By Susan Gately - 22 October, 2016
Parents whose babies were diagnosed with life-limiting conditions have said that the language and concepts underpinning a recent Private Member’s Bill in Northern Ireland seeking abortion in the case of ‘fatal abnormality’ was “fatally flawed” and had been rejected by both parents and the medical profession in Northern Ireland.
“Our babies’ lives were tragically shortened by conditions such as anencephaly and Trisomy 13, but they were our babies and not a ‘fatal abnormality’,” said Every Life Counts spokeswoman, Tracy Harkin. “They have a severe disability but they are alive and kicking at the time the diagnosis is made, and they have the same right to love and care as any other child.”
Ms Harkin was speaking after Northern Ireland’s former Alliance leader, David Ford, submitted a Private Member’s Bill to allow a woman carrying a foetus with what he described as “a fatal abnormality” to legally access abortion in Northern Ireland. He said his proposals for legalised abortion were “not about disability” but solely targeted towards unborn babies with “no prospect of life”.
“What David Ford really means when he says ‘no prospect of life’ is that babies with disabilities are unworthy of life; unworthy of love and care. He may think that way, but the people of Northern Ireland don’t think that way,” said Bernadette Smyth from Precious Life.
Every Life Counts pointed out that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has already told Mr Ford that they were unhappy with the phrase ‘fatal foetal abnormality’.
“We recently saw leading obstetrician Prof. Jim Dornan telling David Ford live on The View on BBC Northern Ireland that the RCOG was unhappy with the use of this term, which is absolutely medically meaningless and used to dehumanise babies,” said Ms Harkin.
Prof. Dornan said that the term was “in no medical textbook” and “no doctor knows exactly when a foetus is going to die.”
In the Republic of Ireland, the Health Service Executive has issued new guidelines using the term ‘life-limiting conditions’ because, said Ms Harkin, “the medical literature and the lived experience of doctors and parents point to the fact that this label is utterly misleading and dangerous.”
Ms Harkin’s own baby, Kathleen Rose, has defied medical expectations. Kathleen Rose was born with a life-limiting condition – Trisomy 13. As more than 90% of babies with the condition die within a year, it is often cited as one of the conditions for which abortion should be available. Kathleen Rose is almost ten and “bringing us so much joy,” says Ms Harkin. But she says that where a baby’s life is very short after birth, “we know that every minute counts and, for parents, abortion is not a pathway to healing.”
She said it would be inspiring to see David Ford and others “give even a fraction of this time and energy to pushing for perinatal hospice care and really helping families who are told their babies may not live for long after birth.”