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Walsh schools Irish Times on 'fatal anomaly' claim

Commentator Barry Walsh took Irish Times writer, Kitty Holland, to task recently for the paper's write up which was slanted in favour of making abortion even more widely available.

Walsh took issue with the claim made by Holland that doctors were being set too high a bar when it came to diagnosing a condition that meant a baby might not live beyond 28 days. The Irish Times never reported, of course, that the babies who are diagnosed as having such a condition in Ireland now all-too-often have their lives ended in a horrific late-term abortion. 

The National Women's Council and others are pushing to have the grounds for disability abortion widened because, they claim, the current law is too restrictive. Walsh ably demolished that claim. 

Read his letter in full below 

Sir, – Kitty Holland says that as the law stands, doctors must be “absolutely certain in their judgment” when diagnosing a “fatal foetal abnormality” before certifying an abortion on those grounds.

This, she contends, is causing doctors to be overly cautious in such cases, due to fear of prosecution. 

But this is not what the recent HSE report says, and it is certainly not what the law says.

Section 11 of the legislation requires two consultants to certify based on a “reasonable opinion formed in good faith” that an unborn child will not survive beyond 28 days after birth. In layman’s terms this means that, having examined a woman and her unborn child, the consultants must reach this conclusion based on an honest and objective appraisal of the evidence before them.

It does not mean that doctors have to be “absolutely certain” about their diagnosis. In the words of Dr Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, “absolute certainty in diagnosis is unattainable, no matter how much information we gather, or how many tests we perform”.

A doctor could only be prosecuted under section 11 if it could be shown that they had dishonestly certified that an unborn child would not survive longer than 28 day after birth, or had reached such a conclusion without any reasonable basis in the evidence available to them.

This is a very high bar, and one which no competent medical professional should fear.

Painting section 11 as having this so-called “chilling effect” is part of a tried and tested tactic whereby the existing laws – no matter how liberal they may be – are portrayed as posing insurmountable barriers to obtaining an abortion. This is then cited as a justification for the continual erosion of whatever token restrictions remain in place. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 3.

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