KILDARE OPINION: Two local doctors give differing views on the upcoming referendum

A view from both sides

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KILDARE OPINION: Two local doctors give differing views on the upcoming referendum

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Dr Philip Aherne and Dr Brendan O'Shea give their views on the Repeal the Eighth Referendum. Dr Ahern's article lies below followed by Dr O'Shea's.

Compassion should extend to unborn

By Dr Philip Aherne

We are being asked to vote on May 25 to repeal the Eight Amendment, and remove completely the right to life of a baby in the womb regardless of how far the pregnancy has progressed; i.e. right up to the moment of birth.

It is important to understand that we are not being asked to vote for or against the proposed legislation, as it will not form part of the Constitution. Since the legislation has not yet been published, any debate around the proposed legislation is no more than an opinion poll.

A recent Supreme Court judgement declared that the effect of the Eighth Amendment was to give the unborn only the right to life. By extrapolation, if it is removed, the unborn will have no rights up to the moment of birth regardless of whether it has any defect or not, and the only ‘rights’ it has will be those determined by the government, depending on the politics of the time.

Politics and democracy are not the same thing, and a recent example shines a light on the difference.

The government introduced water charges to try improve the infrastructure, and reduce wastage, of a precious resource.

The majority of those billed in the first round of bills, paid the charges. However a small vociferous minority managed to overturn this sensible and democratically supported policy, and we now have an even greater shambles of an expensive Government body with no powers to change things.

By coincidence, the same political minority are driving for abortion on demand. For the moment the government are suggesting limiting it to 24 weeks (12 weeks abortion on demand). How soon before it becomes abortion on demand at any point up to term, as demanded by those wielding the balance of power.

Do you trust the politicians? Is there a medical need for abortion?

Dr Peter Boylan, ex Master of the National Maternity Hospital and Chairperson of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, stated as recently as 2017, with regards to the safety and standards of maternity care in Ireland, (under the current Constitutional protection to the unborn): “These figures should offer reassurance about the high level of maternal care and the safety of the Irish maternity services for women and babies. A maternal death rate of 6.5 per 100,000 or 1 in every 15,301 is extremely low and compares with a rate of 8.8 per 100,000 in the UK and a rate of 26.7 per 100,000 in the US.”

We are world leaders in maternity care without resorting to abortion. One might be tempted to extrapolate that abortion might make maternity service less safe.

Removing the Eighth is a direct threat to part of what makes us Irish. For over 15 centuries we have travelled to the poorest and weakest parts of the world, bringing education, care and support to the weakest and poorest in society, from the earliest monks to Denis O’Brien helping out in Haiti, and all the missionaries, Goalies, Concern and Trocaire volunteers through the years.

We have never invaded another country, but our soldiers have put their lives on the line to protect the innocent in conflict zones across the world. We are world leaders in hospice care. We are a compassionate nation, and compassion can never include the taking of a life.

Our compassion should continue to extend to those with no voice, the unborn.

Do we want to continue our proud history of protecting the weak and innocent or do we want to cheapen the value we put on life, and have businesses like the Marie Stopes organisation setting their stalls on our main streets?

The debate is not around difficult cases, although they are quoted widely. No doctor should allow the law to get in the way of making the proper decision to deliver a women of her baby early, if there is a serious risk to her life. The question that needs to be asked is “why is necessary to kill the baby first”? Can the baby not be delivered and given all the care and support it requires for however long or short its lifespan.

When I qualified in 1984, the idea of a baby surviving from 32 weeks was considered miraculous. The most recent report was of a baby of 24 weeks who is progressing normally — delivered a full four months prematurely.

Does our compassion extend to these infants?

We are faced with a life-changing and life-threatening decision on May 25.

If the Eighth Amendment is revoked, it will never be reinstated.

I understand the difficulties the undecided face, and the pull and indeed the revulsion provoked by the extremes of both sides of the debate.

I would ask that you would continue to support those whose support is most needed, those without a vote or voice, and vote No.

- Dr Philip Aherne has practised medicine for 34 years, the last 27 as a GP based in Co. Kildare

Eighth Amendment just doesn’t work

By Dr Brendan O'Shea

General practitioners are one of the pillars of medical care in Ireland.

As someone who has been in practice for 31 years, I can say one thing very clearly: life surprises you.  I am campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment because it doesn’t work. It does not, in my view, reduce the numbers of terminations experienced by Irish women.

It only adds substantially and cruelly to the pain, shame, and medical risk they already experience. Safer, earlier medical termination provided in the community is a better solution. Much better education, and easier access to the undoubted and highly available family planning/contraception skills of GPs and practice nurses is the real solution to reducing the numbers of terminations undertaken by women in our communities.

At some point in our lives, we will all have an unexpected health issue. When that moment comes, we all hope to have compassionate and accessible care from doctors and nurses, providing personal medical care, that we know well and trust completely. That’s why on May 25, I’ll be voting Yes.

Right now my colleagues and I are forbidden and constrained from providing the compassionate care that some of my patients need. The Eighth Amendment is detrimental to women’s health, and it restricts the doctor-patient relationship. Around one in four Irish women will have an unexpected or crisis pregnancy in their lifetimes. You likely know several women who have been in this situation.

As a GP, my job is to work with my patient in crisis to understand the challenges and resources available to her, and help her find her way to the solution that is best for her wellbeing.

When working with a patient who wishes to terminate a pregnancy, I can speak with her about her options. I can offer her a copy of her medical records.

But I cannot offer her the medical care that she needs, nor can I arrange a proper medical referral in the correct way.
Instead, my patient, who is already stressed, must raise funds to fly to another country to access standard medical care, harried by intense feelings of guilt, stigma, intense uncertainty and fear, and a higher level of medical uncertainty.
Right now, we have an English solution to an Irish problem. Every day ten Irish women are forced to travel to England to get the healthcare they should have at home.

Here, in Kildare, we know that at least 44 women were forced to seek care abroad in 2016. This solution, while long-standing, is not a reasonable one. The high emotional and financial cost of this arrangement takes a toll on all who encounter it.
In recent years, many who are unable to travel abroad have begun purchasing abortion pills online.

When taken under the supervision of a GP or other medical professional, these pills are safe and effective. However, our Irish sisters, daughters and friends are forced into a situation where they must buy pills from unknown vendors and take them without support. If complications arise, they often delay care because of the fear and shame associated with abortion. This is no way to treat someone in crisis.

It is this simple: people who need medical help should not have to travel abroad to find it. Abortion is a reality in Ireland.
It is a reality in Kildare, just like every other single county in the country.

I urge you to vote Yes on May 25 to repeal the Eighth Amendment so that my GP and Practice Nurse colleagues and I can provide the best care possible for the women I work with.

Finally, irrespective of your own views, please talk over this issue with your friends and family, and especially with the other women in your life, and make sure you use your vote.

- Dr Brendan O’Shea is a GP in Newbridge and has practiced medicine for 31 years