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Along with many others, I firmly believe that the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 as currently framed is medically and ethically unsound in relation to the issue of suicide. It is a cause of profound concern to many that the expert evidence highlighting the flaws in this proposed legislation has had no real impact to date.
Given the urgency of this situation, I wish to comment in a direct and personal manner. I am appealing not just to legislators but to all of Irish society to rethink what is being proposed.
It is always good to start with what we agree on. We can all agree that it is at times right to intervene medically during pregnancy. It is crucial that medics should be clear about when it is right to intervene. There is broad support for the parts of the proposed legislation intended to provide legal clarity on what can rightly be termed life-saving and necessary medical treatment.
My concerns with the proposed legislation, as I have already said, are related to the issue of suicide. In particular the field of psychiatry and not obstetrics.
The key question is whether intervening in pregnancy arising from the risk or threat of suicide can ever be understood as ‘life-saving’? The immediate answer to that question is that there is no expert psychiatric evidence that would support any such claim. No legal, medical, political or media commentary should be allowed to obscure that bare fact.
I would suggest that we need to go deeper into the issue of suicide to fully understand what is at stake with the proposed legislation. We can never dismiss the threat of suicide, which must always be treated with compassion. However, for anyone who supports the inclusion of the threat of suicide in this legislation on the grounds that ‘it might save even one (mother’s) life’, please consider honestly the wider implications. Listen to the experts in suicide prevention who are warning that the proposed legislation will undermine their work as it will serve to ‘normalise’ suicide in Irish society. We all have a responsibility to prevent suicide and to support mental health.
As I have stated previously, we should not empower the risk or threat of suicide by giving that threat rights over the life of another. We should not lay a place for it at our table.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in his recent letter to The Irish Times made a very important contribution on this issue by drawing attention to the question of interventions late in pregnancy as now permitted in the proposed legislation. Perhaps for the first time some people began to take on board – let us speak plainly here – the horror of what could flow from the proposed legislation as it stands.
The concept of ‘viability’ as some possible threshold beyond which life could be protected is an immensely dangerous ethical position. All vulnerable life, those lacking ‘viability’, whether young or old, would be threatened by this impoverished ethical standard.
I repeat my appeal to all concerned not to support legislation that is medically and ethically unsound. I would encourage those who share these concerns to make every effort to contact our legislators. This vital issue requires respectful and on-going dialogue. On Saturday 8 June there will be another Pro-Life vigil in Dublin city. Your attendance will speak volumes in support of a truly ‘life-saving’ culture.