Campaigners on both sides question giving Medical Council the final say

Voices from both the pro-choice and pro-life sides of the abortion debate questioned whether handing the issue over to the Medical Council was either a likely or an adequate solution.

It is understood one of the options outlined in the report from an expert group on abortion is that powers be given to the Medical Council to deal with termination issues on a case-by-case basis, apparently avoiding the need for primary legislation.

However, yesterday legal opinion on both sides of the debate suggested any such move could be open to a legal challenge and in addition, would not provide the clarity called for by medical practitioners currently working in the area.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said primary legislation would be needed to give powers to the Medical Council, as delegated by the minister of the day. “I believe power should be delegated to the minister,” she said, adding the current situation was “a grey area”.

“You cannot have secondary legislation without having primary legislation,” Ms Bacik said, adding that simply delegating decisions to the Medical Council could open the possibility of a legal challenge as with secondary legislation on its own there was “not enough to anchor it”.

“It may be a very short piece of [primary] legislation, giving the minister delegative power to adopt more detailed regulations,” she said.

Some of those on the pro- life side of the debate agreed yesterday, with some claiming that the issues raised by the X case would still loom large even if new cases were being dealt with by those in the medical profession in consultation with the patient.

Caroline Simons, legal consultant to the Pro Life Campaign, said: “I understand there are suggestions that the Medical Council could amend its guidelines in light of the Savita Halappanavar case last week,” she said.

“I would draw attention to the fact that in the three years between 2005 and 2008 in the UK, where they have abortion, 13 women died where there was sepsis in pregnancy.”

Earlier this year the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain stressed the need for guidelines on the management of sepsis in pregnancy following a Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths in 2007.

Ms Simons said the deaths from sepsis in that period in Britain had not resulted in changes to abortion law there, but instead a fresh look at the specific issue of sepsis and how best to deal with it.

She said Irish practitioners working in the area would recognise the UK guidelines as best practice and suggested that the Medical Council could instead look deeper into its guidelines in this area.

As for the Savita Halappanavar case, she said the investigation into her death would have to show whether best practice had been followed in that case, “and if not, why not”.

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