Anti-abortion advocates have expressed sympathy for the family of a pregnant woman, after permission was granted to switch off her life support system.
Dublin’s High Court said keeping the unnamed 26-year-old alive would deprive her of dignity in death, and described it as a “futile exercise” because her 18-week old baby had no chance of survival.
The case has caused soul-searching on either side of the border.
The Free Presbyterian Church’s Rev David McIlveen said the case was “a very difficult one” and offered his sympathy for the family, who have “had to go through three very long, agonising weeks” while they waited for a decision.
Northern Ireland is currently in the midst of a consultation into changing the abortion laws to allow babies with fatal abnormalities to be aborted instead of being carried to term.
DUP health minister Jim Wells was reluctant to offer much comment on the issue, except to say: “I will always be in favour of the life of the unborn child. And effectively we’re waiting to hear the outcome of the consultation into David Ford’s legislation – which incidentally wouldn’t cover this at all.”
Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance said he too had sympathy for the family concerned, but it does not mean he would necessarily back the decision.
The woman at the centre of the case was pronounced clinically dead on December 3, after a catastrophic fluid build-up in her brain after a fall four days earlier.
Doctors refused to turn off life support as the family had wished, fearing they may be prosecuted under Ireland’s strict abortion laws because under the constitution the foetus is regarded as a citizen.
In their ruling, a trio of judges said: “The condition of the mother is failing at such a rate and to such a degree that it will not be possible for the pregnancy to progress much further or to a point where any form of live birth will be possible.”
There is to be no appeal.
Rev McIlveen said: “We could come out very simply and say: ‘Look we’re against what was done, full stop’.
“But I think we have to be understanding enough to appreciate that there are families involved here, and those families have been through a very difficult time.
“And if the child is not going to be born alive, then one respects the judgement that has been made – with the caveat, of course, that those who make that decision must be responsible for the judgement that they have publicised”.
Ultimately, he said he would wish to “reserve judgement” on it, and not offer a view on the decision either favourably or unfavourably.
Mr Lynas said he did not know all details of the case, making it hard to comment.
Asked if he sympathised with the family’s wishes, he said: “I have sympathy with [the family’s] position, but I’m not necessarily saying I agree with it. That would be the distinction.”