25/04/2018

Depts Take Decision To Publish Fatal Fetal Abnormality Termination Report

The report of an inter-Departmental working group on termination of pregnancies in fatal fetal abnormality cases has been published by the Departments for Health and Justice.

Publication of the report, which was commissioned in 2016, was meant to have been decided by Ministers. However, with the ongoing absence of a sitting government at Stormont, the Departments of Health and Justice decided to release the report on "public interest grounds and in line with Freedom of Information responsibilities".

The working group report recommends "that a change is made to abortion law to provide for termination of pregnancy where the abnormality is of such a nature as to be likely to cause death either before birth, during birth or in the early period after birth".

It also states: "Where a diagnosis has been made of such an abnormality, it is to be accepted that the continuance of such a pregnancy poses a substantial risk of serious adverse effect on a women's health and wellbeing."

On the issue of terminology and definitions, the working group report states that fatal fetal abnormality "is an acceptable description of a diagnosis made, usually around 20 weeks gestation, of a fetal abnormality which will result in death in utero, at birth or shortly after birth".

It also notes that modern diagnostic resources "allow for very accurate information to be provided to women regarding the condition of the fetus and its viability".

Members of the working group held meetings with medical professional bodies and with women, and their families, who had experience of fatal fetal abnormalities.
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Key findings and conclusions of the report include:

• some improvements can be made to the care and support of women with a fatal fetal abnormality diagnosis through proposals to improve the standard of care under the existing legal framework

• Health professionals said that, in their professional opinion, retaining the existing legal constraints would continue to place an unacceptable burden on women's health and wellbeing

• One of the most compelling cases for change was the overall recognition by those health professionals who spoke to the group that the existing legal framework prevents them from fully meeting their duty of care to all women in this situation and therefore denies those women who wish to terminate the pregnancy, access to proper standards of health care

• In summary, health professionals considered the current situation to be professionally untenable

The full report is available from both Departments websites.

Welcoming the report, Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill said: "There is obviously a need for a more compassionate approach to the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities as was highlighted by the heart-breaking Sarah Ewart case.

"It was also very evident during my time as Health Minister that medical professionals and clinicians need clarification on the legal position regarding these cases.

"This report from health professionals validates all of that and what we need to see now is the restoration of the power-sharing institutions so that we can get on with legislating on matters such as this and all those other areas that impact on public services and the lives of our citizens."

(MH)


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