‘Cherish them both’ – Statement by Monsignor Brendan Byrne

Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin

29th April 2013

[quote]For the Catholic Church, everything flows from the conviction that human life begins at conception. Anything else creates the conditions for a culture of ‘choice’ in regard to human life”.[/quote]

This coming Saturday there will be a very special gathering in Knock, a National Prayer Vigil for the right to life of mothers and their unborn children.

As everyone is well aware, these issues are again the subject of intense debate in light of the proposed legislation now coming before the Cabinet.

People from every parish in the land are invited to attend this vigil. I encourage people to take up that invitation. While speaking of this specific event, I want to readily acknowledge that the ‘pro-life’ position is widely shared among people of all faiths and none.

I would like to play my part in this debate here by briefly outlining some key principles and addressing some specific issues.

For the Catholic Church, everything flows from the conviction that human life begins at conception. Anything else creates the conditions for a culture of ‘choice’ in regard to human life. Therefore we oppose any attempt to delay this most basic recognition until later in pregnancy.

The ‘pro-life’ position in its essence is that simple. A life is a life. Whatever happens, the need to respect that life should never be reduced to a ‘choice’ or an arbitrary timeline.

The current debate around the proposed legislation includes two key questions – have pregnant mothers full protection for their lives and how should we respond to the risk of suicide in pregnancy?

In regard to the care of mothers in pregnancy, the Church’s position is very simple and clear. Doctors should abide by a ‘two-patient’ model. However, when it is not possible to save the unborn and the life of the mother is endangered, doctors are free to act to save the mother’s life. This is the current medical practice in this country.

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar along with her unborn child has been a source of deep concern for everyone. We have all learned a lot from the inquest, both in regard to the ‘systems failures’ in this case and the very tight margins that doctors sometimes face in regard to when they can act and when it may be too late.

The subsequent recommendation from the Inquest jury that the Medical Council review the medical guidelines is very welcome. Clarification of best practice is always welcome. However, some people appear to be equating clarification with changing the existing ‘two-patient’ model.

This brings us to the core problem of the current debate. It is difficult to identify if this debate is about supporting best practice to protect the life of both mother and child or if it is about introducing ‘choice’.

The concern that it is more about ‘choice’ is most acute in regard to the push to legislate for the 1992 Supreme Court judgement in the ‘X’ case. The Church’s position is again very simple. We see this judgement as inherently flawed and therefore we believe that it should not be the basis for legislation now.

How can we make that claim? Firstly because there was a ‘remarkable paucity of evidence’ (to quote the dissenting judgement of Justice Hederman) before the Court. The Supreme Court did not hear the kind of expert psychiatric testimony that was available to all of us at the recent Oireachtas hearings. This would not be as troubling if the up-to-date evidence broadly supported the 1992 decision but the opposite is the case. The ‘X’ case judgement can only lead us in the wrong direction.

This is not to say that we can ever dismiss the threat of suicide. We need to seek to protect one another in every way possible. However, we should avoid ‘normalising’ suicide if we are truly ‘pro-life’. We should not lay a place for it at our table. This was the fundamental error in the Supreme Court judgement; it empowered the risk of suicide by giving it rights over the life of another.

To sum up, the Church fully supports life-saving intervention in pregnancy when necessary but it can never agree with actions that are neither life-saving or necessary.

The simple theme or message for the National Prayer Vigil in Knock for mothers and the unborn this coming Saturday is ‘Cherish them both’. My appeal to legislators is not to support legislation that will ultimately fail that most basic test.