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Disingenuous spin from Peter Boylan should not deflect hospital from refusing abortion

Dr Peter Boylan is an experienced and expert obstetrician. His views on maternal healthcare should be respected. When he veers into political commentary, however, he has shown himself capable of coming out with the most disingenuous spin.

Take the remarks he made recently following Fr Kevin Doran’s comments that the ethos of the Mater Hospital would not allow abortions to take place there.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Breakfast programme, Dr Boylan said: “The whole purpose of a hospital is to save people’s lives and Father Doran is proposing that a woman in an intensive care unit in the Mater Hospital is denied a life saving operation because it goes against his personal ethos or what he would say is the ethos of the hospital, then that is an extremely disturbing thing to say”.

“You can imagine a scenario, say the Mater, for example is associated with the Rotunda Hospital. So supposing a woman who gets seriously ill is transferred to the intensive care unit in the Mater Hospital and needs a termination in order to save her life, and is Father Doran going to stand by her bedside in the intensive care unit and prevent the doctors from giving the care she needs to save her life? I mean it’s really…..it’s just not on.”

After a sidetrack into a spot of church-bashing, Dr Boylan then went on to make this most extraordinary comment: “Would he [Fr Doran] prefer for both of them to die? For the baby and the mother to die? A lot of people against this Act miss the point that if the mother dies, the baby dies also. So are they happy to stand by and watch a woman die and be denied life-saving treatment because it goes against their personal beliefs which are not shared by the doctors looking after the woman or by the woman herself or by her family? It really, you know we really need to move on from this sort of interference.”

This is the most deplorable and disingenuous spin, and, even by recent standards, is a new low for what passes as fair comment in Ireland. Raising fear in order to attack the right of the Mater Hospital to resist abortion on suicide grounds is scaremongering, especially when it comes from a well-known obstetrician. (It goes without saying that the Mater are on very strong grounds here since experts have agreed that abortion is not a treatment for suicidality arising in pregnancy. It also goes without saying that the attack on Fr Doran’s personal integrity is deplorable.)

Dr Boylan was previously the Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, where the Archbishop of Dublin is the Chair of the Board. He must therefore understand that an ethos which precludes abortion does not restrict a doctor from intervening to save a mother’s life in pregnancy.

In fact, anyone who practises obstetrics in Ireland would have a thorough understanding of the difference between a life-saving intervention – the sort that takes place in the Mater, in the National Maternity Hospital, and elsewhere all the time – and an abortion, where the life of the baby is deliberately ended.

If Dr Boylan had somehow managed not to become aware of this distinction before this year, then he would have been enlightened by the expert evidence of Dr Sam Coulter Smith, the Master of the Rotunda at the Oireachtas hearings, where he repeatedly emphasised that life-saving medical interventions that caused the unintended loss of the baby’s life should not be considered abortion.

Dr Boylan was, in fact, sitting next to Dr Coulter Smith at the hearings when this important distinction was underlined. He was in the same seat when Dr Coulter Smith pointed out he and his colleagues had serious moral and ethical concerns with the abortion legislation which is now causing concern to the Board of the Mater Hospital. At the same hearings, a raft of experts – also including Dr Sam Coulter Smith – confirmed that abortion was not a treatment for suicide, and that the scientific evidence did not support legalising abortion on suicide grounds.

So we have a situation where Fr Doran is talking about the valid reasons for opposing abortion on suicide grounds, and yet Dr Boylan chooses make inflammatory statements conjuring up false scenarios of pro-life people letting ‘both of them die’ where a mother is in the intensive care unit, and Fr Doran is looming over the bed, forbidding a life-saving intervention. What utter nonsense. As an expert in maternal healthcare, Dr Boylan knows that is not what a Catholic ethos requires.

But, of course, Dr Boylan’s response here is more political than medical. He has previously been called to account for this by his fellow Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

During an appearance on the Vincent Browne TV show, Dr Boylan claimed that Savita Halappanavar ‘would be alive and with us today’ had her pregnancy been terminated earlier. Eleven consultants wrote to the papers to challenge Dr Boylan’s comments.

They suggested that his view was a “personal view, not an expert one” and that “furthermore, it is impossible for Dr Boylan, or for any doctor, to predict with certainty the clinical course and outcome in the case of Savita Halappanavar where sepsis arose from the virulent and multi drug-resistant organism, E.coli ESBL.”

However, Dr Boylan remains the go-to expert for Newstalk, RTE, and other media outlets because the kind of inflammatory remarks expressed on Newstalk have a purpose: they are used by abortion campaigners and media presenters to bully and accuse pro-life activists and to deflect from the reality of the situation.

That reality is that abortion doesn’t save a mother’s life, it just kills a baby. The Mater – and every other hospital – must now consider how that fact fits into their life-saving ethos.

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