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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.

  • Patrickhowes

    It is not about the legality of abortion but following a medical protocol which was already in place

  • Patrickhowes

    Callous.The mentality of the Nazi guards at Auswitzch.You will get used to anything if you want

  • Patrickhowes

    Another heartless human being.Hitler referred to the Jews as vermin to justify his mass killing too.Can´t you see what has happened to you?

  • Patrickhowes

    Right,Hitler blamed the Jews for the economic woes of Germany.The serbs blamed the muslims for theirs and led them into the woods and machine gunned themThese people have no idea the world that they are trying to create

  • Patrickhowes

    You are pig ignorant.I lived in Chile and regularly went to slums where people have little hope but for the missionaries who feed them,brighten up their lives,educate them and are the only people who care for them.But yr answer is simple abort them all.So if you had your way you would drive these good people out and abandon them and leave them without help!

  • Patrickhowes

    but that is exactly why in abortion laws they include socio economic reasons.Abortion became the social genocide and soviet answer to poverty.Social justice is the answer

  • Patrickhowes

    Here we go..Out comes all the anti catholic venem again!We have been used to it for centuries.Instead lets abort everything,smother the old with a pillow and attempt to resolve society´s problems with science !!!

  • Patrickhowes

    Yes it is!They have a concern for all human life.This is why during the war,tens of thousands of jewish people were helped.This is why they attempt to feed the starving in the third world?

  • Patrickhowes

    spot on!

  • Patrickhowes

    Like when the scientists created the atomic bomb and have destroyed the ozone layer with chemicals….

  • Patrickhowes

    Poor kids.He is a child hater

  • Patrickhowes

    In all forms of life and society too Parasum.The BBC,the prisons,the politicians and yes sadly the ChurchWe are moving on.This is why we need Christianity back in society to clearly emphasize what is right and what is wrong

  • Patrickhowes

    Then take yourself to the Third wolrd and see all the good that has been done and is being done.You have a closeted view and need to put things in to perspective and move on

  • Patrickhowes

    Rubbish!.Babies can survive from 20 weeks and it is getting earlier

  • Jonathan West

    “”indirect”. Weasel words.

  • Jonathan West

    You can look it up for yourself

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion

    “Abortion, when induced in the developed world in accordance with local law, is among the safest procedures in medicine. However, unsafe abortions result in approximately 70 thousand maternal deaths and 5 million disabilities per year globally.”

    Unsafe abortions are carried out in places where legal safe medical abortion is not available.

  • Jonathan West

    Are you not prepared to discuss the issue on its merits with somebody who may disagree with you? If not, you’ll never even meet those who disagree with you, still less persuade them of your views on abortion.

  • Michaelord414

    Notice that perhaps genuine confusion is immediately judged to be heretical. Same old Catholic judgementalism.  No mention or explanation of why a “loving” God puts us in these terrible medical dilemmas to start with.Perhaps the advice should be ..to Catholic females…enjoy the single life and don’t get married or pregnant. 

  • mollysdad

    When abortion is legalised in Ireland – it’s not a question of “if” any more – I believe the Lord will wash His hands of the nation and let it go to its destruction. Evangelium Vitae (1995) rested its propositions concerning abortion on the Word of God and they are binding on pain of heresy as regards the baptised, and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as regards everyone who has the use of reason.

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

    When it came to murdering people no one could beat Messers Stalin Lenin and their flunkeys, 100,000,000 at least

  • celtictaff

     No, my view is not closeted, and the only thing I’m thinking about, especially after the Savile affair, a good Catholic and Papal knight, is taking myself, not to the third World (Catholics are not alone in doing good work there) but, at 60 years old, taking myself away from the Catholic church like many thousands have already.
    If priests cannot be trusted, can they be trusted in the confessional, are they fit to perform the mass and give the sacraments. Think on that, before you call the next objector “closeted”
    I won’t go into it any further, as I know by the attitude, this matter is to swept under the carpet as quickly as possible.

  • Ttgilfillan

    Am I the only one who is aware that there is a Marie Stopes clinic in Dublin which refers patients to England if they wish to have an abortion?  If she had really wanted to terminate the pregnancy, then there were means in place.  Don’t blame the Catholic Church or Ireland.  That is silly propeganda by politicians with an agenda.  70 years ago Ireland had one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.  Thank God that has changed. 

  • Marianshiels

    ” If she had really wanted to terminate the pregnancy, then there were means in place.”
    Read the story before making such an absurd comment. This lady and her husband were happily awaiting the birth of their first child when she suddenly became very ill and went to UHG’s Emergency Department.

  • TreenonPoet

     Stev84 posted a reasonable response to Mary (”Why do religious people always project so much?”) because not only does Mary’s post contain projection, but it is a common phenomenon in posts and blogs by religious people. You have given another two examples…

    (1) Rather than address Stev84′s point about projection, you take it that his observation about projection is meant to be an unjustified attempt to denigrate the religious, and Catholics in particular, whereas many religious groups, especially Catholics, seem to think nothing of unjustly demonising those outside their group. It is not surprising that they consider others to be similarly motivated.
    (2) Likewise, the existence of the Inquisition reveals a mind-set that is projected onto others, and you assume that the others have a desire to persecute Catholics just as Catholics persecuted heretics.

    Your comment about numbers killed tends to confirm that you are not recognising this effect. I agree with Stev84′s generalisation because the religious are, at least in matters concerning their religion, irrational. Projection is a consequence of the natural assumption that humans all tend to think roughly in the same sort of way which must be similar to one’s own way of thinking. This can be overcome to some extent by applying rational thinking because such thinking is essentially independent of human weaknesses.

  • Jonathan West

    As I described before, you cannot with honesty claim that an effect is unintended if it is a reasonably foreseeable result of your action. Therefore, in your example if to remove a cancer will have the effect of killing the unborn child, it is fundamentally dishonest to call that effect “unintended” and therefore that it somehow doesn’t count as a bad effect of the action.

    Using the word “unintended” in this way does serve to confuse the issue and I am entirely justified in calling it sophistry.

  • srdc

    Section 21.4 of Ireland’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners:“In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”The doctors got it wrong.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Shut your supercilious cakehole!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    It is a WELL KNOWN FACT that Ireland has the LOWEST infant mortality rate.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    But fatal to the unborn child, numpty.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Why aren’t people reading your post, Croiteir? 

    Because there are people who are coming onto this discussion forum and are spitting their evil abortion agenda, regardless of the FACTS.

    Then again, pro-choice/pro-abortion and healthy discussion are incompatible.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    As the plumber says: ballcocks!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    NewMeena is one of those laughable liberal gurus of so-called tolerance who spouts her ignorant, ill-informed and dangerous poison here.

    You’ve got this one sized up well, EditorCT.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Sick. Mysogyny. Apologists?

    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL… you thicko!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Hear, hear! Sense breaks through the superciliousness and ignorance of these people who think abortion is a good thing… and I would guess the majority of the contributors to their cesspit of pro-choice are men.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Read the goddam article and stop being so stupid.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    What you have posted is incitement to racial hatred…

    Also, appaulingly lacking in any fact.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    And that, my friends, is why the UK is known as the Abortion Captial of the World.

    Ireland would do well to keep voting to keep this abortion evil OUT!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Sweet lovin’ Saint Jude! Do you read any factual stuff at all… or stick to what you want to believe by way of ‘black legends’ and character assassination???

    Hitler was NOT supported by the Catholic Church, you thick ignorant idiot! 
    Pius XII (before and during his pontificate) wrote and spoke out against Hitler and saw the dangers of Nazism BEFORE WORLD WAR II.Hitler was NOT nominally Christian. He wanted a pagan Aryan-type of religion for his Third Reich.Millions of Catholics were murdered by the Nazis.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Spot on.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    You know NOTHING about Ireland nor its legislature nor its medical advances in the world which help save lives.

    How would you like your country to be called backward? I bet it is – like the UK.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    It’s around double that in the UK.

    Frightening.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Oh, dear. You are spitting the dummy because you are proven wrong.

    How immature.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    And clearly, you have as much of an idea about how science works as Bunsen Honeydew from the Muppet Show.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Nobody thinks about them, do they?

  • Rizzo The Bear

    And more NHS taxpayer’s money down the toilet to fund these lifestyle choices instead of investing in better medicine, equipment and expertise to cure illnesses that happen through no fault of their own.

    I’m appauled that Air Ambulances rely on charity. If the money used on these lifestyle choices were invested in Air Ambulances and improved healthcare, the majority of people would be better off.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    CHILD.

    You are soooo patronising!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    And your lack of brains shows you up for what you are.

    Thick.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    I’ve noticed that dehumanising turn of phrase.

    … and it irritates me when the poor child going for the mincer is no longer a ‘child’ but known as a ‘thing’, ‘it’, or a ‘foetus’.

    How people twist things and hide behind so-called ‘medical knowledge’ is beyond me.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    …and that’s being polite!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Trouble is, he can’t.