[A vigil outside Leinster House during the passage of the Protection of Life (During pregnancy) bill in July]
Kitty Holland, in today’s Irish Times, reports that the College of Psychiatrists has advised its members not to take part in review panels, provided for under the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy legislation.
The Act is supposed to allow a pregnant woman who has suicidal thoughts to have an abortion if three medical practitioners, including two psychiatrists, have “jointly certified in good faith” that there is a real and substantial risk to her life by suicide.
The Act also provides for a HSE review panel “of at least 10 medical practitioners”, and says the HSE must request medical bodies, including the College of Psychiatrists, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, to nominate members to the panel. Ms Holland spoke to Shane Coleman on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk earlier.
Shane Coleman: “What’s extraordinary here is we were told by our politicians that this legislation was a good example of how legislation should work and we heard about the credit being given to the health committee – how this legislation was examined and there was very a mature debate and so on. But this is, it’s all nonsense basically? They’ve brought in legislation and they haven’t got the proper background in place?”
Kitty Holland: “Exactly, as you say, yeah. I mean Dr Anthony McCarthy who’s perhaps the foremost perinatal, there’s only three in the country but he’s one of the perinatal psychiatrists that gave evidence at the Oireachtas committee that you spoke about. And he spoke to me yesterday as well, saying that the only thing that he’s interested in is real solutions for women in distress and he says there’s a lot of issues about how that’s going to work out. He’s concerned, as I was saying about if a woman comes to him, how does he get the second opinion? How does he get her to a panel? Who are these panels? They’re just at a loss.”
Coleman: “But shouldn’t this have been thought about before the legislation was enacted?”
Holland: “One would say, yeah one would think it should have been thought about. And the HSE says it has people on the panels. The College of Psychiatrists said that they indeed were written to by the HSE but they’ve written back saying they’re not going to nominate anyone to the panels, until they see the guidelines. So, it’s very difficult. We don’t know who’s on these panels. I mean, that might be a follow-up story to look into. Who are the people on these panels that the HSE say are ready to go because the College of Psychiatrists certainly don’t know who’s on the panels.”
Coleman: “The guidelines, you’ve spoken about. How intractable are these issues? Or can they be resolved? I mean there are thorny issues that need to be addressed, there’s no question about it but presumably there must be solutions to the questions being raised by the psychiatrists?”
Holland: “I’m sure there are people who get down and work them out. I mean there is, as I was saying, a committee has been appointed to work these thorny issues out but they’ve yet to report and I was speaking to someone who is very close to that committee and they say that they’re months away from reporting. So, if a woman is in crisis any time in the next few weeks or months, it’s hard to know how she’s going to access these rights that the [Protection of Life During Pregnancy] Act says are in place for her. So yes, it is a mess.”
Coleman: “Like, I don’t want to oversimplify this because there are complex issues at stake here and they can’t be rushed but is this just simply a case of the body politic having done its job ‘mar dhea’ in the summer, patting itself on the back and then completely taking its eye off the ball in terms of the follow-through?”
Holland: “Yeah, I mean he said that. That was said to me yesterday by one of the people that I was talking to: that it’s just a piece of paper with no nuts and bolts to back it up, this Act at the moment.”
Coleman: “OK, what happens next? I mean how can this issue be resolved because it needs to be, quite clearly, it needs to be resolved.”
Holland: “Well, I mean, I suppose what we need to see is, urgently, the guidelines from the committee which was appointed by the Department of Health. Now how fast they can bring these out..? I mean I suppose, in a lot of ways, what was being said in the piece in the Irish Times, yesterday, is that the fight is not over in how this Act is going to work out on the ground. I mean the Act is out there now and it’s the law of the land and it’s legislation. But how exactly it’s going to work, the arguments are far from over, even on this very restrictive piece of legislation where a woman has to seek the permission of a number of people to access what the legislation says is her right. It does seem that the conversation is far from over even on this legislation.”
College tells psychiatrists not to do abortion assessments (Kitty Holland, Irish Times)
Interview on Newstalk