Belfast Telegraph

Irish hospital keeps clinically dead pregnant woman alive due to law protecting her unborn baby

The mother's parents want the life support machine switched off

By Shane Phelan

A pregnant woman who is clinically brain-dead is being kept on a life support machine in an Irish hospital to keep her baby alive.

The mother of two in her 20s is around 17 weeks pregnant and the baby is still alive. But the mother is being kept alive against the wishes of her parents.

According to sources with knowledge of the latest case, the woman’s parents have expressed their wish that the life support machine be switched off.

However doctors have been unwilling to do this due to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which gives the rights of mothers and the unborn equal status.

Sources said the woman’s parents were now considering a legal challenge to the decision not to allow the life support machine to be turned off.

The case is expected to end up in court, where the State would have to get involved to represent the unborn child.

Catastrophic injury

The woman, who is in her mid to late 20s and from the midlands, suffered a catastrophic internal injury as a result of a blood clot and was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, where the country’s leading neurosurgery department is based, a fortnight ago.

Doctors were unable to save her, but kept her on life support so her unborn baby could have a chance of life.

Sources said that following a clinical assessment, it was decided to transfer her back to Mullingar General Hospital last week.

That hospital has foetal assessment facilities, which are not available at Beaumont, and it also allows her to be close to her family.

It is understood that Mullingar Hospital is now seeking legal advice on whether it can legally accede to her parents’ wishes.

“The legal advice would be there is one life here and it is the unborn child. Everything practicable has to be done – and that’s both under the constitution and the legislation passed last year. There is also a high possibility the unborn child will not survive,” a senior source said last night.

Abortion referendum

The case comes in the wake of the Republic's Taoiseach Enda Kenny pointedly distancing himself from Ireland's Health Minister Leo Varadkar on the issue of a new abortion referendum.

Mr Kenny claimed that Mr Varadkar was speaking in a “personal capacity” when he told the Dail the eighth amendment to the Constitution is too “restrictive” and has a “chilling effect” on doctors.

Mr Varadkar wants to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and where there was a risk to the long-term health of the mother.

Notably, Mr Varadkar specifically mentioned cases where abortions were not permitted even if the mothers had a “stroke, heart attack, epileptic seizure” resulting in a permanent disability.

“While it protects the right to life of the mother, it has no regard for her long-term health,” he said of the amendment.

Mr Varadkar also said difficult decisions that should be made by women and their doctors, a couple "or the next-of-kin where there is no capacity", and on the basis of best clinical practice, are now made on foot of legal advice. "That isn't how it should be," he said.

The Health Minister's comments have put the issue of abortion back on the political agenda and have opened Fine Gael up to promising a more liberal regime.

Taoiseach surprised

But the Taoiseach appeared to have been taken by surprise by some of Mr Varadkar's remarks and said he had not seen the speech beforehand.

"I don't believe that, in the absence of really verifiable medical evidence and information, we should be looking at the issue of constitutional change now," he said.

"I think it's necessary to assess the impact of the legislation currently. I think it's important to be respectful, have a sense of dignity and rational discussion about all of these," he added.

Mr Kenny said the Government has faced up to a number of "complex and sensitive" elements of the abortion debate which has proven "very difficult for people in my own party here".

Without referring to any specific case, Mr Kenny said it is important the authorities examine cases where women are not afforded an abortion under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

"That legislation is relatively new. I know that it has to be regularly assessed and monitored carefully. There are always, always unforeseen kinds of circumstances and kinds of cases that arise. I do think it's important to have an understanding of the difficulties people go through here," the Taoiseach said.

"I also think it's important to look at the circumstances of cases that fall outside the legislation and that fall outside the range of that legislation - which does bring clarity to medical practitioners outside those circumstances and that was the basis of a great deal of discussion with experts and opinion makers last year," he added.

In his speech, Mr Varadkar also called for an end to the "Moral Civil War" and called for the removal of the eighth amendment of the Constitution.

Blunt

The amendment says: "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."

But Mr Varadkar says abortion is an issue where there are "few certainties".

The Mullingar case was referred to in the Dail on Wednesday night during a debate on the eighth amendment to the Constitution.

The HSE and Beaumont Hospital both declined to comment on the case.

Source: Irish Independent

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