Freedom of conscience is a human right and should not be thwarted by any government or body, writes Dr Aisling Bastible
Hundreds of general practitioners from all over the country attended an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) in Malahide at the weekend.
They were hoping to have an open discussion regarding the abortion services that Minister for Health Simon Harris has insisted will be GP-led and rolled out on January 1. However, only half an hour into the meeting over 100 GPs stood up and left as they were not allowed to suspend the agenda and have a vote on the motions that 650 GPs had signed in a petition to the ICGP less than six weeks ago.
The signatures were electronic, so were not deemed valid by the college. Hand-written signatures were required, they insisted.
One of these motions included asking the ICGP to protect doctors full freedom of conscience by not being obliged to refer a pregnant woman on to a colleague if he or she did not want to provide the abortion service.
This is the big problem with the termination of pregnancy legislation as it stands. For the sake of so many GPs who don’t want any part in providing this service, a service for various reasons they disagree with having in general practice, one of which includes conscientious objection, this legislation needs to be amended by Minister Harris.
The next step is to call for another EGM meeting, with 650 hand-written GP signatures this time, and propose these motions. These are primarily to keep abortion provision in a community setting outside of general practice; to have an ‘opt-in’ service for those GPs that do want to provide the service; for those doctors that don’t ‘opt-in’, that the ICGP agree to protect them by not being prevented in advancing their careers or training; for full freedom of conscience to be respected (including transfer of care) and for a 24 hour helpline to be established with non-directive counselling for pregnant women and not merely signalling to other providers.
These motions, can and will be discussed and voted on by doctors, at the next EGM meeting in an open and democratic fashion.
This, I believe, is the way forward. January is only around the corner so doctors need full freedom of conscience enshrined in law to protect them from being subject to ‘the law of the land’, and therefore to be able to continue to practice and care for their patients with care and compassion as they always strive to do.
Freedom of conscience is a human right and should not be thwarted by any government or body.
This is particularly significant when it applies to protection of the unborn and the doctors who care for them and their mothers.
Dr Aisling Bastible is a general practitioner.