Treatment that risks foetus can be 'ethically permissible' - Catholic bishops

Tuesday 20 November 2012 10.35
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The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference released the statement to 'reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching'
The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference released the statement to 'reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching'
Mary Lou McDonald said there had been a gap in the law for 20 years
Mary Lou McDonald said there had been a gap in the law for 20 years

The country's Catholic bishops have said medical treatment on a seriously-ill pregnant woman which may endanger the foetus is ethically permissible provided every effort is made to save both lives.

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has also reiterated its condolences to the family of Savita Halappanavar on what they call its "devastating personal tragedy" which has "stunned our country".

Bishops released a statement on the matter this evening, following a meeting in Maynooth of the Standing Committee of the Irish hierarchy.

It focuses on what the conference calls the "equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child".

It said that, in light of the widespread discussion following the tragic death of Mrs Halappanavar and her unborn baby, bishops wished to reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching.

The bishops’ group said the Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother but that both had an equal right to life.

It also said there was a moral distinction between “the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby” and medical treatments which do not intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn.

The bishops said current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this distinction in practice “while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby”.

Savita death 'an affront to human dignity' 

A Swedish member of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe has described the death of Savita Halappanavar as "an affront to human dignity and a serious form of violence."

Tina Acketoft, who is Chairperson of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said in a statement: "Abortion was refused even though the foetus that Savita was carrying did not stand any chance of survival.

“She was left suffering and crying for help until she died. I consider what happened to Savita an affront to human dignity and a serious form of violence".

She added: "I call on the Irish authorities to take immediate steps to align Irish legislation with European standards and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

“The only way in which this disturbing death can be a little less pointless, is by ensuring that no more woman die in Ireland from being denied legal abortion," she concluded.

The Council of Europe is the 47-member organisation devoted to the promotion of democracy and human rights and which oversees the European Court of Human Rights.

The Council's Committee of Ministers is due to examine in early December the government's latest response to the ruling by the Court of Human Rights which said the Irish state had breached the rights of a woman in the ABC v Ireland case, and which criticised Ireland for not legislating for the X case.

It was in response to the ruling that the government set up the expert group on the abortion question.

The government had committed to sending an update on the findings of the expert group by the end of October, but it has sought an extension of the deadline to the end of November.

The Committee of Ministers may give its response to the report between 4-6 December, but it is understood they may not be able to give their response since they will only just have received the Government's update.

The Committee of Ministers is officially made up of foreign ministers although the common practice is that, instead, the ambassadors of the member states to the Council of Europe normally issue a response to countries implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

Labour to support Government position in X case motion

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said Labour Party TDs will support the Government's position when Sinn Féin puts forward a Dáil motion tomorrow calling for legislation to be introduced immediately on the X Case.

In 1992, the Supreme Court's judgment on the X Case permitted abortion in limited circumstances, where there was a substantial risk to the life of the mother.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Gilmore said he believed Labour deputies will support the Government's efforts to bring a resolution and legal clarity to this issue.

He added: "This is something that we are not going to leave aside. Doing nothing is not an option on this issue."

Sinn Féin has said it hopes that all parties will support its motion.

On RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said the objective of the motion was not to be party political.

She said it was intended to give a clear public indication that members of the Oireachtas were "prepared to act, prepared to legislate and not prepared to delay any further" on the issue.

Ms McDonald said that for 20 years, there had been a gap in the law clarifying for medical practitioners exactly how the judgment worked out in practice.

She said: "Our fear is that having waited for 20 years, and notwithstanding the latest tragedy and controversy, that the Government will once again run for cover, once again try to push this issue down the road."

Asked whether Meath TD Peadar Tóibín, who did not sign the motion, would be expected to support it, she said: "It's a Sinn Féin motion, and of course all members of Sinn Féin are expected to vote for it."

She said there would be discussions with Mr Tóibín about the issue and that Sinn Féin had taken the view at its last party conference not to opt for a free vote on the issue.

Ms McDonald said they were anxious to see the report of the expert group on abortion, which is being brought to Cabinet next week.

Labour TD Ciara Conway said she wants to assess the Government's counter-motion regarding abortion legislation before making any decision on how she will vote.

Ms Conway said the Government's motion would have to be "strong, forthright and definitive".