Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital gave a speech to the Labour Party ‘Think-In’ a few days ago. In it, she said that while law deals with “right”, medicine deals with “risk”. She seemed to imply she does not believe that medicine also deals with “right”, a terrifying prospect. Can she really believe that questions of what is “right”, that is, of medical ethics, should be left to lawmakers alone?
Dr Mahony told the meeting: “We are making decisions based on risk, trying to quantify risk. And in certain conditions we have to wait until a woman is sick enough before she qualifies for substantial risk to her life. And to me, to some extent, that is medical roulette.”
She then told the assembled legislators, that if they wanted to remove this element of risk, or ‘medical roulette’ then they had to remove the Eighth Amendment. She framed the central issue in this way:
“The law deals with right – medicine deals with risk.”
From an ethical perspective, such a conclusion, if she really means and understands what she said, is not only terrifying, it also points toward a conceptualisation of medical practice that is completely at odds with its own history and development. When has medicine ever washed its hands of determining for itself what is ethical?
If followed through it would transfer ethical responsibility entirely from the medical realm to the legislature.
Indeed, the practice of medicine according to this view would be reduced to a calculus premised on nothing but the legislative whims of parliament.
Out goes the Hippocratic Oath; in comes the Parliamentary Vote.
Can anyone really imagine any another medical scenario aside from abortion where Dr Mahony would transfer the determination of what is ‘right’ to the law and consequently to the lawmakers alone?
When deciding what is right is left to the law alone, we end in complete and utter relativism where rights are accorded and withdrawn by democratic fiat.
Who seriously believes that this is the direction in which we need to be travelling?