She quoted statistics stating that suicide in pregnancy was very rare. For example over a three-year period in the UK, there had only been four such cases and in all these cases the women had mental illness problems. In the UK abortion is readily available, so the deaths were not linked to the lack of availability of abortion. Prof Casey said there had been two maternal deaths from suicide reported from 2009-11 in the Irish Maternal Death Inquiry study, but this was a draft report and the full details were not yet available.
In her submission conclusion she stated: “If legislation for abortion on the grounds of suicide risk is enacted psychiatrists will be expected to propose an unproven intervention (abortion) for a rare outcome (suicide) that is more often incorrectly rather than correctly predicted.”
In earlier submissions to the committee Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital said that 15% of pregnant women presenting to hospital have mental health problems, but it is “very rare” for the threat of suicide to be used as a reason for abortion. He added that UK figures show incidents of suicide during abortion is one for every 500,000 women. He was one of the masters of the Ireland’s maternity hospitals who spoke yesterday during the opening session of the Oireachtas Health Committee hearings on abortion.
In the submission from the College of Psychiatry, it was stated by Dr. Anthony McCarthy that
“We are the only perinatal psychiatrists employed in Ireland. Between us we have over 40 years of experience of assessing women with mental health difficulties in pregnancy. We have all seen many women with serious depressions, mental illnesses and suicidal ideas and sometimes serious life threatening attempts in pregnancy. None of us has seen a woman where the only treatment that would have prevented suicide was a termination of pregnancy, emphasising the rarity of this.”
The hearings continue until Thursday evening and can be viewed live on the Oireachtas website, also full written submissions of each speaker are available on the website.