Life at all costs: Growing up with Ireland’s abortion policies

November 27th, 2014

By now, the story is well known- or at least, the basic facts are. A woman, in the early stages of pregnancy, was admitted to hospital with headaches and nausea. Two days later, she suffered a fall and was later found to be unresponsive. On December 3rd, she was declared clinically brain dead. She had a loving father and was already a mother to two children, aged 6 and 4, with her fiance, also the father of her unborn child. She was just 26.

What follows is bleak, if not outright harrowing. She was brain dead, but the foetus still had a heartbeat. For a period of weeks after her death, her body was maintained by mechanical ventilation and she was fed by a nasogastric tube. She was given high doses of various medications for pneumonia, fungal infections, high blood pressure, fluid build up and urinary tract problems. Physiotherapy was required. When her children came to see her, efforts were made to improve her devastated appearance: make up was applied, but the whites of her eyes were so swollen than they could not close. One of the children became distressed on seeing her. Her body swelled. An open wound on her head became infected. She no longer resembled the photograph of herself on the bedside table.

The woman’s father was told that this course of treatment would continue, ostensibly for the duration of the pregnancy. The idea was to attain foetal viability- to bring into the world the unborn foetus lying inside its brain dead mother while her corpse degenerated around it at a rapid pace. The doctors felt trapped by a decision made in an Irish referendum in 1983, relating to the right to life of the unborn child. Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution states as follows:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Her father asked that life support be discontinued, as did her partner. They felt that the support measures were unlikely to safely bring a child into the world. They felt the treatment was experimental and not based on any ethical principle. Medical staff said they felt constrained because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

How is it that Ireland’s doctors find themselves using a dead woman as an incubator, in the vague, unqualified, unscientific hope that a child may be born eventually of the experiment? How is it that this could be, not just legal, but possibly Constitutionally protected?

To find the answer to the question, we have to go back in time and consider the status of women and the unborn in Ireland- as well as Irish society itself.

Read more at Medium.

Letter to Alan Caulfield, Editor, Metro Herald

Please note: This letter will not be permanently hosted on this site and will be removed shortly. 

September 5th, 2014

Dear Mr Caulfield,

I am writing with regard to an article published in this morning’s Metro Herald regarding the sad details of the emerging events in Charleville, Co Cork over the past 24 hours.

A line in the article reads “A well-informed source said: ‘The place is like a butcher’s parlour, or an abbatoir. Those poor little boys suffered a shocking death.’”

I believe this sentence to be incredibly insensitive. Such graphic detail was not required or requested and in my opinion, does not serve the public interest. I firmly believe that the article was very well placed to draw attention to rising mental health and suicide problems among young people and particularly, among the Traveller community. Instead, the article has sensationalised the tragic end to three lives in a small, close knit community.

This particular sentence was particularly grim and I question the validity of printing it as a result. I draw your attention to Principle 5 of the Press Ombudsman Code of Practice, relating to Privacy. Section 5.3 states that “Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of grieving families should be taken into account. This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.”

I suggest this situation is unlikely to become a matter for the courts, nullifying the exemption in the clause in question. The sentence printed in the article compares the violent deaths of two young boys to a butcher’s practice, presenting an image of animals for slaughter. Frankly, I believe that drawing such an analogy lessens the worth of their lives and would have a horrific impact on family members who may read the article in question.

I also note Article 9 of the Press Ombudsman Code, specifically relating to Children. Section 9.1 reads that “Newspapers and magazines shall take particular care in seeking and presenting information or comment about a child under the age of 16.” By printing the sentence in question, your newspaper has presented gory, brutal and unnecessarily visceral information about the deaths of two children under the age of 10. I remind you that there are surviving relatives, many of them very young, who may in time also read this piece.

I’m not sure of your level of awareness about mental health and suicide in the Traveller community. Currently, the Traveller suicide rate is six times that of the national settled population, and for men specifically, it is seven times higher. Incidences of mental health problems are extremely widespread and members of the community express anxiety and discomfort when talking about mental health concerns. Your article could have drawn attention to suicide support services, mental health awareness for young people, victim support organisations and Traveller support structures, but it did not. Indeed, instead of analysing the blood on the walls, the journalist could have asked why this happened, why 1 in 11 Travellers die by suicide- and how we can work to lower that figure.

This article made victims of those children all over again, rehashing their cruel end in technicolour. The public interest was not served here and I believe an apology is due- not just for this family, but for the sake of the many families who have suffered the aftermath of such a situation and who do not need such brutal reminders.

Yours sincerely,