Dr Peter Boylan, former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, has just retired from clinical practice following a long professional career dedicated to providing obstetric care to women and couples in Ireland, the UK and the United States.
In a wide-ranging interview with Sean O’Rourke this morning, he spoke about how his thinking has evolved on a range of issues over his four decades in practice, from use of fertility treatments, to possibly the most contentious issue facing the Irish public today, the issue of abortion.
“People need to respect other people’s beliefs. When I was working in the United States, and working in London during my training, I became very close friends with people who had, at that time, views diametrically opposed to mine. I came to the conclusion that if I had been born as a Jew in London or as an Episcopalian in North America, I would have a completely different view of termination of pregnancy as they had from me at that time.”
Every civilised country, according to Dr Peter Boylan, has solved problems that Ireland is still grappling with, catering for people of wide-ranging views, whether influenced by faith or otherwise.
Over the years, encountering many views on the subject, and working with couples, Dr Peter Boylan’s own opinions on abortion have changed radically, starting off being opposed to abortion of any kind, to describing himself as “a lot more liberal”, at this point. Working in London in the early part of his career, he observed a lot of what he termed “social termination”, which he had severe problems with. But as time went on, he realised the professionals involved in the terminations, and the differing views of the patients, needed to be respected.
Discussing at length how, in his view, legislation and social policy need to evolve to deal with issues such as fatal foetal abnormality, and how we need to support mothers who choose to carry these pregnancies to full-term as well as those who choose otherwise, Sean returned to that phrase, “social abortion”, and how policymakers and legislators might address this issue.
“At the moment, we do have social abortion in Ireland, except it is performed in the UK. If we didn’t have the outlet of the UK, I’m not sure how the country would respond.”
What is inevitable, according to Dr Peter Boylan, is that where you do not have an outlet of termination, you have a rise in what he describes as “backstreet abortions”, leading to septic shock and mothers dying. This, he says, is what led to the original UK legislation legalising abortion.
As usual, Dr Peter Boylan was frank and honest in addressing all of the questions facing his profession, and recognised that many of the answers to these questions were far from black and white. “The whole of obstetrics practice is fraught with ethical dilemmas”, he said. “The major one, of course, at the moment is the Eighth Amendment. That really needs to be repealed and we need to introduce legislation.”
That said, he was straightforward in his description of his role, and the role of his profession, when it comes to dealing with their patients.
“The role of the obstetrician is to support the woman in whatever decision she makes. To give honest, unbiased expert advice as to what the outcome of the pregnancy is likely to be.”
To listen to the full interview, click here.
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