Dr Rhona Mahony on 8th Amendment: 'Clinical decisions are being made in a criminal context'

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital says doctors will always try to "save as much life as we can"

Dr Rhona Mahony on 8th Amendment: 'Clinical decisions are being made in a criminal context'

Dr Rhona Mahony. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital has defended her criticism of the 8th Amendment.

Dr Rhona Mahony says the section of our Constitution which protects the right to life of the unborn is too 'ambiguous' and means surgeons may have to wait too long before intervening in some cases.

She is also unhappy that it forces doctors to make medical decisions in the context of criminal repercussions.

A 14-year prison sentence can still be given to mothers and medics who help procure illegal abortions.

Speaking to Labour TDs and senators at their think-in earlier this week, Dr Mahony said that she favours a repeal of the 8th Amendment, arguing: "We can't keep sending women to England and pretending it doesn't happen."

Speaking to Pat Kenny today, Dr Mahony explained why she has objected to the 8th Amendment.

She observed: "The whole issue really for me arises prior to foetal viability. Once a baby is viable, and we can offer intensive care - and that's somewhere around 24-26 weeks - then of course, and we do all the time in obstetrics, balance both lives.

"Prior to foetal viability, if a mother dies the baby dies too - but the converse is not the same."

She added: "The difficulty we have with the 8th Amendment is it provides for rights, but actually we're talking about clinical risk.

"Eventually there will be times when risk and right will actually come into conflict."

Dr Mahony spoke about how doctors find themselves making decisions in a potentially criminal context.

"That's really very unusual in medicine," she argued.

"Our conversations are based on safety, and trying to save as much life as we can. That is purely our focus.

"We are cognizant of the law, and we will always follow the law - but first and foremost our conversation will focus on 'how can we save as much life as we can?' and 'what is the right thing to do here from a medical perspective?'. That must be the first step for any doctor, and then you look at how that fits within the legal process."