Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

No confusion, says top consultant

Galway University Hospital doctors allegedly refused to carry out a medical termination for 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar

A senior consultant has said he sees no evidence of confusion in medical ranks in Ireland over whether or not a woman can have an abortion if her life is at risk.

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin and consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, said it would be preferable to have legislation to bring clarity.

But Dr Coulter-Smith said that in his experience he has not seen confusion among doctors on whether a woman is entitled to an abortion on clinical grounds.

He said: "I think most of us who work in obstetrics and gynaecology, there may be individual differences, but the majority would be of the view that if the health is such a risk that there is a risk of death and we are dealing with a foetus that is not viable, there is only one answer to that question, we bring the pregnancy to an end."

His comments come after Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who was 17 weeks pregnant, died on October 28 after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia. Her husband Praveen has alleged that doctors refused several requests for a medical termination because the foetus's heartbeat was present.

Dr Coulter-Smith is also clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and has headed the Rotunda for the last three and a half years. He said he could not discuss Mrs Halappanavar's death directly but that introducing laws would offer further clarity.

"This case probably does not have a lot to do with abortion laws," he said. It is a clinical scenario - someone in the process of miscarriage and had infective complications as a result of that process, whether or not if the situation had been actively managed in the 24-36 hours proceeding the tragedy of the baby's death, would that have changed anything? No-one can answer that.

"But from the medical point of view it would be nice to have clarity - what is and isn't possible and feasible. What is reasonably clear is that in a position where senior clinicians feel a woman's health and life is at risk then it is permissible in this country to end the pregnancy.

"There isn't legislation but the issues that have been judged on have set a precedent. It would be nice if there was legislation."

Ireland's Medical Council regulations on abortion state that the procedure is illegal unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother.

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