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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.

  • Genty

    The term “unborn child/baby” is used when the child is wanted, eg when Govt. public information ads warned that smoking during pregnancy “could harm your baby”.
    The term foetus outside purely medical conversation tends to be used in order to dehumanise the developing child. I have never heard an expectant mother speak of her foetus. 
    Of course, the favoured terminology for abortion is “procedure”.
    Of this tragic case we still have the barest details. Things may not be all they seem.

  • rjt1

    I don’t think that comment addresses what is actually right and wrong.

    I also wonder which ‘secular institutions’ you had in mind as your authorities. The UN? The British government? The BBC?

  • rjt1

    What a daft and ill-natured comment.

  • David Lindsay

    The pro-life cause is now safest on the island of Ireland in that part which remains within the United Kingdom. There will be no change there without consensus among the parties. And there will never be any such consensus.

  • srdc

    No. The doctors should have induced labour. This is not forbidden.

  • Mary

    Can’t help but wonder if those treating her didn’t intentionally misread Catholic teaching in order to incite the Church’s enemies. After all, if those who are pro-abortion aren’t bothered by the murder of innocent babies, they would hardly be bothered by causing a mother’s death in order to place the Church in a bad light.

  • Stev84

    The standard medical procedure is to do both. Close your Bible and open a medical book.

    It’s imperative to remove the tissue and more importantly close the cervix. But you can’t give her something to close the cervix while leaving the dying tissue inside.

  • Stev84

    Sharia law is also wrong because it is based on religious fantasies. No civil law anywhere should be based on superstition and ancient mythology (like Irish law is in this case). We have medical science today.

  • Stev84

    The “only” question? So letting her die slowly, but painlessly was ok? You are beyond sick.

    She asked for an abortion because as a dentist she had enough medical knowledge to know that it was the proper and only treatment in her case.

  • Stev84

     Why do religious people always project so much?

  • Patrickhowes

    That is what Hitler and Stalin sought to do

  • Jonathan West

    No, It would be a foreseeable and therefore intended effect, but with the additional intention of saving more lives. Whether that is morally justified depends on the balance of the risk and the benefit.

  • Jonathan West

    In that case, neither is abortion. Because that is what it was, or rather would have been, had the procedure been carried out.

  • Jonathan West

    Do you really imagine that they were’t giving her antibiotics anyway?

  • Jonathan West

    If you go for moral absolutism, then your morals can be entirely detached from the consequences of what you do, and any evil consequence can be justified. Such as the death of a mother.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2WDCFGCB3FHZNHQJDS3CSR3G5M con

    You seem to have a problem with Catholics, but remember Stalin,and Lenin and their flunkies in their puppet states had the same problems, of course they solved this by murderingt those people, you are in good company

  • TreenonPoet

     Can’t help but wonder if your post didn’t intentionally misrepresent the views of those who are think that abortion is sometimes for the best in order to incite Catholics. After all, if those who are opposed to abortion aren’t bothered by the death of innocent mothers, they would hardly be bothered by the murder of reason in order to place the Church in a good light.

  • Parasum

    “Different groups of people in a Soverigne state having different laws for themselfs, is this a good thing ? 

    ## By that reasoning, canon law has no place in any sovereign state, and the CC should be liable to the laws of sovereign states (such as Ireland or the USA) just like the rest of society.” 

  • Parasum

    That would explain why no Catholic has ever been criticised other Catholics, such as bishops, for failing to oppose abortion. Because opposing it is not Catholic doctrine.

  • TreenonPoet

     You seem to have a problem with non-Catholics, but remember the Inquisition had the same problem; of course they solved this by torturing and burning those people, so you are in good company, by your logic.

  • Jon Brownridge

     You say, “By the way, the doctrine of “dual effect” is purest bunkum. You can’t
    with any honesty say that an action has an “unintended effect” if the
    effect is a reasonably predictable consequence of an action”. Much depends on the concept of ‘intending’ to procure a certain result. The principle of two-fold effect is certainly not “bunkum” according to most philosophers and moral theologians. The emphasis is usually placed on the desirability of the two effects – one is desired and the other abhorred. Thus in the standard Doctor-Mother-Baby case, one desires the saving of the mother’s life and does everything possible to procure that, while abhorring the undesired death of the baby which results from those actions. You seem to admit this in your comments about the train example in answer to Mr. Grumpy when you say, “Whether that is morally justified depends on the balance of the risk and the benefit”.

  • Parasum

    That some Catholic religious & clergy are decent human beings who don’t rape and abuse and degrade those in their care is not a problem; the problem is that there are those who do. If there is evil in the Church at all, then there is a problem. Looking the other way is no solution. The Church is not being blamed for the good it doe, but for doing evil.

  • Parasum

     And it is for competent medical staff to decide whether that teaching is any use in a given instance. If Catholic teaching is dangerous to a patient’s health, it is unethical both to inflict it on patients who are not even Catholic, and to endanger theur lives by putting Catholic teaching above the well-being of patients. 

    The hierarchy are as out of place in such matters as a pig at a *bar mitzvah*.

  • KW

    Data from government agencies in the USA who admit that not all states cooperated with the request to report abortion related data, reveals that, in 2001 there were 19 maternal deaths related to abortion, 2002 there were 21. A world wide sample which covered a greater time frame, I am sure, would reveal many more.

  • KL

    Division of Reproductive Health National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion USA report (admitting that not all states supplied the requested data) that in 2001 there were 19 maternal deaths due to abortion; 2002 there were 21.

  • aearon43

    Right, but why would we want to be rational when we can just blame Catholics for everything?

  • aearon43

    And the French Revolution. That was a secular institution with a stellar record on human rights, wasn’t it?

  • aearon43

    Do Marx dopes?

  • Jon Brownridge

     Something foreseeable is not necessarily intended.

  • Mary Connolly

    I left Ireland over 50 years ago& unfortunately it”s not the same place today Satan  & greed has taken over. We have witnessed a prime minister who flaunted his mistress for many years giving the young people the idea it was acceptable to cohabitate without the marriage cermony consequently we have a confused society of young people lead by a minister I”m told goes to Mass on Sunday, that seems to make him a Good catholic, & with a reputation of being ante  Catholic the way he treated the Holy Father earlier & tried to control the confessional is inexcusable. All this is sending the wrong message to the youth of Ireland. We don”t need Ms Ahern coming on TV. in North America telling us that the abortion laws in Ireland have to be changed, what expertise does she have speaking  under the influence of satan. . Nothing is a sin in Ireland ,crime is out of control,children are suffering in broken homes. I hear some children don”t know who is their father but the neighbours do & bully them about it.
    I know so many people who have no interest in going back to the land of their birth, as it ends up in arguments if they defend the Faith with relatives.I pray that a miracle will happen for our world. The Celtic Tiger was the most terrible thing that happened to Ireland, material wealth & greed became their god, I really do not have any sympathy for those who followed that trail, of course the media is almost totally to blame, I witnessed that during the Eucharistic Conference & shame on those Irish who didn”t attend.They had nothing in 1932 but they attended. They are using the priest scandals as scapegoats for falling by the wayside move on & forgive us our trespass against us. we are holier than thou, remember what it says in The Gospels about throwing the first stone ——-All we can do is pray God will bring back sanity to our land that has fallen to evil.

  • teigitur

    You really should wait for the facts my friend. Abortion does not cure septicaemia.The only things we know so far are:. The Lady was expecting.: She was thought to be miscarrying; She sadly died of Septicaemia. Dead unborn babies do not cause blood-poisoning. Sometimes its weeks before its found out that the child in utero is dead. Maybe you shuold stop your knee from jerking and wait for the facts.

  • teigitur

    Absolute tosh. You do not have a clue what you are aying. So blinded you are by rage.

  • Patrickhowes

    And just what if all of this had been the act of a homemade attempt to end the pregnancy?

  • Patrickhowes

    Was the miscarriage a result of t having been provoked?

  • Patrickhowes

    And so did Hitler and the mad idiots who are trying to recreate the life gene?

  • Patrickhowes

    Because British sexual morals are a disgrace.People have been manipulated in to thinking that sex is devoid of all emotion and morality and likerenting a video from a store it has to be on demand.And it is okay of a human being results from this,as there is a solution on demand too!This is the world of Steve blogger “Not the church,not the state,let the women chose their fate” was the slogan shouted to legalise abortion.Now are young women have up to 4 abortions,are young are full of drugs,STD´s etcetera and are the most self centred and materialstic people out.All the things that a safe and good society needs!!

  • Patrickhowes

    India had the same laws until recenet.Then they legalised abortion and because of their culture,they now have feminicide as women are less of an asset.The pro aborts like Anne Furedi are up in arms about it and want to stop this

  • Patrickhowes

    And what about the three million aborted feotuses that have had their life ended by the 1967 abortion Act?This was done by your social doctrine

  • Patrickhowes

    Are you completeley inhumane?We have medical science!Was it not medical science that created the atomic bomb or the missiles that are now falling in Gaza and Tel AvivI find people like you frightening.Devoid of all conscience and feeling.As hard and as cold as ice.You are frightening.You lecture us about cervixes and tissues without sentiment and feeling for a small baby.It may well have been that this woman had tried to induce her own abortion.We do not know all the facts yet!For some reason the doctors hesitated.I too have studied medicine and just as there are cases that the crvix needs help in remaining shut,it can also be forced open to try to expel the bay.We must wait and see.The democratic wish of the Irish people is that they do not want abortion.You want to impose your cold English ways upon them just as you did for over three centuriesResect other people who see the world in a different light than the dark callous world to which you prescribe

  • Patrickhowes

    Abortion in India is allowed only up until 10 weeks

  • http://leeturnpenny.com/ Lee Turnpenny

    So, to be clear, this tragedy occurred as a result of the ‘heretical’ neglect of ignorant medics – as ‘alleged’ and ‘claimed’ by the widower – and has nothing to do with Ireland’s archaic, draconian abortion laws? Because these medics, whilst Mrs Halappanavar lay in protracted pain, couldn’t be bothered to brush up on their ‘Catholic moral theology’? Because their (medical) education could not supplant a Catholic indoctrination, which was obviously sub-standard in its omission of the considered ruling of Pope Pius XII. So, what would prevent such tragic cases is more Catholic moral theological education? Are these ‘the facts’?

  • Lee_Turnpenny

    So, to be clear, this tragedy occurred as a result of the ‘heretical’ neglect of ignorant medics – as ‘alleged’ and ‘claimed’ by the widower – and has nothing to do with Ireland’s archaic, draconian abortion laws? Because these medics, whilst Mrs Halappanavar lay in protracted pain, couldn’t be bothered to brush up on their ‘Catholic moral theology’? Because their (medical) education could not supplant a Catholic indoctrination, which was obviously sub-standard in its omission of the considered ruling of Pope Pius XII. So, what would prevent such tragic cases is more Catholic moral theological education? Are these ‘the facts’?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625821788 Mark Gordon

    This is just another reason to hate the Catholic Church. So what if that IS the motivation? There are plenty of existing reasons to hate it. The facts of the case point to a misinterpretation of protocol by the doctor involved – but that would only have been the case in a situation where the waters are indeed muddied by state laws that curtail the rights of the living in preference to those not yet living. 

    It is intensely stupid that Ireland continues to have this law and cannot get into the 21st century. Instead it is manipulated by a church that has a dark ages mentality. This is disgusting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625821788 Mark Gordon

    This information doesnt prove anything.

  • Stev84

    The Catholic stance on abortion and contraception can also be easily rejected. We don’t have to blindly follow what old men in pointy hats say

  • Stev84

    *yawn*

    You just prove that religious people are insane and completely irrational

  • Stev84

    Hitler was nominally a Catholic and in practice some kind of Christian. He was fully supported by the Catholic Church who was every bit as anti-Semitic as him

  • Stev84

    What about them?

  • Stev84

    Just like you they were religious fanatics in a way. They invented ersatz religions (same as Hitler and Mao, to use your other usual strawmen). People literally prayed to Stalin and worshiped the state. Religion was only persecuted to the extent that it was competition.
    You can see the purest form of that in North Korea, where the leaders are literally gods. They also have a trinity and Kim-Jogn Il’s birth legend is very similar to Jesus’s (fortold, heralded by a rainbow and a star, born in misery in a camp)

  • Stev84

    The real number is in the tens of thousands. In countries were abortion is entirely illegal, it’s still performed. The practice is just moved underground leading to often horrific conditions and a huge rate of complications. Some maternity wards there are always half filled with women suffering from botched abortions.