Two doctors 'should make decision' on termination, according to expert report

Monday 26 November 2012 11.14
The Expert Group on abortion says an independent review is needed in disputed cases
The Expert Group on abortion says an independent review is needed in disputed cases

Decisions on terminating a pregnancy where there is a threat to the life of a mother should be made by two doctors, at consultant or specialist level, according to the Government's Expert Group on abortion.

The report, seen in full by RTÉ News, says an independent review should be established for cases where a dispute arises over a doctor's refusal to certify that a woman is entitled to a lawful abortion.

It also says that cases where a woman is suicidal may require what it calls "more safeguards".

The Expert Group report will be published this week once it has been discussed by the Cabinet.

The report indicates that legislation plus regulation is the most legally secure way of dealing with the issue.

It says the State is obliged to provide a legal framework and facilities for terminating a pregnancy where there is a threat to the life of a mother and where that threat can only be averted by a termination.

While the report suggests that in most cases two senior doctors should be sufficient to certify a termination, it says the decision could be left to a doctor acting alone when a rare medical emergency occurs.

However, doctors in that situation should be legally protected especially from what it refers to as "the chilling effect" of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act - which makes it a criminal offence to provide an unlawful abortion.

The Labour Party favours legislation.

While members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party are unlikely to have difficulty with terminations for clear medical reasons, some are concerned that legislating for suicide intent could potentially result in abortion on demand.

On this issue, the report says the decision could be left to three senior doctors - two psychiatrists, plus an obstetrician.

Legal 'certainty' needed - Hayes

The Government has got to do everything in its power to bring legal certainty to the abortion issue, Minister of Sate Brian Hayes told RTÉ's The Week in Politics.

He said mistakes were made in the 1980s when the issue was turned into a "party political event”.

It remains his personal view, he said, that TDs should have a free vote when legislating for this.

Certainty was needed both for women and for the medical profession to ensure high standards of care for expectant mothers are maintained, he added.