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Welcome for HSE standards on bereavement

By Ann Marie Foley - 11 August, 2016


Support group, One Day More, has welcomed the new HSE bereavement guidelines and its use of the term ‘life-limiting condition’.

The guidelines ‘Standards for Bereavement Care Following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death’ were launched yesterday (Wednesday 10 August).

“We welcome the launch of the new guidelines today and the holistic and humane approach to care that is evident in them. It is appropriate that the guidelines use the term ‘life-limiting condition’ when describing situations where a baby is given a poor prenatal diagnosis rather than terms that devalue and undermine babies in these situations,” said Jennifer Kehoe of One Day More.

However, the group, consisting of parents of children who received a poor prenatal diagnosis, expressed sadness that some people are using stories like theirs to advance the case for the dismantling of the 8th Amendment.

“Politicians who do so cannot claim to respect our children while at the same time saying they deserve no protection in the Constitution. And that’s exactly what removing the 8th amendment would amount to – saying that some lives are worthy of protection while others are not,” said Jennifer Kehoe.

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She highlighted that the new guidelines also draw attention to research in this area showing that women who opt for termination of pregnancy, for whatever reason, “experience more intense emotional distress” in both the short and long term.*

“It is a positive development that the guidelines mention research like this as to date there has been much confusion on points like this and even false assumptions being made that abortion is the most appropriate and compassionate way to proceed,” she said.

The HSE said the standards clearly define the care parents and families can expect to receive following a pregnancy loss or perinatal death.

The standards will be implemented and applied across the health service in all appropriate hospitals and settings.

Launching the standards, Simon Harris, Minister for Health said, “Today marks a new beginning for bereavement care services for parents who have the devastating experience of a pregnancy loss or perinatal death. I am pleased that the standards will ensure that clinical and counselling services will be in place to support women and their families in all pregnancy loss situations, from early pregnancy loss to perinatal death, as well as situations where there is a diagnosis of a life-limiting or fatal foetal anomaly.”

He added that all families who have the experience of a pregnancy-related bereavement, including those who travel abroad for abortions, will receive the care and compassion they need.


Dr Keelin O’Donoghue, consultant obstetrician and senior lecturer at Cork University Maternity Hospitals explained that the publication of the standards represent “a direct expression of our commitment to compassionate care for patients”.

She said that all maternity hospitals/units will now establish or develop further bereavement specialist teams to help and support parents, families and professionals dealing with pregnancy loss.

These teams will comprise staff members who have had specialist education in bereavement care.

They will include a dedicated clinical midwife specialist in bereavement care for each maternity unit. They will be supported in their work by staff from other disciplines including obstetricians, paediatricians, neonatologists, chaplains, social workers and palliative care teams.

The new standards also acknowledge the impact of pregnancy loss and perinatal death on staff and the importance of having formal structures in place to support staff.

Preparation of the standards involved the Irish Hospice Foundation which has extensive experience in palliative care.

The standards have been developed in response to recommendations in both the HSE’s investigation report into the death of Savita Halappanavar and the report of Dr Peter Boylan following his review of maternity cases at Portlaoise Hospital.

*Kersting A, Kroker K, Steinhard J, Hoernig-Franz I et al. (2009). Psychological impact on women after second and third trimester termination of pregnancy due to fetal anomalies versus women after preterm birth: a 14 month follow-up study. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 12(4):193-201.

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