Seanad debates

Monday, 10 December 2018

Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Committee Stage (Resumed)


2:00 pm

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I know that.

Going back to the question of truthfulness, which drew some comment, if we are to be truthful and if we say we have specifically excluded disability and if we have not specifically done so then there is a truthfulness deficit. The Minister, referring to the committee I sat on myself, stated it looked at the area of disability and specifically excluded it as grounds for a termination. He also stated that while he appreciated my concern, our Oireachtas colleagues differentiated themselves from the words of the Citizens' Assembly. The Irish Independentreported that the Minister pointed out if the electorate voted to repeal the eighth amendment in the referendum the proposed legislation widening the grounds for abortion would not include grounds for disabilities such as Down's syndrome. He stated it would be confined to cases of fatal foetal abnormality where the unborn baby would not live.

However, during the course of the referendum campaign we heard from numerous consultant obstetricians that the so-called non-invasive pregnancy test, NIPT, which consists of a blood test given to the mother at the ninth week of pregnancy, can detect the baby's DNA in the mother's bloodstream and can show the sex of the baby and whether the baby has a condition such as Down's syndrome.

I have been very influenced by personal friends and courageous people such as Martin and Sinead McBreen, who were prominent during the debate before the referendum. These tests are available in Ireland. In the UK, the National Health Service offers the test to screen for genetic conditions such as Down's syndrome. In practice the test is used to screen out children with Down's syndrome and other conditions. In the UK, 90% of children with a prenatal diagnosis of Down's syndrome are aborted. There is even a campaign called Don't Screen Us Out and it has some eloquent members of the Down's syndrome community who have spoken out publicly.

Another disturbing fact is the NIPT test is used to detect the sex of the child and this can lead to sex selective abortions. In the UK, Conservative and Labour Party members oppose sex selective abortion. Labour Party MP, Naz Shah, the shadow women and equalities Minister, stated the Government must act to stop the misuse of the non-invasive prenatal test to abort pregnancies based on gender and that it was morally wrong that women were using the NIPT test to determine whether they were pregnant with a girl and then scheduling an abortion based on the result. She called for a Government investigation into the practice. This is part of the context.

The possibility of discrimination against unborn children on grounds of disability or sex is a reality and the amendment seeks to ensure the practice is prohibited. Prior to the referendum, on the "Liveline" programme on RTÉ on 10 May 2018 it was significant to hear the master of the Rotunda Hospital, Professor Fergal Malone, describing as "the unfortunate few" those families and women who received a test result showing the detection of Down's syndrome during pregnancy. This comment caused much hurt. That characterisation was criticised immediately by one of the guests on the show, calling on him to explain why they were unfortunate to have a child with special needs. What was also significant and of interest in those days and on the "Liveline" programme was the conflict of testimony and the confusion between the contributions of other leading obstetricians in the campaign, Dr. Rhona O'Mahony and Dr. Peter Boylan, on the issue of whether it would be possible to get the results of such a test in advance of the 12-week deadline. It is fair to say that suggestions it would not be possible ever to-----


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