In March of 2019, a couple attending the National Maternity Hospital were told by doctors that their baby had a condition which meant he would not live after birth. The couple say they were then led towards having an abortion and told not to wait for the results of a second test to confirm the baby had Trisomy 18.
The baby was aborted. The results of the second test showed the little boy was perfectly healthy. The devastated parents say they want an independent inquiry, but 18 months later progress is very slow, and they say they feel “abandoned” by the state. Groups like Every Life Counts who advocate better care for parents whose babies had life-limiting conditions, say the previous Health Minister Simon Harris, failed to put safeguards in place and seemed to be unwilling to bring some urgency to the inquiry.
Stephen Donnelly, who last June was in opposition, said at the time that the public needed to know if there are “existing dangers” in relation to the termination of pregnancy service as it currently operates.”
Yet here we are, 17 months later, in a situation where Donnelly is now the Health Minister and the Holles St couple still have no indication of when their case will be addressed.
Will Donnelly exercise the same foot-dragging as Harris in relation to this case because it concerns abortion? Perhaps, but what most people may not realise is that Donnelly was forewarned that cases like this would arise
In fact, as previously confirmed, Deputy Donnelly was explicitly and personally informed by Dr Peter Boylan, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health on Wednesday, 19 Sep 2018, that the lack of MRI scanning services could lead to the termination of a child who may not actually have had a fatal condition.
Let us be absolutely clear that this is the case.
During the Committee proceedings, Deputy Donnelly asked Dr Boylan and the other medical representatives present if they could foresee a situation arising where there were not enough consultants, obstetricians, operating theatres, acute beds or post termination supports for the women. He also asked, could they talk about where the State needs to be quickly investing resources to make sure that there are not bottlenecks through all of this?
In his reply Dr Peter Boylan made the following statement with respect to the situation regarding infrastructure and services aimed at diagnosing conditions described as ‘fatal’ even though the baby often does live after birth:
“The MRI machine in the National Maternity Hospital, with some jiggling around, could possibly be a national centre for referral to clarify the diagnosis for women and pregnancies where there are foetal abnormalities. The consequences of getting it wrong are serious. We could end up with a termination done for a condition that is not fatal or vice versa.”
This makes it absolutely clear that politicians were warned that the rollout of abortion services in this state -rushed to accord with a political rather than a clinical deadline – was capable of ending the lives of unborn children deemed to have a ‘fatal’ condition but who did not actually have such a condition.
Deputy Donnelly’s knew then that there were “existing dangers” and he did precious little to highlight that fact.
Another few examples will make this clear.
At the same Health Committee meeting Deputy Donnelly was told by Dr Cliodha Murphy- from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists:
“As things stand, we do not know the capacity we are trying to become ready for. There will be major public expectation for a rolled out service and that can lead to issues. We have seen how if things are not planned properly they can unravel. I certainly advise caution and perhaps we should consider some phasing in or a pilot – that is my own personal view – so that there would be some understanding among the public that it is a short timeframe to roll out a separate health strategy.”
The statement made by Dr Peter Boylan to Deputy Donnelly was a clear recognition that the lives of innocent children were going to be put in danger of death through misdiagnosis. Exactly as it has come to pass in relation to Holles Street and the poor protocols around genetic testing.
Now that he is Minister for Health, Donnelly and his government also seem to be effectively ignoring the plight of the couple at the centre of the Holles Street misdiagnosis scandal. Was his concern in June of last year insincere? We need to know.