Conscientious objection does not equate to an abandonment of patients

06 December 2018

Labour TD Joan Burton, speaking in Dail Éireann on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018, has argued that while conscientious objection is a right which must be recognised, so too is conscientious support. Deputy Burton argued that allowing for conscientious objection should not equate to a complete abandonment of patients.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Burton said:

“Since this debate began a very long time ago, it has always been clear on the part of people who objected to the eighth amendment and believed it put women’s lives at risk and was not in the best interests of women and indeed children and Irish people that the right of conscientious objection was always recognised and given freely and generously.

“What I would say to people here who have taken a conscientious objection position is that this is their right but it is also my right to be a conscientious supporter of proper facilities being available to women when they need that support. Staff in medical institutions, hospitals, and practices throughout the country have the right to conscientious objection, but they should acknowledge the right of conscientious supporters.

“This is not an easy subject. It is a subject where people agonise and weigh decisions as to what is best for them, their families and their future. We do not have absolute insight into everybody’s decision but those who righteously profess conscientious objection should also look at the righteous right of other people to support conscientiously this legislation and the changes it brings.

“Yes, people have the right to conscientious objection, but from everything I understand about people in the medical and health services, that does not mean that one can then abandon the patient. All that is being asked here is that the patient would be able to be referred to people who conscientiously can address their needs. That referral is a just referral. It does not undermine the conscience of the person who has an objection. That is and was accepted by everybody on this side of the debate from day one, years ago. I am so glad that it has been included so positively in this legislation.

“These are complex decisions. They are not easy decisions for anybody but what we are seeking to do in this legislation is put in place a framework where women and their partners and families can be assured that in the relatively rare cases where something goes wrong, they will get the proper attention. That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about some ideology. We are talking about real women and possibly children whose lives are under threat in a situation of pregnancy. We must address that core question.

“I recognise conscientious objection but, equally, I recognise the right of women to get treatment that is appropriate to their situation. The people voted for that, which is what gives us our authority to come into the Chamber and say this with all due care and consideration to the people who think differently from us. There are very simple and easy procedures to pass on records and make the information available.

“We should remember that way back during the time of the eighth amendment, the judges decided in a Supreme Court case and the people decided in a referendum on the right to information and the right to travel. If someone decided on the right to information and travel, he or she had actually decided to allow people to proceed but to do it in another jurisdiction. This Bill simply brings it back home and provides for it here.”

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