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Doctor's right to object to abortions is "not absolute" - Department of Health

There is no provision for individual hospitals to refuse to carry out abortions, the Department says.

File Image of the Mater Hospital
File Image of the Mater Hospital
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE RIGHTS OF medical personnel to object to carrying out abortions must not interfere with the well-being of a patient, the Department of Health has said.

This week a member of the board of the Mater Hospital, Fr Kevin Doran, said that the hospital “can’t carry out abortions because it goes against our ethos”.  He was echoed by fellow board member, and a nurse tutor at the hospital, Sr Eugene Nolan.

Sr Nolan said that the situation facing the hospital was “very, very grave”. The Mater is listed as one of 25 appropriate institutions named in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act where abortions may be carried out in order to save the lives of pregnant women.

‘No provision for institutional objection’

Yesterday, there was a suggestion that the Mater may be able to refuse to carry out a termination due a late removal of a line in the act that stated no institution could refuse to carry out a termination.

That, however was denied by a Department of Health spokesperson who spoke to today.

“The Act does not provide for conscientious objection by institutions.

“Section 17 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 clarifies that professional health personnel (medical and nursing personnel) with a conscientious objection will not be obliged to carry out or assist in carrying out lawful terminations of pregnancy, unless the risk to the life of the pregnant woman is immediate, i.e. in an emergency situation.

However, an individual’s right to conscientious objection is not absolute and must be balanced against the patient’s competing rights, particularly the right to life in the case of a medical emergency.

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“In such cases where a doctor or other health professional has a conscientious objection to undertaking a required medical procedure, he or she will have a duty to ensure that another colleague takes over the care of the patient as per current medical ethics,” said the spokesperson.

“These provisions make it clear that this right is limited to persons involved in the delivery of the treatment only.”

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