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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 worth listening to the experts who operate in this area. One of those to whom I have listened on the radio is Dr. Anthony McCarthy, a consultant perinatal psychiatrist. Another, and with whom I have discussed this issue, is Professor Veronica O'Keane of Trinity College, Dublin. As professionals, they are very much of the view that the suicide issue is a real one that has to be taken seriously. These people of sound medical practice are a rock of sense. They say the suicide issue is serious and the assessment of it should not be a tick-the-box exercise where we simply go through the motions. At the end of the day, their duty as doctors is to the mental health of their patients. That assessment therefore should be real, not a tick-the-box exercise.

In our debate, we run the risk of talking about women's suicidal feelings as something that should be ignored or stigmatised. The cavalier manner with which the risk of suicide and mental health is dismissed by some people on the pro-life side of the argument is very worrying. We regularly have debates in this House on suicide, depression and destigmatising mental health. Yet as soon as it comes up as an issue to do with the termination of a pregnancy it is to be dismissed as fake. As one psychiatrist said - I think it was Patricia Casey - there is a book one can get which will tell one how to fake suicidal tendencies. She said that one can just read the book and have one's script ready when one goes in to the doctor. It is appalling and scandalous for someone who works in our medical services to be saying that kind of thing to the public, including women, in this country. Women in my constituency have told me that the last person they would go to see - and from whom they would refuse treatment - is that lady. I will leave it at that, a Cheann Comhairle, and I apologise for straying.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Please be careful about questioning people's professionalism and mentioning names.

Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan I agree and I withdraw that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Thank you.

Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan The two other perinatal psychiatrists, however, said that suicide in pregnancy exists and is real. For the majority of women the last thing they would do would be to suggest or prescribe a termination. It is a mental health issue and there are ways to treat it. One treats it as one would the risk of suicide in other areas. Nonetheless there are examples, known to the medical professionals, where it is prevalent to such a degree that this approach should be taken. If only one woman per year or per decade is at such risk, that woman needs to be protected. She needs to have her rights vindicated and her right to life - for that is what we are talking about - as a mother and as a woman protected. The reality is that at the moment we send people to England and they are afraid to come forward.

When we are discussing this in future and if we get to deal with legislation, the doctors have asked for two options. One concerns how to deal with the majority of cases of women who will not require a termination. They will require medical help and counselling. The second concerns dealing with those exceptional cases that may require it. We need to be cognisant of both possibilities when we are debating and putting forward legislation.

I also wish to refer to some of the arguments that have come forward against this matter. The first one is that the Supreme Court judgment is flawed. That is a very cavalier thing to say. It was said in this House on a number of occasions that five members of the Supreme Court got it wrong, even though in two referendums the public upheld their view. Simply refusing to accept the judgment does not make it flawed.

The second argument, which we hear a lot, is that Ireland is one of the safest places in the world for women to give birth. I do not deny that but the safest country is Italy which has a much more liberal regime on these matters. Therefore it is a nonsensical argument and it should stop being cited.

The third argument is that we are going down the route taken in the UK. This is the most unfair argument of all because the UK law is based on the 1967 Act which refers not to the life of a woman but to her physical or mental health.

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