The Pro Life Campaign has expressed its support for the latest effort by Independent TD Mattie McGrath, obliging medical professionals to desist from using the term ‘incompatible with life’ when referring to unborn babies with potentially life-limiting conditions.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday during the introduction of his Private Members’ Bill on the issue (Disability Amendment Bill 2015), Mr McGrath said: “Like many phrases that may once have been prevalent in our society, for example terms like illegitimate or retard, the phrase incompatible with life must be eliminated from our public discourse”.
There is a responsibility on everyone who contributes to the abortion debate to behave in a way that doesn’t cause offence or hurt to families or individuals who may be feeling particularly vulnerable. In recent debates, some politicians have used obscene and highly offensive language to describe unborn babies with life-limiting conditions. There is nothing anyone can do about that other than appeal to these politicians to be more mindful of the sensitivities involved and how much hurt and anguish their ill-considered comments cause families of babies with terminal illnesses.
When it comes to health care professionals, however, there is a particular obligation on them not to use terms that place a value judgement on the lives of those in their care, including unborn babies. There is no question but the term ‘incompatible with life’, used in the context of babies with life limiting conditions, strips these children of their dignity and puts a question mark over their inherent value as members of the human community.
Deputy McGrath is absolutely right to make an issue of this and his Private Members’ Bill is most worthy of support.
It is not difficult to see how describing a much-loved and seriously ill son or daughter as ‘incompatible with life’ can have a devastating effect on families, particularly when these families are also feeling pressured by medical staff to go down the road of abortion instead of opting for perinatal hospice care for their baby.
The families of groups like One Day More and Every Life Counts are eager to tell their personal stories of how the experience of proper palliative care helped them to continue their pregnancy in a way that was meaningful, positive and therapeutic. These families have the right to tell their stories and the Irish public deserve to hear them. But so far they are not receiving the coverage they deserve in a way that would bring some balance to the debate. I hope this will start to change and that Deputy McGrath’s Bill will contribute to this.
Under the Private Members’ Bill introduced yesterday, a medical professional would be subject to a possible judgement of poor professional performance under the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 for describing an unborn child with a disability as ‘incompatible with life’.