We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Abortion legislation should be 'short, clear and not mention suicide'

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, says his profession would welcome the clarity and comfort that legislation will bring.

THE MASTER OF Ireland’s busiest maternity hospital has reiterated his profession’s calls for more legal clarity on terminating a pregnancy when the mother’s life is at risk.

Speaking at the Irish Medical Organisation’s annual conference yesterday, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith of the Rotunda Hospital said obstetricians would welcome legislation to back up current Medical Council guidelines.

He said the current debate comes at a “tragic time” after events in Galway saw Savita Halappanavar, a 30-year-old dentist, die after contracting blood poisoning during pregnancy.

“The events in Galway focus our minds on exactly how difficult this situation can be,” Dr Coulter-Smith told an audience during a session entitled Medical Ethical issues from the Beginning to the End of Life.

He described the current legal situation as “confusing” as it includes “extremely old” statutes, case law and guidelines that don’t necessarily agree at all times.

“Is there a need for legislation?” he asked. “This has led to enormous amount of debate. On the positive side, we as a profession would like some clarity and some comfort from the fact that what we do is covered by legislation. We’d like legislation to back up the Medical Council Guidelines.”

On the issue of suicide, the master said he does not believe it should be mentioned in any law. “I think we should leave it broad,” he explained. “Legislation needs to be short, clear, it needs to take into account that there will be advances in medical technology.”

Earlier he said that “most people accept that termination is not treatment for suicide ideation”.

Dr Coulter-Smith stressed current guidelines ensure all efforts are made to save the baby if the mother’s life is at risk but added there is a “grey area” in some emergency situations when the foetus is at the 24-week mark. Before 23 weeks, foetuses will not survive and after 25 or 26 weeks, there can be up to a 90 per cent survival rate but the 24 mark is an unknown.

The management of such cases depends on the severity of the maternal condition. He said there would then be issues and questions to be answered around procedures, decision-making and appeals.

He also called for new terminology to be used, stating that he did not believe the termination of a wanted pregnancy because of risk to life should be called an abortion.

Watch: Dr Sam Coulter-Smith’s address at the IMO annual conference>

Read: Draft report on Savita death doesn’t say why she died – solicitor

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.