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Council will ‘delete’ ethical guidance on termination while review process continues

The Council decided last night at a specially convened meeting to delete paragraphs 48.1 to 48.4 of the Ethical Guide, “thus removing any conflict between the Ethical Guide and the Legislation”, according to a statement. Paragraph 48.5 of the Guide, slightly edited, “You have a duty to provide care, support and follow up for women who have had a termination of pregnancy” will remain in place.

The regulator said it is working through a detailed process to update the Ethical Guidance following the enactment of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. The Ethics Working Group is reviewing a number of paragraphs of the Guide to ensure that the guidance “is relevant and appropriate for doctors and for patients in light of the new legislation”.

Speaking about this update, Chairperson of the Medical Council Ethics Working Group and member of the Medical Council, Dr Suzanne Crowe, said: “We are currently engaging in a very comprehensive process to update the Medical Council guidelines having only recently closed a consultation with doctors and key stakeholders in which over 1,400 responses were received.

“Today’s announcement ensures that our Ethical Guidance is not in conflict with the new legislation and provides reassurance to doctors who are involved in delivering this service.

“We have deleted the guidance in paragraphs 48.1 to 48.4 which relates to the Protection of life During Pregnancy Act 2013 and the provision of information relating to termination of pregnancy. Doctors still have a duty to provide care, support and follow up for a person who has had a termination of pregnancy, as outlined in paragraph 48.5.

“The Working Group is continuing to draft revised guidance following the consultation and once the new wording is finalised, we will once again consult with doctors and relevant stakeholders, however this process will not be completed by the implementation date of the legislation,” concluded Dr Crowe.

In the consultation to date, four paragraphs of the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners are being reviewed, namely ‘Paragraph 7 Dignity of the patient’, ‘Paragraph 8 Equality and diversity’, ‘Paragraph 48 Abortion’ and ‘Paragraph 49 Conscientious objection’ to ensure that doctors have sufficient ethical guidance going forward.

Council President, Dr Rita Doyle, said: “Our priority is to get our guidance right. Not just for the doctors providing the service, but for the people who will be availing of these services. We want to ensure that the guidance we provide is inclusive, relevant and useful.

“We must take the time to get our Ethical Guidance correct but we do not wish to be a barrier to the provision of services upon the commencement of the Act, which is why the Medical Council has decided to take this approach.

“The Council is committed to keeping doctors and stakeholders involved in the process and we will continue to do so into the New Year until the revised guidance is finalised,” concluded Dr Doyle.

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