Invitiation

A further National Vigil for Life will be held on Saturday, 8th June from 3 to 4pm at Merrion Square Dublin.

Bring a carload or a busload!

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Statement by Monsignor Brendan Byrne on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013.

Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin

30th May 2013

Along with many others, I firmly believe that the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 as currently framed is medically and ethically unsound in relation to the issue of suicide. It is a cause of profound concern to many that the expert evidence highlighting the flaws in this proposed legislation has had no real impact to date.

Given the urgency of this situation, I wish to comment in a direct and personal manner. I am appealing not just to legislators but to all of Irish society to re-think what is being proposed.

It is always good to start with what we agree on. We can all agree that it is at times right to intervene medically during pregnancy. It is crucial that medics should be clear about when it is right to intervene. There is broad support for the parts of the proposed legislation intended to provide legal clarity on what can rightly be termed life-saving and necessary medical treatment.

My concerns with the proposed legislation, as I have already said, are related to the issue of suicide. In particular the field of psychiatry and not obstetrics.

The key question is whether intervening in pregnancy arising from the risk or threat of suicide can ever be understood as ‘life-saving’? The immediate answer to that question is that there is no expert psychiatric evidence that would support any such claim. No legal, medical, political or media commentary should be allowed to obscure that bare fact.

I would suggest that we need to go deeper into the issue of suicide to fully understand what is at stake with the proposed legislation. We can never dismiss the threat of suicide, which must always be treated with compassion. However, for anyone who supports the inclusion of the threat of suicide in this legislation on the grounds that ‘it might save even one (mother’s) life’, please consider honestly the wider implications. Listen to the experts in suicide prevention who are warning that the proposed legislation will undermine their work as it will serve to ‘normalise’ suicide in Irish society. We all have a responsibility to prevent suicide and to support mental health.

As I have stated previously, we should not empower the risk or threat of suicide by giving that threat rights over the life of another. We should not lay a place for it at our table.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in his recent letter to The Irish Times made a very important contribution on this issue by drawing attention to the question of interventions late in pregnancy as now permitted in the proposed legislation. Perhaps for the first time some people began to take on board – let us speak plainly here – the horror of what could flow from the proposed legislation as it stands.

The concept of ‘viability’ as some possible threshold beyond which life could be protected is an immensely dangerous ethical position. All vulnerable life, those lacking ‘viability’, whether young or old, would be threatened by this impoverished ethical standard.

I repeat my appeal to all concerned not to support legislation that is medically and ethically unsound. I would encourage those who share these concerns to make every effort to contact our legislators. This vital issue requires respectful and on-going dialogue. On Saturday 8 June there will be another Pro-Life vigil in Dublin city. Your attendance will speak volumes in support of a truly ‘life-saving’ culture.

‘Cherish them both’ – Statement by Monsignor Brendan Byrne

Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin

29th April 2013

extract …

… 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 (was) ‘Cherish them both’. My appeal to legislators is not to support legislation that will ultimately fail that most basic test.