Through much of her history, Ireland has been well acquainted with the reality of pain and suffering. Yet one of the beautiful things about this nation is that in the face of her own pain, she responded by growing stronger in her compassion for others who are in need. Her willingness to stand up for people and animals who face pain and suffering at the hands of others is well established – which makes her government’s decision last week to allow intense pain for some living beings on her very own shores hard to understand.
No, I’m not talking about the financial pain of skyrocketing rents or the ongoing suffering of thousands on long medical waiting lists and hospital trolleys. Those are pressing issues that desperately need attention. Let me draw your attention in another direction, though, and stay with me – I believe this is something we can all agree on, even if we disagree on the surrounding issues:
The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy bill, which would officially legalise abortion in Ireland, spent some time last week in the Health Committee as 180 possible amendments were considered. One of those amendments was a simple requirement that “A medical practitioner who carries out a termination of pregnancy shall take all steps as may be appropriate and practicable to avoid causing pain to the foetus.” This amendment was rejected by the Committee. Why is this significant?
It is significant because it cannot be denied that foetuses feel pain prior to birth. We don’t have to agree on humanity, personhood, rights or any such thing to know this. We have the technology, and the only thing we’re still debating is exactly how early pain can be felt (with answers ranging from 8 weeks to 27). The timing makes little difference, however, because the abortion legislation being proposed for Ireland allows for some terminations (cases where there is a “condition likely to lead to the death of the foetus”, Section 12 in the legislation) without any set limit as to the gestational age or viability outside the womb. In other words, even if they are only a small minority of cases, some foetuses will still be able to be aborted under this legislation at stages when there is no doubt about their ability to feel the intense pain of their surgical destruction. So why would the government refuse a common-sense amendment that would have simply required that in such cases we “avoid causing pain to the foetus”? We have good painkillers. We already use them on foetuses when preforming foetal surgeries. Why not use them for terminations as well? Would we knowingly sanction similarly unnecessary pain for any other living being in our care? The definition of “termination of pregnancy” in the proposed legislation is: “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus”, so recognition of the presence of life is agreed. Shouldn’t we also be able to agree on offering basic relief wherever possible to living beings who are known to feel pain?
Many who voted to repeal the 8th did so in the name of compassion. No matter where we stand on the ethics of abortion, we should all be able to agree that causing unnecessary pain to living beings is the opposite of compassionate.