19Nov Irish Law may be adapted to solve abortion dilemma

Our country faces a dilemma about how we can best put into action the challenge in the constitution to acknowledge the right to life of mother and unborn child. Rather than see it as a dilemma, we can see it as a challenge.

My father and mother had a great sense of respect and fairness towards every human being. Remembering that, I offer for discussion some Principles towards a formula which may help solve the dilemma of abortion/termination of pregnancy in Ireland, with the possibility of cross-party support in the legislature, and of support by the various interested groups in society. The Principles may also be seen in the wider context of various international conventions on human rights and children’s’ rights.

Your feedback is invited. We ask that feedback be free from personal attacks, and that it be constructive rather than destructive. Perhaps you may wish just to say whether or not it seems to you that the Principles below can offer a workable basis to offer to the people of this country and to our legislature.


Preliminary considerations:

1. Those labelled “pro-life” tend to be seen as fearing that the life of the unborn child is devalued. Those labelled “pro-choice” tend to be seen as fearing that the life of the mother is devalued.

2. Article 40.3.3° of our Constitution reads:

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.

3. In the suggestion below, the word “abortion” is avoided, since it is normally understood to involve bringing about purposefully the ending of the life of the unborn child.



To embrace as fully as possible all that the Constitution mandates, the following provisions may be considered:

1. Where a pregnant woman is judged medically to require treatment to save her life, but where the treatment is considered to endanger the life of the unborn child:

a. The required treatment is to be made available to the mother.

b. This treatment is not to be delayed in a way which would endanger the life of the mother.

c. Such treatment is to be administered in such a way which will, if at all possible, safeguard the life of the unborn child.

d. Where, because of the circumstances of the pregnancy, it is unlikely or impossible that the life of the child can be saved, the treatment is still to be made available to the mother.

e. If the treatment administered involves as a concomitant the termination of the pregnancy, the procedure chosen for termination of the pregnancy is to be that which will offer the best medical possibility for saving the life of the child.

f. In cases of such termination as a concomitant to the treatment, when the child is delivered and is living, all possible efforts are to be made to save the life of the child.

g. Where it proves impossible to save the life of the child, the body of the child is to be treated with the same respect and accorded the same rights as would be accorded a child in stillbirth or neo-natal death.

h. The child may be registered and named as in the case of stillbirth or neonatal death.

i. Any organ donation in such a case is to follow the normal procedures for organ donation; commercial exploitation is to be excluded.


2. In a pregnancy, where there is a diagnosis that the unborn child has a condition which is considered likely to lead to the death of the child before, during or around the time of the birth of the child:

a. All necessary support is to be provided to the parent(s), as would be the case if the child were already born and living with the condition which endangers its life, taking into consideration that medicine is not an exact science, that misdiagnosis can occur, and that even when the diagnosis is accurate, the estimation of the duration of survival of the child may not be certain.

b. Where the life of the mother is considered endangered by the circumstances, the provisions of article 1 apply.


Further points for consideration:

1. In life and death matters such as these, the Medical Council may consider whether it is most appropriate that the judgment that the treatment required may suitably be made by agreement of more than one suitably qualified medical professional.

2. The question of the place of the father of the child in the decisions should be taken into account.

3. Insofar as the language in the above suggestions lacks the required legal and medical precision, suitable editing will be required.


4 Responses

  1. Ter Canty

    Both submissions by Padraig McCarthy regarding the death of Sativa Halappanavar are insensitive. In my opinion, it is your organisation’s religious law involving the double-effect baloney which led to her death.

  2. John

    In the Garden of Eden, God gave Eve the right of choice to choose evil namely taking the apple or to choose good, namely avoiding the apple. God did not surround the tree with razor wire, state police or the national army. If God gave Eve free will and if God gave every woman free will to choose good or evil, then who are we to prevent women from making that choice?

    Soldiers in war kill. The commandment Moses brought down says do not kill. There is no exception for war. All of this righteousness about killing does have a hollow ring to it, since we praise soldiers.

    With the recent revelation of the Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse of children, is it any wonder that the cynics say life begins at conception and ends at birth?.

  3. Pádraig McCarthy

    Ter Canty –
    Thank you for taking the trouble to respond.
    However, your reference to “double-effect baloney” does not advance the argument any further.
    It may in fact be a failure to appreciate the double-effect principle that leads to a death. Where a person fails to distinguish between deliberately acting to cause the death of a human life, and acting to save a life where sadly an unwanted side-effect of acting to save a mother’s life even though it leads to the unwanted death of the child, this may lead to the person failing to take appropriate action.
    The difference perhaps is at its starkest if we consider an abortion procedure in which the child is delivered alive – this does happen. This is a failure in the procedure, and the newly-born child may be given a lethal feticidal injection to complete the task.
    On the other hand, where a procedure to safeguard the life of the mother leads to the delivery of the child, in this case a procedure is chosen which will give the child the best possible chance of surviving, and, if born alive, the child will be given all assistance if there is any possibility of the child being saved.

  4. Geoff

    I’d like to start with thanks for the way in which you tackled this subject. While I don’t agree fully I do appreciate the way in which you’ve tried to open dialogue and have been cordial to those of different views.
    Two questions, if I may: there are treatments for spinal cord injuries that, if administered in a timely fashion, can greatly ameliorate the risk of paralysis. Sadly they cannot be administered during pregnancy. In this situation the woman’s life is not at risk, but the quality of her life would be greatly reduced if treatment were denied.
    In light of your reading of the constitution, and, separately, in your own personal view, do you think the option of termination should be open to women in this position?

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