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Abortion is a disability rights issue, Bishop Doran tells Athlone conference

By Cian Molloy - 22 October, 2017

If the inclusion of people with disabilities is a characteristic of a civilised society, why would we accept discrimination against unborn people with disabilities, simply because of their disability?

That was the question put by the chairman of the Irish Bishops’ Consultative Group on Biotethics, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, at a conference on Abortion, Disability and the Law, which was held in Athlone on Friday.

Pointing out that in both civic and church society, we talk of ‘people with disability’ rather than ‘disabled people’, Bishop Doran pointed out that unborn babies with a disability, like adults with a disability, were first and foremost people.

“Their disability certainly limits their capacity to act, but it doesn’t define them,” the bishop said. “On the other hand, the manner in which they are welcomed and cared for often enhances their capacity in ways that people might neer have imagined, not least their capacity to be a focus of love in the family and in the community.”

Bishop Doran noted that we as a society need to consider the possible purposes of pre-natal diagnosis, which can be used to identify medical conditions that can be treated in the womb or which may help prepare a couple, in advance of birth, for the arrival of a child with special needs. But he said, “Increasingly, however, pre-natal diagnosis is thought of and used as a means of screening out babies who, in the eyes of adults, should not be brought to birth.” A chilling example of this is Iceland where 100% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are aborted.

The bishop also examined the situation of healthcare professionals who object to the deliberate taking of life in jurisdictions where abortion is readily permitted. Often these professionals are ‘regarded as troublesome and unreliable employees and not good candidates for promotion’, said the bishop pointing to out that Ireland’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act only allows doctors and nurses to opt out of participating in abortion if they refer the patient to someone else who will perform the procedure. “In other words, they are still required to participate in what they believe to be fundamentally immoral,” said the bishop. “Healthcare administrators have no recourse to conscientious objection.”

“The difficulty here is that, in our liberal democracy, people who provide services are regarded as “delivery people” with no personal investment in what they deliver.  The “customer is always right”.  It is, of course, very necessary that “healthcare delivery” should be efficient and effective, but it is a cause of concern when society focusses to such an extent on delivery that the essential meaning of healthcare and the essential role of the healthcare professional as “healer” and “advocate for life” is lost sight of.  In such a scenario there is no room for the personal conscience of the healthcare professional. ”

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