Pro-Life Doctors Must Voice Their Conscience

By remaining silent pro-life doctors are contributing to the legalisation of abortion.
writes Ben Conroy
Young women hold candles as they gather for a pro-life vigil in Dublin in January. Photo: John McElroy

Young women hold candles as they gather for a pro-life vigil in Dublin in January. Photo: John McElroy

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

 Dr Peter Boylan, the National Maternity Hospital’s clinical director, recently gave evidence to the Savita Halappanavar inquest, in which he stated that Savita would likely have been saved if her pregnancy had been terminated on Tuesday – before she was diagnosed with sepsis. Dr Boylan’s opinion as reported by RTE was that even if every other systems failure had not happened, that by the time the diagnosis was made on Wednesday it would have been too late. He put the blame for her death squarely on Irish law, which he claimed left doctors unable to terminate on Tuesday, as there was no apparent risk to Savita’s life or health.

Think, for a moment, about the implications. By this standard, doctors would have to perform abortions before a risk to a woman’s life – or even health – became apparent. This is absurd, and two minutes’ thought reveals its absurdity. But it was said by the former master and current clinical director of Holles Street, and thus must be taken very seriously.

Similarly, during the Oireachtas hearings on abortion legislation, several high-profile doctors performed the impressive feat of simultaneously stating that abortion was not a treatment for suicidal ideation, and arguing that suicide should be included in legislation as grounds for abortion.

Logic and evidence should be enough to combat this incoherence. But it is not. Ireland is horribly vulnerable to that logical fallacy, the argument from authority. In the past, there was undue deference paid to a Catholic Church that had fallen in love with temporal power. Now that same deference is paid to experts, professionals who are generally believed to be semi-infallible within their own area of expertise – even if their position contradicts actual medical evidence, such as the recent study published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychology showing that abortion has no psychiatric benefit. The word of one high-profile doctor counts for more than 10 peer-reviewed studies.

So what do we need? We need more doctors. There are people within the medical community right now who are firmly pro-life, and who are saying nothing. They are GPs, psychiatrists, paediatricians, and consultants.

Some of these doctors fear that their careers will be threatened if they speak out. Others feel that they can do better work behind the scenes. But that is no longer enough. Legislation for the X case is being framed now; legislation that is being shaped by vocal medical practitioners who believe that abortion is sometimes justified.

This is the critical moment: if you practise medicine, you are in a position of authority, and you’re pro-life, and you don’t speak about it publicly now, you are contributing to the legalisation of abortion in Ireland. In a way, you’re even more morally guilty than pro-choice doctors – they are doing what they honestly believe to be right, while you are simply keeping your head down.

If your contract prevents you from speaking publicly, ask yourself if that really matters. Think, for a few minutes, about what abortion involves. If you fear being ostracised or social disapproval, well, so did those who spoke against the abolition of slavery.

I use that comparison with care. I have no intention of invoking the slippery slope fallacy, because I don’t think X legislation will necessarily lead to abortion on demand.

What it will lead to is the government-sanctioned deliberate killing of a number of babies. The cases will come – a young rape victim, convinced that ending her child’s life will take away her desire to end her own, and facilitated in this belief by a society that ignores medical evidence. A middle-aged woman reporting a threatened miscarriage told that it would be better to pre-emptively abort so she could get out of the hospital without risk of infection.

These babies will be killed discreetly, out of our sight. Some of them will look very like newborn babies. Others will be younger, smaller, even less visible. It will become normal. Life, for the rest of us, will go on.

This vision has every chance of becoming our reality. Anyone who is in a position of authority or influence, anyone who by their words or actions has the power to change things, has now to look into their soul and ask themselves a question: Do I want to be responsible?