Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) (Foetal Pain Relief) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


10:12 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

As we debate this Bill, some Deputies may be asking or telling themselves that the matter of foetal pain relief is more suited to medical guidelines than primary legislation. I am sure many of my Dáil colleagues remember that when similar amendments were proposed three years ago, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, refused them. He stated:

The purpose of this legislation is not to regulate or dictate the practice of obstetrics. [...] There is a very thin line that we should not cross where we move from being policy makers to being doctors.

However, it is interesting to note that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 mandates "the use of an appropriate anaesthetic... [to animals] to prevent or relieve any pain during... [an] operation or procedure." I wonder whether there have been any concerns about those 2013 legislators? Have any of them moved from being policymakers to being vets yet?

There are other reasons it may not be prudent or ethical to repeat the mantra that we should trust doctors unquestioningly on the topic of foetal pain relief. It is clear that, despite having had three years to do so, there are as yet no guidelines around the administration of anaesthesia during abortion procedures. That is despite the fact we know that late-term abortions are being performed in Ireland, that foetal pain is likely experienced much earlier in pregnancy than previously thought and that two extremely brutal abortion methods are being used during late-term abortions in Ireland, namely, D&E or dismemberment abortions and foeticide involving lethal injection. If anyone is in doubt about why pain relief may be required during a late-term abortion procedure, I recommend they look up what is involved in these two procedures. A good starting point is the report on late-term abortions and foetal pain produced by the all-party Oireachtas life and dignity group. It is easily available for anyone to view at www.lifeanddignity.ie.

In addition to the fact that there is no sign of these medical guidelines, there is another factor that must be considered when suggesting simply deferring to doctors. This was addressed in the 2019 article in the Journal of Medical Ethicsentitled "Reconsidering fetal pain". This article is noteworthy because its two authors, Stuart Derbyshire and John Bockmann, came together to address the evidence for foetal pain despite having very different views on the morality of abortion. They noted that it appeared that the only procedures where invasive foetal intervention proceeds without anaesthesia are abortions. The article states:

... all the evidence suggests that surgeons performing therapeutic fetal interventions routinely consider pain relief for the fetus, [while] surgeons performing abortions have their focus on the pregnant woman as their patient. Consequently they more rarely consider fetal pain relief during the preparation and execution of abortion

It is not unreasonable to conclude that, perhaps unsurprisingly, medics who choose to perform procedures intended to end the life of a foetus may have a blind spot when it comes to considering the welfare of the foetus during those procedures.

William Wilberforce stated "you [might be able to turn and] look the other way but you can never again say [that] you did not know.” I ask Deputies to help us to end this injustice and support this Bill. We are discussing a legislative proposal and it is easy to get caught up in the legal jargon and technicalities; however, it is important to remember that at the core of this Bill we are asking whether the House is prepared to support a measure to help to avoid unnecessary pain being inflicted on vulnerable human beings.

If Members care about compassion, humanity and mercy towards the vulnerable among us, or about following the science, which becomes ever clearer that unborn children are likely to feel pain much earlier than previously believed, I ask them to please support this Bill. If they care about cruelty to animals, I ask them to please extend the same protection to unborn human beings and support this Bill.


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