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Ireland: Medical Council clarifies position on abortion


The Medical Council in Ireland has clarified the position as contained in its ethics guide following yesterday’s European Court of Human Rights ruling.

According to Section 21 of the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners - 7th Edition, abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantiated risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother, the Irish Medical Times reports.

Under current legal precedent, this exception includes where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide. In such a scenario, the Council said it urges medical practitioners to undertake a full assessment of any such risk in light of the clinical research.

While it was lawful to provide information in Ireland about abortions abroad, subject to strict conditions, it was not lawful to encourage or advocate an abortion in individual cases, the ethical guide also provides. The Council said Section 21 (3) placed a duty to provide care, support and follow-up services for women who have an abortion abroad on doctors.

It also pointed out that in current obstetrical practice, rare complications could arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) was required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there might be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it might be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby, the guide also states.

Medical Council clarifies position on abortion. Irish Medical Times, 17 December 2010