Midwives Bill, 1931—Report Stage.

On behalf of Senator O'Doherty I move:—

Section 2, sub-section (1). After the word "available" in line 33 to insert the words "and that within six hours from the time of birth one or other of the qualified persons described in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of this sub-section was summoned to attend."

As far as I understand it, the purpose of the amendment is to see that at the earliest possible moment notification is to be sent to a competent or responsible person. Senator O'Doherty's idea is that when an unqualified person goes in to attend at childbirth that person continues indefinitely as the servant or nurse for a period, and that that emergency case may result in the object of the Bill being defeated. Senator O'Doherty's idea is that information should be sent immediately to the doctor or qualified midwife to attend on the case at the earliest possible moment. I think there is a great deal to be said for that point of view, in view of the fact that an unqualified person may be in attendance for perhaps a week or a fortnight and no intimation may have been sent to the responsible authorities.

I second. In order to see the need for the amendment it is necessary to look into Section 2, which says:—

... every person who attends a woman in childbirth shall, unless—

(a) such person is a midwife, or

(b) such person is a duly qualified medical practitioner, or

(c) such person being a person undergoing training with a view to becoming a duly qualified medical practitioner or a midwife gives such attention as part of a course of practical instruction in midwifery recognised by the Medical Registration Council or the Board. or

(d) such person satisfies the court that such attention was given in a case of sudden or urgent necessity and that a midwife was not immediately available.

That would be a defence, that there was necessity for it, and that no midwife was available. Senator O'Doherty's amendment provides, "and that within six hours of the time of birth one or other of the qualified persons described in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of this sub-section was summoned to attend." Suppose there was a case of urgent necessity where an unqualified person attended the woman, that unqualified person would be subject to a penalty unless a qualified person was sent for in six hours. That is a very good provision. There are a number of ailments of after-birth that a qualified person would be able to guard against, both in the case of the woman and in the case of the child. It is, therefore, desirable that a qualified person should be summoned within six hours, or within such time as the Seanad considers proper, in order to provide for the care of the child and the mother. Another reason that I would like to bring before the Seanad is this. In our periodicals recently we have heard of the prevalence of a certain kind of crime in relation to poor little children, that is, concealment and murder. Senators have heard of it. It is said to be prevalent. I do not believe it is more prevalent now than ever, but it is probably a little more carefully looked after. I have this impression, that if there is an obligation on the wise woman—that is the woman who attends in the case of emergency—to send for the midwife or the nurse that is in every district, within six hours, there will not be time to do away with the child, or there will not be a disposition to do so, and that would be much better for the poor children in the circumstances that I have indicated. Senator O'Doherty, in his amendment, strikes very deeply into the medical side of the midwife's work, also into the social side, as well as into the legal aspect of the matter. It is a great protection to the mother, and it will be a great protection to the child. I believe, from my own experience, that it would prevent a number of the cases that unfortunately come before the courts, and that have been the occasion for sermons, denunciations, and articles in the public Press. If the Minister considers the amendment from that point of view I think he will accept it. In any case, I recommend it to the Seanad.

I am opposed to the amendment. The chief object of the Bill was to safeguard women in childbirth by stopping, as far as possible, the practice of the handywoman. It is illegal for a handywoman or a person who is untrained to attend a woman in childbirth. This amendment would give the handywoman or the untrained person a certain amount of status, so long as she sends for a midwife or a doctor within six hours. It would open up all sorts of difficulties. I think I speak for the Midwives' Board, who have gone into the matter very fully, when I say that the Bill is much better as it stands.

For instance, after-care has been spoken of, but after-care is of very little importance compared to actual attendance at the birth. The object is, as far as possible, to ensure that every woman will have a midwife or a doctor at confinement. I am opposed to the amendment for these reasons, and, moreover, I think dispensary doctors would have a just cause of complaint if they were sent for merely for the sake of covering the untrained nurse.

I appreciate all that Sir Edward Bigger has said but I would like to point out that what he calls the handywoman is already provided for in the Bill in emergency cases, and that the amendment in no way prevents the handywoman from being called in in such cases. The purpose of the amendment was to ensure that at the earliest possible moment competent people would be brought in and that the emergency could not be used for any longer period than was necessary. It was for that reason this amendment was drafted. I pointed out that the status of the handywoman exists, but the amendment shortens the period of her attendance to the shortest possible time, and for that reason I recommend it to the House.

If the handywoman is recognised in any way she is recognised only under certain conditions of emergency, and when there is nobody else available. If you add on this phrase suggested by the amendment, what is going to be the natural effect upon the mind of the people judging it afterwards—the mind of a court? If you leave the Bill as it is the court will go into the circumstances, see if there is what is called an emergency, and see in fact that nobody else is available. But if you add this proviso it is the special point on which a court will lean, so they may say that irregularities are justified simply because notice of this type has been given. There is that danger.

As to what Senator Comyn said, the circumstances under which infanticide ordinarily happens are not such that the crimes would be prevented by this. If people are out for infanticide they are not likely to call in anybody— handywoman or anyone else—to see what is happening.

Amendment put and negatived.

Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill do now pass"—put and agreed to.