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Pro-life doctor says no woman has died because of the Eighth Amendment

Professor Eamon McGuinness’ comments are at odds with previous remarks made by Dr Peter Boylan.

Professor Eamon McGuinness at today's Save the 8th conference
Professor Eamon McGuinness at today's Save the 8th conference
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A MEDICAL ADVISER to the Save the 8th campaign has said he doesn’t think there’s “a major disagreement” among doctors about whether the Eighth Amendment affects the care they give pregnant women and girls.

Professor Eamon McGuinness, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said: “There’s a lot of disagreement among the public, so doctors are part of the public, so not everybody is going to agree.

“I think there are a lot of doctors out there who are of a similar view to me and there’s no disagreement, even among general practitioners I don’t think there’s a major disagreement.”

McGuinness was speaking at a Save the 8th press conference in Dublin today, where he said he believes no woman has died as a result of the Eighth Amendment.

The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which McGuinness previously chaired, has come out in favour of repealing the amendment.

Dr Peter Boylan, the organisation’s current chair, previously told the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee: “I don’t think the Constitution is the place to regulate medical practice … [The Eighth] has caused endless problems.”

He said the amendment is “unworkable”, noting it was enacted over 34 years ago – before the internet or abortion pills had been invented.

Boylan added that the Eighth Amendment “gives rise to significant difficulties for doctors practising in Ireland and has caused grave harm to women, including death”. He said Savita Halappanavar was one of the women who died as a result of the amendment.

At the time, independent TD Mattie McGrath said there are differing opinions about whether or not it was responsible for her death, to which Boylan he “had the opportunity of reviewing her notes forensically”.

McGuinness said he’s still a member of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists but not on the executive council so did not wish to comment on its position.

“Since we started recording maternal deaths, we haven’t had one death, to my knowledge, that has occurred as result of the Eighth Amendment, that’s all I can say,” he said.

‘Why are so many women having to leave this country?’

Speaking today at the launch of It’s Time to Talk, Amnesty International’s campaign for a Yes vote, Health Minister Simon Harris said: “The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was neutral on the question of the Eighth Amendment in 1983, it’s not neutral today.

Posted by on Saturday, 21 April 2018

“It, as a body, believes that we should repeal the Eighth Amendment. Let’s not run down rabbit holes, nobody is suggesting that people in our health service don’t give people expert, quality care – of course they do. But let’s not ignore the reality in this country.

Why are so many women having to leave this country, from every county in Ireland, to access termination, if everything is fine? Why are so many women, three a day, having to illegally take abortion pills at medical risk without having any support, if everything is okay?

At the earlier press conference, McGuinness said the Eighth Amendment never impacted the care he gave pregnant women, noting that the Medical Council’s guidelines oblige doctors to deliver the treatment a patient needs, including in cases where such treatment could harm an unborn child.

When asked about the comments made by Boylan – and similar remarks made by Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the Holles Street Maternity Hospital, at the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee – McGuinness said: “Well I just want to know where it’s tying their hands, it didn’t tie my hands and, a lot of my colleagues, it didn’t tie our hands.

“We were not restricted in any way … so I don’t know what society they’re working in, possibly different than mine.”

Miss P 

When asked his opinion on the Miss P case – where the HSE went to the High Court in December 2014 to see if they could switch off the life support of a pregnant woman who was declared brain-dead – McGuinness said he wasn’t familiar with it.

I don’t remember the case so I really can’t comment on it. Death doesn’t have to be immediate to carry out a termination if it’s required.

McGuinness was also asked about the case of Michelle Harte, a woman with cancer who had to travel to the UK for a termination in 2010.

Doctors at Cork University Hospital had advised her to terminate the pregnancy but were unable to do so as there was no ‘immediate’ risk to her life. She received substantial compensation from the State shortly before her death in 2011.

“I don’t want to comment on that particular case because I don’t know the details of it. My understanding is that the patient had a malignant melanoma, much more than that I really don’t know … I know nothing about the case and I don’t wish to comment on it,” McGuinness said.

No impact on care 

At the press conference, three women spoke about how the Eighth Amendment didn’t affect the treatment they received when they became sick while pregnant.

1671 Save the 8th_90541839 Louise Dunleavy, who received treatment for sepsis while pregnant Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Audrey McElligott was treated for Stage 4 cancer while pregnant. She said: “Everyone at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (in Drogheda, Co Louth) did everything they could to save me and my baby. As with any surgery or chemotherapy, the doctors told me there would be risks for my baby and me…

I went through chemotherapy for three cycles while pregnant. The delivery of the baby was a scheduled Cesarean (section) so that it would coincide with my chemotherapy, which kills my immune system, so that I wouldn’t be at risk of infection.

McElligott said her son Joseph was born in 2013, with no traces of chemo in his body.

Louise Dunleavy also spoke at the conference. She developed life-threatening sepsis while pregnant.

“I know from first-hand experience that doctors were not constrained by the Eighth Amendment from acting to save my life … Doctors worked very effectively and aggressively to treat me straight away,” she said.

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Órla Ryan

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