, is very painful for many thousands of people throughout the country.

I welcome the report of the expert group and the fact that progress is being made. It has been said that six Governments have ignored this topic and thankfully this seventh Government will not do so, which is very welcome. My understanding is that the legislation on this matter to protect mothers' lives will be brought forward and I would be happy to support it. We need to provide legal clarity to protect the lives of pregnant women in all circumstances, including mental health grounds. It is a very difficult area to legislate for but we must do it. There are 166 Members in this House with probably 166 differing views on the topic. Very few people would have exactly the same views on this matter. It is such a complex health, justice and ethical area that one will never get total consensus but we need to work towards the broadest possible consensus we can find.

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