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The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar should not be exploited to sweep away Irish abortion law, under which she could legally have been saved

Enda Kenny is predictably making the most of the situation: he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it

By on Thursday, 15 November 2012

Protesters in Dublin mistakenly blame Ireland's abortion laws for the death of Savita Halappanavar (Photo: PA)

Protesters in Dublin mistakenly blame Ireland's abortion laws for the death of Savita Halappanavar (Photo: PA)

The Irish Government, reports the Irish Independent, “has come under heightened pressure to reform complex abortion laws after the death of a pregnant Indian woman who suffered a miscarriage.”

The facts are these. A 31-year-old dentist was 17 weeks pregnant when she died on October 28 after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia. Her husband, Praveen, has alleged that doctors refused several requests for a medical termination because the foetus’s heartbeat was present. Mr Halappanavar has claimed that following his late wife’s appeals, they were told: “This is a Catholic country.”

This is a case which clearly needs looking at closely; on the face of it, a refusal to save Mrs Halappanavar’s life by inducing her unborn child, when it was clear that her death would in any case lead to the death of the child (this in fact happened in this case), does not seem to be consistent either with Catholic moral theology or, it is now being claimed, with Irish law or the guidelines which govern medical practice in such cases.

The anti-Catholic Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, is predictably, of course, and some would say cynically, exploiting the situation, and has declared that his government will respond by the end of the month to a 2010 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that called for the reform of the Irish abortion law. He said: “This is a tragic case where we have a woman who lost her life, her child is lost and her husband is bereaved. We have agreed to be in contact with the (European) court by November 30.”

The fact is, however, that this tragic death by no means justifies any change to Irish law — or medical practice, if it is properly carried out according to Irish Medical Council guidelines. Eilís Mulroy has a comment piece today, also in The Irish Independent, under the headline “Pro-choice side must not hijack this terrible event”, asking the obvious question: “Was Ms Halappanavar treated in line with existing obstetrical practice in Ireland? In this kind of situation the baby can be induced early (though is very unlikely to survive). The decision to induce labour early would be fully in compliance with the law and the current guidelines set out for doctors by the Irish Medical Council.

“Those guidelines allow interventions to treat women where necessary, even if that treatment indirectly results in the death to the baby. If they aren’t being followed, laws about abortion won’t change that. The issue then becomes about medical protocols being followed in hospitals and not about the absence of legal abortion in Ireland.”

It looks to me as though Pius XII’s ruling on such cases is relevant here (and also as though the ignorance of their religion of those treating Mrs Halappanavar — who refused to save her mouthing the words “this is a Catholic country” — has a lot to answer for): ”If,” said Pope Pius in 1951, “the saving of the life of the future mother … should urgently require a surgical act or other therapeutic treatment which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired nor intended, but inevitable, the death of the fetus, such an act could no longer be called a direct attempt on an innocent life. Under these conditions the operation can be lawful, like other similar medical interventions — granted always that a good of high worth is concerned, such as life, and that it is not possible to postpone the operation until after the birth of the child, nor to have recourse to other efficacious remedies.”

This principle has always governed Irish medical practice, and it looks very much as though it should have done here. Eilís Mulroy quotes Professor John Bonnar, then chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who spoke about the matter to the All Party Parliamentary Committee’s Fifth Report on Abortion, saying: “In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention is required at a stage in pregnancy when there will be little or no prospect for the survival of the baby, due to extreme immaturity.

“In these exceptional situations failure to intervene may result in the death of both the mother and baby. We consider that there is a fundamental difference between abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of the baby, for example for social reasons, and the unavoidable death of the baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother.”

Ireland, in fact, has one of the lowest death rates of mothers in pregnancy anywhere in the world. That didn’t help Mrs Halappanavar or her baby, both of whom were lost because normal medical practice in Ireland was not followed after a grossly misplaced application to her case, by those treating her, of a heretical misreading of Catholic moral law. These tragic deaths cannot justify the replacement of the world’s most civilised abortion law by the pro-death laws now almost universal throughout Europe. Catholics everywhere should pray for Ireland in these politically dangerous times.

  • Monado

    B.S. Savita Halappanavar had septicemia because of a miscarriage in progress; that’s why she needed an abortion. 

    Even if Catholics want to risk death by obeying the dictates of an old man, there is no rationalization for non-Catholics to be forced to do so. 

    Even your Old Testament sets the life of a fetus less than the life of a woman. 

  • Stev84

    The modern Catholic extremism on abortion dates only to the 19th century. For most of their history they weren’t this fanatical about it.

  • Monado

    Pregnancy is 14 times more likely to kill and 100 times more likely to require major surgery than abortion. “There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage.” The predominant result of abortion is relief. Carrying an unwanted child to term can cause psychological damage. And childbirth has a 20% chance of causing clinical depression. There is no connection between abortion and breast cancer. The vague “psychological issues” from abortion are caused by people telling the woman that she is a terrible person. You are simply doing harm before, during, and after. 

    http://io9.com/5958187/what-happens-to-women-denied-abortions-this-is-the-first-scientific-study-to-find-out

  • srdc

    Nonsense. 

  • srdc

    No it says you must always treat the mother first. The doctors in this case, did not do it.

  • srdc

    It is , if it’s taking a life.

  • srdc

    There is no universal position on the morning after pill. It’s still being debated. Some pills can be taken within certain hours. Some cannot.

  • srdc

    Yes, but they did not have to wait for the baby to die. They could have treated her.

  • srdc

    Limbo was a theological proposition, which can accepted or rejected.

  • srdc

    And the excommunication was reversed, because the case was similar where the doctors did not have to abort, but could have treated her.

  • srdc

    Go away bigot. Two wrongs do not make a right.

  • srdc

    Health care should not be decided by pro-aborts to promote an agenda to push abortion on demand.

  • srdc

    Yet under disgusting pro-abort who likes to tell women what their choices are. 

  • Monado

    Speaking of death panels… apparently Catholic hospitals have them. 

  • srdc

    Or maybe you could talk to the other side. Women who regret their abortions,

    http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/404.aspx

  • srdc

    You do not have to be religious to be pro-life. This is a different issue.

  • srdc
  • srdc

    Anybody who has studied fetal development, no longer buys your theory.

    http://www.bigbluewave.ca/2008/11/fetus-is-human-being-thats-scientific.html

    The push for abortion is not based on science, but on ideology.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002376529686 Martha Wrightis

    An ectopic pregnancy is one that occurs in the fallopian tubes. The baby cannot survive, but if left to grow, will rupture the tubes and cause death to the woman. Removing the tube is the accepted treatment. Please do some research before making stupid comments. Its people like you, who misrepresent truth, who cause confusion in others.

  • srdc

    This is not true. Look up Didache, the earliest Christian document outside the Bible. It’s true that there were those who were not sure about when this. There were no ultrasounds around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002376529686 Martha Wrightis

    You are correct, but the blind will never see it. This is a clear case of malpractice, but not because of the lack of abortion, but lack of antibiotics in a timely manner. Also, a misrepresentation of Church teaching by the doctors.

  • srdc

    Abortion-promoters knew about Savita case days before media: Leaked e-mail

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/abortion-promoters-may-have-promoted-irish-abortion-death-media-french-leak

  • srdc

    I agree, the investigation is not even completed.

  • Jm15xy

    The q

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    It seems to me that so many people of the 20th/21st centuries demand to live as they will, and yet have trouble-free lives.  But that happy state ought not to be at the expense of the lives of others.  If one life has to be sacrificed for the benefit of another, then there has to be a serious  justification for it.

    Also, honest mistakes are made from time to time, and unforeseeable accidents do occur.  These must not be used as a licence for the taking of innocent lives.

  • celtictaff

    Stop passing the buck, The Catholic church has shot itself in the foot, when child abuse was allowed to continue unchecked, and sodomite priests and cruelty was allowed to roam the land with impunity. It wasn’t only the children that were abused, it was also the trust of the people of Ireland. So now the church will reap what it has sown, distrust, and unbelief in the laws of God and a church that should have been implicitly trusted,  not only in Ireland but around the World.
    Now is the time for the church to cleanse itself, and return to the church it once was.

  • Andrew

    Has anybody ascertained the cause of this poor woman’s sepsis? Blood poisoning is a common cause of death and can arise for a multitude of reasons. I wouldn’t for a second jump to the conclusion that it was the fairly nebulous claim that this was brought about because the patient didn’t receive an abortion. In fact, prima facie, that would be statistically less likely than other causes.

  • TFYFWYA

     don’t conflate race and religion. race cannot be chosen. religion can. if you CHOOSE to believe in evil doctrines, as all catholics do, then be prepared to be blamed for the evil those doctrines do.

  • Patrickhowes

    The point is that if they had diagnosed that the patient  had blood poisoning and that the baby was going to be miscarried to have hurried the miscarriage(which is not an abortion)then to have saved one life rather than losing two is not morally wrong

  • Patrickhowes

    That is wrong.The taking of any substance to stop a pregnancy when there is no threat to the mother´s life is morally wrong.You are confusing the issues

  • Patrickhowes

    For Catholics the teaching is very clear!It is wrong

  • Jonathan West

    You’re the one saying that it would not be murder, not me.

  • Jonathan West

    The action taken in either case (hurrying the miscarriage or performing an abortion) is exactly the same in either case, you’re just giving them different names.

    In both cases, action is being taken to prematurely end the life of the baby, in order to save the life of the mother. This is not double-effect within Catholic doctrine, but plain murder.

  • Jonathan West

    The treatment that would have saved her was an abortion. But that would have been an action to prematurely end the baby’s life in order to save the mother, and according to Catholic doctrine that is completely forbidden.

  • Patrickhowes

    Healthcare was developed by monks who doscovered the aspirin and were the only ones to have the heart to care for people.You should see what catholic sisters do in Africa to stop babies from starving.You are so vitriolic it is untrue.Priest should be involved in healthcare,Did Jese not perform miracles and cure Lazarus when no other human could?

  • Patrickhowes

    Did she need an abortion or the administration of antibiotics.Neither you nor I were present and have not heard the outcome of the investigation.

  • Patrickhowes

    Fair comment

  • Patrickhowes

    There are over one billion people in the Catholic Church.How dare you make such a generalisation.Go to Africa,India and other countries and see who are doing all the dirty work in the slums.Is it you?Keep your insults to yourself

  • Jonathan West

    It is a direct abortion that would have saved this woman’s life. A deliberate action to prematurely end the life of the baby by removing it from the woman’s body.

    Quite frankly I am staggered at the weasel words being used round here to try and push the blame for Savita Halappanavar’s death onto the doctors, onto misinterpretations of Irish law, onto anywhere but the Catholic doctrine against abortion.

    Talk of “indirect abortion” or “double-effect” is quite clearly inapplicable to this situation. Mrs Halappanavar’s life was in severe danger from infection for as long as the pregnancy continued, since she had already started to miscarry. The baby had no chance of living any significant length of time, but it was not yet dead, and by Catholic doctrine, any action to bring about that death even for the purpose of saving the life of the mother is entirely forbidden.

    And Catholics call themselves pro-life.

  • Patrickhowes

    Fair comment.I beleive he maybe dismayed at how the Catholic Church or leaders of it in Ireland were dealing with a apinful piece of Irish history

  • Patrickhowes

    COLD sums you up

  • Patrickhowes

    Let su remember that babies are surviving at 20 and 21 weeks and I understand that this with technology is set to improve.The baby was 17 weeks.Maybe the doctors were waiting to see if the baby would have a fighting chance??We are all sitting in judgement and expecting doctors to be god like.

  • celtictaff

    Have you ever heard of CAFOD ?

  • teigitur

    Not the question debated here. We need to wai for the facts.

  • teigitur

    I think this may be the case. But we must wait for the facts.

  • teigitur

    If its a Catholic hospital it is. UCHG is not a Catholic hospital, therefore is not bound by moral law. I think rather than knee-jerk reaction we need to wait until the facts have been established. Not the IT take on the facts, but the truth.

  • Nikki Nacht

    Why is this woman dead because she surely shouldn’t be?

  • teigitur

    Not quite true. This can have a duel effect. Can stop implantation, or ferilisation. No one knows depends on time factors etc. But it can be either an early abortifacient or a contraceptive. So we do not know in any individual case “exactly what it does”

  • teigitur

    How right you are. Atheists like yourself should get to decide everything. We all want to live in a world devoid of order, just like you.

  • teigitur

    Correct. Knee-jerking all around here.