Delivering her verdict
Dr Juliet Bressan,
Irish Medical Times, 20th January 2011
Bressan wants to dispel what she sees as
the myth that Ireland is the safest place in the world to have a baby.
On December 16 in the
Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a unanimous
judgment was made against a number of Irish doctors that there had been
a human rights violation in respect of their patient.
This patient was a
woman in remission from cancer and unaware that she was pregnant who had
a series of check-ups contraindicated during pregnancy. On discovering
her pregnancy, she became afraid that her cancer would relapse. And, she
was also concerned about a risk to the foetus if she continued to term.
She asked her doctors
what she should do – but they refused to give her clear advice. Unable
to cope without medical advice and support here, she decided to have an
abortion in England. She then went on to receive €15,000 in
compensation for her suffering from the ECHR in a judgment against the
The response of the
anti-abortion movement in Ireland through its medical advisors is that
Ireland is the safest place in the world to have a baby. End of. Ireland
is probably a relatively safe place to have a baby – unless you happen
to have been a patient of Dr Neary, of any of the symphysiotomy-friendly
Catholic hospitals, to have had Rhesus-negative blood and have been in
receipt of a Hep C contaminated blood product, or if you want a home
delivery or a natural child birth… or indeed you want simple basic
medical advice. Our Caesarean section rate is over twice the WHO
recommended rate for a developed country.
Ireland, in other
words, is probably the lousiest place in the world in which to be
expecting a baby.
I had my own babies
here in the late 1980s. Thanks to my obstetrician who was unwilling to
give me a blood transfusion when my (unmonitored in ante-natal care)
haemoglobin dropped to 7 after a post-partum haemorrhage, I don’t have
liver cirrhosis today.
At university in the
1980s we were taught that although the Anti-D products were known to be
slightly contaminated, the risk of transmission was low enough that the
women probably wouldn’t really notice by the time they got the yellow
jaundice, but that it was a happy price to pay in the long term for a
series of healthy babies. Many of those women, of course, have since
Ireland is the country
that pioneered the active management of labour. My own first
labour lasted for over 24 hours because my obstetrician was on holidays
and so my private patient chart was left under a pile while other more
sensible women were managed actively by the State-employed midwives.
Bitter? Not at all. A third-degree tear is but a scratch when you think
that they could have given me liver cancer if they’d been arsed.
I don’t know many
women who talk fondly of their happy days in the labour wards of
Ireland. I’ve worked in many of them myself, and I’d love to have
been able to replicate the experience I had of working in labour wards
in Scotland and Australia.
I’d love to have
worked, in Ireland, in an atmosphere where women in labour were deeply
respected as the creators of life. Where women were offered comfort,
freedom to move, to birth in a position of choice, to birth underwater,
to enjoy acupuncture or homeopathy or whatever snake oil tickled their
fancy, because their power of giving new life to the world was being
honoured for the amazing gift that it is.
I would love to be able
to say that in Ireland, a country which entitles women in the
Constitution and which declares that the unborn child is worthy of just
the same rights as any other citizen, that pregnant women are respected,
honoured, and elevated. And I would love to be able to say, as a
physician who trained in Ireland, that women in labour are always
treated with admiration, dignity and grace. And if you aren’t laughing
by now, you’re probably in tears.
I’d love to be able
to say that, far from actively campaigning against the rights of
children of foreign women who arrived in late pregnancy, that the
obstetricians of Ireland have always honoured and respected the rights
of the unborn children and have welcomed them into our citizenship.
I’d love to be able to say that, far from refusing to consult with
women whose babies will not survive their own delivery, that doctors in
the maternity hospitals of Ireland have been a rock of compassion and
support to these women.
I would love to be able
to say that no woman is ever shown the door, shunned and forced to leave
the country when she feels she must end a pregnancy. I’d love to be
able to tell any of the journalists who are currently asking me, well,
is it true what they say, that Ireland is the safest place in the world
in which to be pregnant? That yes, we love babies in Ireland. We honour
and respect pregnant women. We give power to women in labour and in
But I cannot lie. And
so I cannot push aside the truth about childbirth in Ireland. Dr Neary.
Hepatitis C. Sheila Hogers. Anne Lovett. Joanna Hayes. The Magdalene
Laundries. The X Case. The Y Case. The C Case. The D Case. Baby O. I
could go on. We all know the truth.
And so the truth is
this: and let’s be very clear about it. Ireland is not the safest
place in the world to have a baby.
Sadly, this country is
probably the lousiest place you can possibly imagine. The point is now
to change it.
here to return to the news page