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The Medical Council’s ethics working group considered entirely deleting the section on ‘termination of pregnancy’ (ToP) from the ethical guide for doctors, according to a consultation synopsis document obtained by the Medical Independent.
The ethical guide would still have carried relevant guidance, such as on facilitating access to treatment and conscientious objection, but without a specific section on abortion.
In December 2018, following enactment of new legislation on termination of pregnancy, the Council removed reference to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
Pending a review of the guide, which involved two public consultations, the section on abortion continued to advise doctors they had a duty to provide care, support, and follow-up for women who have had a termination.
According to the consultation document, obtained from the Council under Freedom of Information law, the ethics group “considered deleting paragraph 48 (termination of pregnancy) in its entirety and noted senior counsel’s advice did not preclude the Medical Council from doing so”.
However, it “also noted Council’s views on this matter, as expressed at both meetings in December”.
The ethics group accepted “it is probably too soon for the Medical Council to cease providing specific advice on ToP, however, the guidance should be kept very simple and, again, make it clear that there are legal provisions regarding ToP and doctors should provide such services within the provisions of the legislation”.
It proposed adding that termination is legally permissible, with a footnote link to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.
Some 68.4 per cent of respondents to the public consultation held this year agreed with the proposed edits, which were included in the revised guide released on 30 August.
Meanwhile, regarding a section on end-of-life care (paragraph 46.9), the ethics group recommended that the sentence “you must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient” be changed to “you must not take part in the unlawful killing of a patient”.
“In light of new ToP legislation, where a doctor views the foetus as a patient, this paragraph may be misinterpreted as being incompatible with ToP,” it outlined.
This sentence was not changed, despite a majority of respondents being in agreement, and the proposed edit drew a strong response from Amnesty International during the consultation process.
“To equate abortion with ‘killing’ is stigmatising and dangerous,” stated Amnesty.