Medicine, Law and Human Rights, First Joint meeting 2009
”Medicine, Law and Human Rights” was the theme of the First Joint meeting of the Medico-Legal Society of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Medico-Legal Society held at Farmleigh, Phoenix Park, Dublin on 24th January 2009.
Opening the meeting, President of the host Society, Dr. Antonia Lehane, commented that this theme was most appropriate and topical, as the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place in December 2008.
”Although enunciated only sixty years ago, respect for human life and individual dignity have been core values in both medical and legal professional practice for over 2000 years. Ireland had its share of human rights abuses, however, in recent years there is increasing recognition of human rights throughout Irish society. Enactment of human rights legislation in both jurisdictions and the establishment of Human Rights Commissions, both North and South, have brought us a long way in firmly establishing and promoting human rights both in statutory and common law, in addition to constitutional protection”
”Medicine and Law are global professions and the best practice of our professions transcends borders. We should positively and actively promote human rights and support our medical and legal colleagues who practice in areas of the world where there are gross and persistent abuses of human rights”
”Only a few months ago, 28th October 2008, the World News page of the Daily Telegraph described the landmark decision of the West African regional Court of Justice in the case of a woman born into slavery. This case highlighted the situation of the estimated 43,000 slaves in Niger and more than 12 million people worldwide who live in slavery or extreme servitude. On the same page, a report on the fighting in East Congo reminded us of the thousands of child soldiers still involved in violent conflict in many parts of the world. A small column piece yet again recorded persistent repression of pro-democracy supporters and other human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. All of this on one page on one day! On another page, an article described the increasing lawlessness and conflict in Somalia with a harrowing description of the stoning to death of a woman suspected of adultery, by the fundamentalist militia”
Mindful of our shared professional values and heritage, Dr Lehane believes that ”Human Rights are the ”Why” and the ”How” we practice our professions of medicine and law”
Distinguished speakers included Lord Justice Girvan, Court of Appeal, Northern Ireland who described the developing body of medical law in relation to individual autonomy in the areas of euthanasia and abortion. ”The freedom to determine what shall be done with your own body, like many other so called rights, comes up against the realities of life”
”It is easy to state the freedom as a right. It is more difficult to ensure that it can or should always be exercisable as an absolute right, ...a right that must, on occasion yield to wider practical and ethical considerations.” Rights of individuals must be balanced against society’ s duty to protect vulnerable people.
Mr Justice John Hedigan, the High Court, spoke from his eight years experience as Ireland's representative at the European Court of Human Rights. He reported the ever-increasing workload of the court, representing the broadening of areas where people sought recourse to justice and decisions in many fundamental issues.
Irish Human Rights Commission member, Prof Robert Daly described his lifelong interest in human rights and his work in treating post traumatic stress effects in victims of torture and human rights abuses from many different conflicts.
Other speakers included Professor O’ Corrain, Mediaeval Studies, UCC, Dr Moosajee Bhamjee, former T.D and member of international election observation panel, South Africa, Dr. Patrick McGrath, Senior Forensic Physcian, Northern Ireland. Senator Ivana Bacik, TCD chaired a ”Questions & Answers” session with lively discussion and audience participation.
At a reception in Aras an Uachtarain, President Mary McAleese welcomed members of both societies and congratulated the societies on their accomplishments in building understanding and promoting discussion between the professions of medicine and law. She supported this first joint meeting in exploring new challenges and sharing experiences. President McAleese reminded those present of their shared professional values and of how important these were in earning the trust and respect of society as a whole. She recognised the value of professional help and support of the individual, given by practising members of both the medical and legal professions, especially in times of difficulty.
130 members of both societies attended the meeting which was generously sponsored by pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme. The Societies plan another joint meeting in 2010.
To view full program please click here (PDF).