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

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan] It is always worth keeping that in our minds.

  On the judgment in A, B and C v. Ireland, we must be clear, first as legislators. We cannot distinguish ourselves from this as legislators. The European Court of Human Rights, of which we are a signatory and which is designed to uphold human rights in Europe, makes clear that we must implement the law that our country has on its books, we must make clear when a right to termination exists, we must make clear how that right is assessed and we must make clear how that service is to be provided. Let us never say anything other than that the European Court of Human Rights is telling us that our law, that has been voted on by the people, ought to be implemented. That is what it is, nothing more. We are not being told we must offer services. We are being told that our existing law, that we have voted on and that the Supreme Court has dealt with, must be implemented. We are legislators. Indeed, we are members of the community, representatives and members of families. We are, as Deputy Mathews stated, fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sons, but we are still legislators and there is a law in this country that needs to be implemented.

  I note the atmosphere within which this debate can often take place. The downright viciousness of those on the extremes of the pro-life lobby cannot be underestimated. I campaigned in the past general election to legislate for the X case, this extremely specific set of circumstances that is the law in this country. There were protests outside my office. There were illegal posters put up all around my constituency stating that Labour would introduce abortion on demand and there were 200,000 abortions per year in the United Kingdom. There were leaflets handed out at churches, one of which was given to my father telling him that the position on which I was campaigning was a pro-choice abortion-on-demand service. That is what this discussion often becomes saturated with, this invidious atmosphere with vicious, uncompromising, unrealistic, unnuanced and non-factual arguments. However, I have real respect for persons of genuine belief and reasoned debate who are of a pro-life position because it is a perfectly tenable and respectable place to be, but I would argue that what we are discussing today, which is the implementation of the X case ruling, is perfectly compatible with and, indeed, should appeal to those of a pro-life position.

  The X case sets two issues. The first is where there is a real and substantive risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother. We are saying that a termination should be afforded where there is a risk to the life. We are not concerned here with any other reason, but about life-saving treatment. Where a termination is a life-saving treatment to the mother, it must be available. That ground, or area where that decision can be made, has not been clarified by law. There are doctors, including the highly respected Dr. Peter Boylan, former master of the National Maternity Hospital, who have stated that where the risk is clear there is no problem and it works fine, but there are grey areas. There are situations where doctors, practitioners, nurses, etc., worry about these grey areas. One such is the need to make a critical medical decision quickly and in good faith. Another is the fear of the risk that one could be reported by a colleague who holds a contrary opinion with the result that one could be prosecuted under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. We need to give doctors legal certainty, clarity and assurance when they are acting in good faith to save the life of a mother.

  The second issue which causes major problems in terms of the public discourse is the ground that a risk to the life of the mother includes the risk of self-destruction or, as we call it in more everyday language, suicide.

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