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REVEALED: Irish clinical guidelines do not say pain relief should be given in late-term abortion

Last week the Dáil debated a Bill which sought to ensure that preborn babies in late-term abortions would be given pain relief. 

In 2018, when the Dáil debated abortion legislation, an amendment calling for pain relief for preborn babies before late-term abortion was voted down by a large majority. The main argument was that Dáil legislation should not deal with pain relief, because this should be addressed in clinical guidelines written by doctors.

These arguments were used again last week to justify voting against the legislation proposed by Carol Nolan TD. Several TDs – including the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, stood up in the Dáil to assert that the law should not compel doctors to give pain relief to babies being aborted late in pregnancy because that was a matter best addressed in clinical guidelines.

However, according to the published Irish clinical guidelines, it has not been addressed there either.

The clinical guideline published by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland (RCPI) does not acknowledge the evidence babies can feel pain before birth or make any comment on how doctors could administer pain relief.

The RCPI guideline does specify the lethal dose of potassium chloride to be injected into the baby’s heart in late-term abortions (older UK clinical guidelines state that this is advisable if the medical team and mother want to avoid a baby being born alive).

The RCPI guide also has several pages about how to use drugs such as mifepristone to induce labour during abortion, so it obviously is detailed enough to include pain relief for babies, if this was part of Irish clinical practice.

Pain relief has been reported as part of normal clinical practice during late-term abortion in France (and possibly elsewhere). Those who drew up the RCPI guideline were aware of international clinical practice including in France, as they referenced the use of mifepristone in France and several other countries.

Abortion is a twisted distortion of medical skills and resources to kill instead of heal, but in a more positive use of medical advances, it’s been possible to perform surgery on babies in the womb for spina bifida and other conditions, and then allow the pregnancy to continue before a healthy birth later – in this scenario, preborn babies receive pain relief too.

Simon Harris, commenting on a pain relief amendment in the Dáil debate on abortion legislation in November 2018, assured TDs: ”Our doctors go into hospitals every day to ease pain and I have no doubt that all these issues will be considered when the clinical guidelines are being drawn up.”

That did not happen (like many other assurances by those who wanted to legalise abortion).

Now the 3-year review of the abortion legislation next year is being put forward as an excuse for voting against the pain relief legislation. We don’t know yet if the review’s terms of reference will include fetal pain; they may not.

Meanwhile, in our maternity hospitals, late-term abortions continue. Why the reluctance to say babies should not die in pain if it can be avoided? Could it be that for politicians and doctors, even admitting it’s possible preborn babies feel pain, makes it harder to ignore their humanity and and the appalling violation of their rights that is any form of abortion?

 


 

Ruth Foley is a writer and researcher

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