Minister Varadkar must meet with parents
Leo Varadkar apologises to bereaved parents but refuses to meet them
The Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has apologised to parents in the support group Every Life Counts for telling the Dáil that unborn children with life-limiting conditions were ‘dead’ in the womb.
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil in December 2014 that the law caused parents "to explain for weeks and months to all enquirers that their baby is dead".
Parents who had lost their babies to conditions such as anencephaly and Trisomy 13 wrote to the Minister Varadkar pointing out that his statement was factually incorrect, and that he had misled the Dáil on the issue.
"Have you any idea of the hurt and offence your misleading and untrue remarks caused to parents who have lost their babies to life-limiting conditions?," asked spokeswoman Tracy Harkin, whose daughter Kathleen Rose has Trisomy 13.
"Our babies were not 'dead' in the womb. They were very sick, and some of them had only short lives, but they were alive and kicking and we loved them in the way that every parent loves their baby, with all our hearts. Their lives may have been short, but they were important, and they had value," added Grace Sharp whose video calling on Minister Varadkar to apologise was viewed more than 40,000 times on You Tube.
"What is most disturbing is that you are a medical doctor, and the Minister for Health, and you know there is no truth to what you said - yet your words were pre-planned and seemed to have been chosen for maximum impact. You must know that our babies were alive and kicking in the womb, however severe their disability, but you chose to describe them as 'dead'," Tracy Harkin also wrote.
Minister Varadkar has now written to Every Life Counts apologizing for his remarks and promising to change the Dáil record.
"I am very sorry to hear about your personal experience and genuinely regret and apologise for any offence I may have caused you. I will endeavour to change the record of the Dail to read 'will not be born alive or is going to die' rather than 'is dead' which better reflects what I was trying to say," he wrote.
However, the Minister refused to meet the parents, who are campaigning for better services for families in these situations, a decision that spokeswoman Tracy Harkin described as ‘bizarre’.
"We asked the Minister to meet with us as a matter of priority so that we could discuss how to improve services for families in these situations, and make new forms of care, like perinatal hospice care, available," she said. "But he wrote back to say he did not want to discuss abortion with us and that a meeting with Every Life Counts would serve ‘no purpose’," said Ms Harkin. "I find this response totally bizarre. Does Minister Varadkar only think of abortion when he thinks about babies like ours? We want to discuss improvements in services – and since 90% of Irish parents do not abort their babies in these circumstances, surely that’s a discussion worth having."
Ms Harkin called on the Minister to "open his heart to the heartbreak endured by families whose babies have lived too-short lives, and to meet families so that he could fully understand the value of their children’s lives and the need for better services."
She added that the "dismissal of the value of children with a profound disability is an antiquated view, and one that needs to change."
"We will fight on for better support for every family and we urge the Minister to stand with those families," she said.