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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.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Are you talking about yourself?

    It appears so.

  • Jon Brownridge

     But as I said initially, your problem is that you do not understand the concept of “intention”. To intend relates to the purpose of your action. It means you do X in order to achieve Y. The surgeon does not remove the cancer in order to kill the baby – he does it in order to save the woman’s life. You don’t take the medication in order to get a headache – you take it in order to relieve the arthritic pain. To communicate with other philosophers you have to use conventional understandings of concepts, otherwise you are out there on a cloud by yourself. By the way, Catholic moral philosophers are consistent in presenting the cancer example as classic example of two-fold effect. I have used it frequently with my own students and I am in line with the Church’s position on that matter.

  • Jamescoakleyblake

    Who was and/or how Catholic was the person who said “this is a Catholic country”. What was the tone? 

  • James H

    On the Huffington Post site (I only saw it because it’s part of aol), there was an article about protests in from of the Irish embassy in India, with a group of Indian people holding a sign saying something on the lines of, ‘Ireland’s Catholic abortion laws caused this young woman’s death’.

    Oh, the irony! That from a country where there’s such a desperate shortage of women due to sex-selective abortion!

    And the cynical, hysterical exploitation of the issue to impose abortion on Ireland is telling. Ireland has refused abortion in 5 (count ‘em!) referenda. But like all European impositions, the bosses will carry on holding them until they get the result they want.

  • James H

     If it happened in Galway, odds on it wasn’t good. There’s a lot of racism in the west of Ireland

  • James H

    Hey, really appropriate name, dude! Well done on your utterly content-free, truth-exempt posting.

    Float happy, isopod.

  • James H

    Sorry, we’ve heard this all before. The pro-abortion lobby is full of these stories, and they all turn out to be fabrications to stir up sentiment.

    They said underground abortions caused the death of 200,000 women every year in Poland, which turned out to be ridiculous; the doctor instrumental in getting abortion legalised in the US admitted after his conversion that the number of deaths he’d attributed to ‘back-alley’ abortions was a complete fabrication.

  • James H

    The flaw in your logic is that, the DMB scenario is never a simple mother-or-the-baby question. If the pregnancy isn’t ended (or the womb removed, or whatever), 2 people will die. If the doctors do act to save the mother, only 1 will die, and there’s even a chance that that one may survive. The principle is not one life vs another, but the lesser of two evils.

    In the case of the drunk driver, his intention is irrelevant: he incurred guilt by climbing into his car drunk and starting to drive, which is already illegal. That’s completely different from a lethal situation resulting from unpredictable events such as miscarriage.

  • Diffal

    eh, hold on a minute there James. Don’t tar the entirety of Connaught with your racism brush. It is very unlikely that the Doctor treating her was from the west anyway and we don’t know the context in which it was said. it may have been sincere, a mistake or pure cynicism and it probably wouldn’t have mattered a jot who the Dr. was speaking to when they decided to make such a statement anyway!

  • Fr Thenayan

    It is the doctor who doesn’t understand the mind of the Church, culpable in this case.
    Fr Dr Paul Thenayan

  • TreenonPoet

    The Savita case is not about sex-selective abortion.

    Facts should trump democracy. The use of facts in arguments is not the cynical exploitation of facts unless they are used in a misleading way such as in the way you are doing regarding the referenda (relating to specific amendments) and your failure to mention more pertinent data, such as that gathered for the Irish Times in a 1997 poll.

  • Frthenayan

    “This is a catholic country” . A doctor shall not use this kind of irresposible
    remarks before a patient facing a tragical moment between life and death.

  • Jonathan West

    You’ve asserted that but given no evidence. I’ve described my view by means of offering other examples (eg the drunk driver). We can’t have any kind of useful discussion if the only thing you’re ever going to say is “you’re wrong”.

    The examples you give are where the key issue is not the matter of intention, but rather that the side-effect is considered to be of lesser importance. You wouldn’t for instance take an anti-arthritis drug if it gave you cancer, but you would if it merely gives you a headache.

    Likewise you don’t justify  performing an abortion to save the mother merely because you don’t intend to kill the baby, but rather because you value the mother more.

    All this double-talk about “intention” exists solely to hide this fact – not least so that those saying can deceive themselves as to what they mean.

  • Jonathan West

    In this specific case of Savita Halappanavar, assuming of course the facts are as they have been reported.

    But it seems that this doesn’t get catholic moral theologians off the hook, because we are all going to die some day, and the question is simply how long.

    The baby was still alive at the time the abortion was requested and refused, and my understanding is that catholic moral theology doesn’t allow you to prematurely end somebody’s life in order to give somebody else a longer life. You aren’t allowed to count the probable days of life someone has left when making decisions of this kind.

    The abortion can only be justified if you don’t assign the same moral value to the unborn baby as to the mother.

  • Jon Brownridge

     Note the comment by Fr. Thenayan, posted since yours. He is presumably a moral theologian:
    “It is the doctor who doesn’t understand the mind of the Church, culpable in this case.”
    Fr Dr Paul Thenayan

  • Mfstartin

    I don’t think that it is fair to say that the doctors treating Savita were guilty of a ‘heretical misreading of Catholic moral law.’  They are, after all, doctors and not theologians. 
    Your quotation from Pius XII is valid, but to clarify, he also said, ‘No, neither the life of the mother nor that of the child can be subjected to an act of direct suppression’.  That is why the doctors in a Catholic country had a problem wuth this case.  They could not intervene to scrape Savita’s womb, or to administer drugs to bring forward the miscarriage, leaving her open to an increased risk of infection.

  • Mfstartin

    I don’t see how it is possible, in the middle of a miscarriage of a 17-week pregnancy, to take action that will terminate the pregnancy whilst making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.
    What can be done in these circumstances?

  • stan zorin

    Mark Gordon “…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.”
    Right. There is just a slight problem of when this “living” actually starts. Our jewish liberator from the catholic dark ages mentality Peter Singer,  professor of bioethics at Princeton University, says that “living” starts when person emerges and that happens when a biological unit is self-conscious, is rational, can talk and is independent of other biological units. Some biological units become persons earlier  than others and some never become ones because they do not learn to think or even to talk properly and/or because they do not become fully independent, they do not work, they rely for money and for life’s necessities on the taxpayers, on the state. Our prophet of progress Singer says you can safely abort even post born babies because they are still not really living, they are only ‘vegetating’, they are not able to think and to take care of themselves. 
    Mark, you are going through only the first stage of liberation from the evil catholic teachings. You are still under their influence, you are still worried that killing is wrong and that is why you try to ease your conscience by putting a sticker on the pre-born children that proclaims : “Not Yet Living”.
    You will have to follow the path shown by our prophet of humanism, Peter Singer, and reach a higher stage of enlightenment. You will have to admit to yourself that killing is not wrong. Catholic Church has been for ages promoting a dogma that human life is sacred, that each individual has a value as given by ‘God’. Those initiated into Light know that is not the case. It is not ‘God’ who assigns a value and a human dignity to an individual; it is a human community that does so. A community decides that you have a value, that you are wanted, that you have a right to live. The lives of unwanted ones can be aborted in the interests of the community and there is no ‘sin’ in that. Killing is wrong only if it goes against the interests of of the community. Peter Singer openly teaches that mankind has to abandon ,finally, the catholic doctrine from dark ages that ‘killing is wrong’. No more hiding behind the sophistry, behind the lame excuse that pre-born children are not human lives.
    The communists and the nazis shown us that it is possible to abandon the catholic mentality from the dark ages, that a community can successfully get rid of those whose lives have no value because they are not wanted and needed. There were no abortion controversies in both communist and nazi state. It might be too late for you to join either the communists or the nazis, sadly they came a bit too early in history,  but if your beautiful and satanic-like rage and hate against the Catholic Church is to grow and bear fruit under a proper spiritual guidance please consider joining the local Freemasonic lodge where your mind will be enriched by the light of the genuine Luciferian doctrine.
    This post and Peter Singer, was and is sponsored by your friendly Freemasonic association of enlightened, liberated and worthy humans. We have been, for centuries, in the business of hating the Catholic Church and of working assiduously for her destruction. We were the mother of both the communist and the nazi new order and we have another quiet surprise coming.

  • RuariJM

    The hysteria surrounding this case is seriously misplaced – but this article is also wide of the mark. 
    From what I have been able to gather thus far (from people involved with medicine, the medical profession and the healthcare system in Ireland), the unfortunate Mrs Halappanavar arrived at the hospital with an infection. it looked like a pretty routine infection of the urinary tract and was treated in the conventional way – with broad-spectrum antibiotics, while the particular organism was isolated. However, it was not routine; the infection is reported to have been e.coli ESBL, which is resistant to antibiotics. (I am striving to confirm that this was the actual infection and it was not a different strain, which is killed by antibiotics but, in dying, releases toxins that overwhelm the body’s immune system. Either way, it was an infection that was not going to be cured by antibiotics.)When such an infection fails to respond doesn’t respond to treatment, one of two things happen: either the body’s immune system deals with it wins or the infection defeats the immune system and the patient develops an overwhelming septicaemia, leading to septic shock and , almost inevitably, death. I have been repeatedly assured that the practice in Ireland is that the needs of the mother are paramount – in fact, the point has been put with some annoyance. What was said, and when, is very much a matter of conjecture. I have been advised that the consultant in this case was (and presumably still is) English: trained in England, qualified in England, practised in England and only recently moved to Ireland. What I am concerned about is that there has been no reflection of these reports in any discussions or presentations, features, whatever. It ahas also been reported that the HSE, which is supposed to be pursuing an urgent investigation into the case, has not even appointed an enquiry chairman, never mind an investigative team.There is – or should be – concern that the Dail will rush to legislate and be pressurised/blackmailed into passing legislation that it would not have done, had the facts of the infection been available.

    What they – and we – should be concerned about (having eliminated baleful religious influence and possibly even incompetence) is that a woman presented with what should have been a routine infection but she died from it, and she did so because antibiotics did not work. she acquired the infection in the general community, not in any of the identified ‘at risk’ areas.

    We could be returning to a pre-antibiotic age, and that should be a matter of immense concern. to everyone.

  • RuariJM

    Problem is, Fr, you do not know what she said – no-one does. 

    As has been mentioned to me, people often do not hear correctly, particularly at times of great stress. I had seen reports that she said ‘It’s a Catholic thing”. I refer you to my most recent post: could she have said “It’s an antibiotic thing”? We don;t know – we simply do not know. But the more I learn the less this has to do with the Church and abortion and the more it has to do with antibiotic resistant infection. The strange thing is – the people I am in touch with will only speak on condition of anonymity. It’s as if they have either all been warned to keep their mouths shut or are pre-empting the thought police. 

  • RuariJM

    Mfstartin – I don’t think this case should have caused any confusion.
     The lady was miscarrying – the pregnancy was terminating. The correct treatment could have been a number of things, including allowing the pre-term labour to take its course. Or a D&C. Or encouragement to the labour process by administration of oxytocin. Or surgery. The prime reason for all of those would be to save the life of the mother, which is perfectly in keeping with HH Pius XII teaching, and with Irish medical ethics (the precise clause is 24.1, IIRC). Possibly the consultant – English, I am advised, and recently appointed – misunderstood Irish medical ethics. But, more likely, the reports that the unfortunate lady presented with an antibiotic-resistant infection are true and it did not actually matter what had been done, her condition was terminal. And once the nature of the infection had been identified, then surgical operation was probably the last thing on the list of possible treatments.

    What was looking like a tragedy became a catastrophe. Let us not compound it by allowing hysteria to sweep dispassionate considerations aside in the rush to judgement – either way.

  • RuariJM

    I agree with Diffal – but James also has a point, because racism has been becoming more prevalent of late, unfortunately. Probably something to do with the economy.

    But while one should be prepared to ask unpalatable questions in order to get to the truth, I don’t think the racism James was indicating would actually have been the case, as the consultant (not all that long appointed) is, reportedly, English. (That’s not to say the English are immune to racism; just that the particular type of racism James suggested is unlikely)

    And we don’t know what she actually said, anyway.

  • RuariJM

    Virtually nothing, Mfstartin. But that statement of ethics dos not just cover the 17th week of pregnancy, it covers pregnancy. All of it. I put to you a situation where a pregnant woman presented with severe complications at 24 weeks. In the circumstances where ending the pregnancy is unavoidable (e.g., pre-eclampsia), I would suggest that the guidance should be interpreted to, for example, indicate that a C-section is the route to go, rather than dismemberment of the unborn foetus and evacuation of the womb; a C-section would give the baby a chance of survival, the mother’s life could be saved by the procedure – all bases covered.

    just an example, not intended to be definitive..

  • RuariJM

    No, it had nothing to do with Ireland’s laws, whatever you may think of them.

    Mrs Halappanavar had contracted an antibiotic-resistant infection. There was nothing that could have been done to save her, which is tragic.

    You are also in a country foreign to the truth when you imply that the (Irish) medical education was substandard, a the consultant is..English. 

  • Lee Turnpenny

    ‘There was nothing that could have been done to save her, which is tragic.’

    Then, assuming all appropriate action was taken to ease her suffering, there is no culpability on the part of anybody here (as suggested by the reaching Catholic apologist author of this piece)?

    I don’t imply that Irish medical education is sub-standard; I was ‘asking’ the author to clarify his seeming implication that Irish Catholic indoctrination is sub-standard (sorry, I inadvertently omitted my ironic question mark from the sentence you mis-read).

    I don’t see the relevance of the consultant’s nationality.

  • mark startin

    Your example is a perfect example of a situation where the statement of ethics, Irish law, and Catholic moral law coincide to point to a single course of action.  The problems arise where the statement of ethics and Irish and Catholic moral law conflict.  We are enjoined to give equal priority to the mother’s life and the baby’s.  This, in the case of an tubal ectopic pregnancy, the only morally allowed action is to remove the affected fallopian tube; it is immoral to use drugs to procure a miscarriage or to cut into the affected tube and remove the foetus. 
    I cannot but feel that this seems extreme in reality if not in theory. 

  • John de Waal

    A very good article.  I should be very grateful for the reference for the statement by Pope Pius XII.  This would help a lot in dealing with critics.

  • mark startin

    I must disagree.  Irish medical ethics contradicts the words of Pius XII.  They concord with the limited quotation in the blog, but fail to take account of the need to give equal priority to the lives of both mother and baby.  This point is also enshrined in Irish law.
    A D&C or the use of oxytocin contravene the church’s definition of what is and is not allowed whilst the baby is alive.
    Your point about the potential for Savita’s case possibly being linked to an antibiotic-resistant infection would remove the casus belli for the current argument over what could and should have been done.  It does not address the contradictions between medical ethics and law.

  • RuariJM

    Hi, John

    HH Pius XII seems to have had a very busy time of it in 1951; possibly because it was so soon after the end of WW2 and the full horrors of the concentration camps and the ‘medical experiments’ being conducted there were still being gradually revealed. It would seem that he made at least three distinct contributions on the subject at hand. Anyway, this one is the clearest and the one most often referred to:

    ”   Pope Pius XII clearly described the principle of the “double effect:”
    It has been our intention here to use always the expressions “direct attempt on the life of the innocent person” [and] “direct killing.” The reason is that if, for example, the safety of the life of the future mother, independently of her state of pregnancy, might call for an urgent surgical operation, or any other therapeutic application, which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired nor intended, but inevitable, the death of the fetus, such an act could not be called a direct attempt on the innocent life. In these conditions the operation can be lawful, as can other similar medical interventions, provided that it be a matter of great importance, such as life, and that it is not possible to postpone it till the birth of the child, or to have recourse to any other efficacious remedy … Both for the one and the other, the demand cannot be but this: To use every means to save the life of both the mother and the child.”

    That is from Pope Pius XII, Address to the Family Front Congress on November 27, 1951. Published in Matrimony, Papal Teachings. Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1963, pages 437 to 440. 

    You can find further info and extensive consideration at the link below, which goes into detail on the ‘double effect’ in abortion and counter-arguments as well, which is handy.

  • RuariJM

    Mark – I don’t see the contradiction. It looks to me like Clause 24.1 (quoted by srdc below) and Pope Pius XII to the Family Front Congress (quoted by me above) are completely compatible.

  • mark startin

     The point is in the phrase ‘accessory consequence’.  As I have explained below in my reply to another of your posts, the doctrine of double effect allows actions which result in the death of a foetus, but only if that is not the primary effect of the action.  Thus there is no sin if a Catholic woman suffering an ectopic pregnancy has a fallopian tube removed surgically.  If she took drugs to bring about a miscarriage that is a sin.

  • RuariJM

    “…the doctrine of double effect allows actions which result in the death of a foetus, but only if that is not the primary effect of the action. ”

    That is correct, Mark. It is reported that a miscarriage had begun spontaneously, with no medical intervention. It was not reversible. Clearing up – including D&C and oxytocin, even surgery – would qualify under ‘double effect’ as the primary intent would be to save the life of the mother.

    There is no contradiction and I don’t think anyone else believes there is.

  • mark startin

     Sorry, you are wrong.  A D&C or the administering of oxytocin do not qualify as producing a secondary effect; they are primary actions.

  • RuariJM

    I fear you are in error, Mark, and should check up on when D&C is deployed and how (Mary Kenny explained it quite clearly yesterday, btw); and what oxytocin does. If a miscarriage is under way and the cervix is already dilated, the use of oxytocin is perfectly justifiable.

    tbh, I think you’re the only one around who doesn’t see this. It’s a bit pedantic, I fear.

  • mark startin


    Unfortunately it is difficult to convey on here how much I wish I were wrong;  in this case I am convinced that I am not.  Even if this case is not as clear cut as was first reported it highlights a problem for Catholics in the modern world.
    The Church accords to mother and baby an equal right to life.  It is not permissable to chose to save one if the only way to do so is to kill the other.  Mary Kenny’s article does not tell us whether there was a foetal heartbeat when the D&C was performed.  If there were a heartbeat then the absolutely accurate reading of the Church’s teaching says it is not permissable to perform a D&C or to administer any drug to assist the miscarriage.
    That is why, in my other replies using the example of ectopic pregnancies, I said that the church allows one treatment but not others.
    If the Vatican ran an ‘Ask a Pope’ website we could get a definitive answer to confirm what I have said.

  • RuariJM

    Well, both Frank Drebben and the Cardinal in Naked Gun used to consult the shoeshine boy by the main rail station on finer points – do you think he’s still around?

    Meanwhile, I have re-read HH Pius XII’s speech and allocution from 1951 and can find no reference to or mention of a heartbeat. “… an urgent surgical operation, or any other therapeutic application, which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired nor intended, but inevitable, the death of the fetus,…” 

    That makes it clear, I venture, that it is not necessary to wait for the death of the foetus before performing urgent intervention, if it is required. It even talks about the ‘inevitability’ of the death of the foetus in those circumstances – i.e., direct medical intervention for “…the safety of the life of the future mother…”

  • mark startin

    This indentation is getting silly.  I wish that I could say that you are right, but I really fear that you are not.

  • mark startin

    I have a plea for any qualified Catholic moral lawyers viewing this post.  RuariJM and I ar attempting to resolve the question of what, precisely, would constitute double effect in this case or in the a case very like it.  The thread appears below headed by a post under the name ‘Mfstartin’.

    I am contending that any action such as administering a drug to induce an early delivery, or a D&C procedure are not allowed by the doctrine of double effect as they have as a primary action the terminating of a pregnancy.  Ruari, if I have understood him correctly,  contends that they are allowed where the prime aim is to save the mother’s life.  I admit that I actually do wish that he were correct and that I am wrong.

    The question, I hope comes down to, ‘Can double effect allow a termination of a living foetus where the mother’s life is otherwise in profound and serious danger?’  Where the foetus has already died then there is no ethical dilemma.

  • Jonathan West

    You’re simply making the Argument from Authority. And also as Fr Dr Paul Thenayan hasn’t said what he thinks the “mind of the Church” is and how he knows it, he is making the Argument from Bare Assertion.

    How about you say whether a doctor should prescribe an anti-arthritic medicine that as an “unintended effect” gave you cancer?

  • Xoza

     It has nothing to do with us if a doctor gets a law wrong. We don’t know the full situation and it is stupid to place blame at a distance. It sounds like a clarification is needed, but that is it.

    The fact is that when you abort a baby, you kill a child. (Foetus means ‘unborn child’, before anyone tries to argue semantics). Except in rare cases like this, abortion ends a human life, you need to think long and hard before you kill a baby.

  • mark startin

    I think that I can answer the question using the following letter from today’s edition of the ‘Irish Times’.  The author may be pro-choice, but he is a professor with a philosophy background.

    The letter runs:

    Sir, – No one should be misled by the statement of the Irish Catholic
    Bishops’ Conference (Home News, November 20th) into thinking that
    Catholic moral teaching would have permitted action to save the life of
    Savita Halappanavar. What she needed was precisely “the direct and
    intentional destruction of an unborn baby” as the only available means
    for saving her life. The bishops reiterate their opinion that this is
    “gravely immoral in all circumstances”. They just did not have the
    courage to point out the implications of their doctrine for this
    particular case. – Yours, etc,
    Prof JOHN BAKER,
    UCD School of Social Justice,
    Dublin 4.

    As I understand it, the Irish Catholic Bishops have attempted to address this issue by putting out a statement that discusses the provision of medical treatments.  They suggested that treatment could have been made available but were silent on what that treatment could have been.  Either they want to collude in a ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ attitude or they seek to provide false reassurance and to protect their own position.

  • Mmrm4k63


    Oh well, sorry for her husband and everything else. I’m
    Indian and I smell a rat in this case. Why would Mr Praveen refuse to give her
    medical reports for the inquiry? He doesn’t even approve of the HSE doing the
    probe. He wants it done his way. He choses the panel yada yada. Why ? What is
    he trying to hide? If he believes the Docs at Galway hospital messed up his
    wifes life and he will use ‘competent’ doctors, how will we hear the other side
    of the story? We’ve only been told his side so far.


    I believe the case has been misinterpreted . Quoting
    Wikipedia, “Following a ruling in the Supreme Court of Ireland in 1992 – now
    known in Ireland as the X case – terminations are allowed under certain
    circumstances, where “a pregnant woman’s life was at risk because of
    pregnancy, including the risk of suicide””


     And I’m sure the
    doctors have their own side of the story. All this would be revealed soon
    enough in the enquiry. Why is everybody already making judgements, blaming the
    catholic church, doctors, country?


    And for the record, you can’t choose the treatment you want
    for your body. I can’t walk in and demand to have my heart removed because I
    think I choose that treatment for my body. People ought to think from their
    head, not from their hearts. Maybe her body wasn’t ready for the abortion. You
    see, an abortion is like an operation, you have bloodloss, and stuff.


    Why didn’t this case get publisized when it happened, Why 3
    weeks later?


    I am sorry for her family and the pain she went through. But
    I also believe that maybe that her death should not be used as a political
    football! I believe that a woman should have the right to have an abortion if
    she wants one, but the Pro Choice activists are using this as a way to speeden
    up the process of making abortion legal.

  • RuariJM

    Prof Baker’s assumption that an abortion would have saved her life is wrong. She had contracted an antibiotic-resistant infection and surgery would actually have made it worse, not better. 

    I need a link to exactly what the Bishops’ Conference said before considering whether they have taken the attitude attributed to them.

  • mark startin

    Regardless of the cause of Savita’s death there is a real issue for potential future cases.  You can find the Bishops’ statement at the link below; you have to read between the lines to some extent but Professor Baker’s comments do seem justified:

    Interestingly the letter below Prof Baker’s letter in the paper runs:

    Sir, – “This is a Catholic country”. These callous words were spoken
    to Praveen Halappanavar, more than once it seems, in the days before the
    death of his wife. If the speaker believed her life was in danger, they
    should, and could, have acted under the law of this country to prevent
    her death. If they sincerely believed that all was well, then they
    should have reassured him. But, instead of focusing on their patient and
    on keeping her husband informed, it seems they preferred to make
    statements about Ireland and Catholicism. Now, the life of Savita
    Halappanavar has been lost and the public life of this country has been
    poisoned to a degree unequalled in recent times. – Yours, etc,
    Jesuit Community,
    Dublin 2.

  • RuariJM

    Thanks for the link, Mark. 

    I think “reading between the lines” is unnecessary – and is actually rather difficult, because the Bishops’ statement makes the position very clear. 

    “Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.
    · Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby.” 
    In other words, if the death of the baby is a side-effect of necessary medical intervention, rather than its aim and intent and even if that death is foreseeable and inevitable (Pope Pius XII, previously quoted), it is in line with Catholic teaching.
    I think you are straining at a gnat, Mark.

    Fr Grace can be forgiven his note of irritation, I think. And he doesn’t appear to be aware of what actually killed this unfortunate young woman.

  • mark startin

    If one thinks that the Bishops are clear then I would hate to think what the Pope will say when he reads their statement.

  • RuariJM

    Given that it is entirely in keeping with existing Catholic teaching, I am at a loss to understand  how you reach that conclusion, Mark. the wording is virtually identical to that of Pope Pius XII,

  • John de Waal

     Many thanks, RuariJM

  • Jonathan West

    The problem here is that Pope Pius’ conditions are contradictory.

    If the only thing that will save the life of the mother is an immediate abortion, can this be regarded as anything other than “the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby”? I think not, and therefore such an action would be “gravely immoral in all circumstances”.

    I really don”t think that the other part of the Pius XII quote is logically coherent. If the death of the baby is the “foreseeable and inevitable” result of a medical intervention, then it is sophistry to claim that the medical intervention does not have that “aim and intent”.

    What Pius XII appears to be edging towards without openly saying it (lest he weaken the catholic prohibition on abortion) is that it is morally acceptable to put the mother’s life ahead of that of the unborn baby, that the mother’s life should be treated as being of greater moral worth than that of the unborn baby.

    Once you accept that point of differing moral worth, it then becomes possible to accept an an abortion as being a morally acceptable way of saving the life of the mother.

    But once you accept that principle of inequality of moral worth, you start having to ask yourself how much less moral worth the unborn baby has, and therefore whether there any lesser conditions that would justify an abortion, For instance, if the mother has a 50% chance of surviving if the pregnancy is continued, would an abortion be justified? 75%? 90%. What if the chances are not that the mother will die but that her health will be permanently and seriously damaged?

    These questions seem to me to be ones which the Catholic Church is unwilling to engage with, even though they are routinely addressed by medical ethics committees all over the world. It is because of this unwillingness that you get the oxymoron of the unintended-but-inevitable outcome of a medical intervention.

  • RuariJM

    Jonathan, I think all these questions have already been answered, quite fully and several times. And not just by me.

    Like Martin, you appear to be straining at a gnat. 

    Sorry, but there is nothing in Catholic teaching that will support your hypothesis. 

    In fact, the opposite is the truth. You may think not – but I have to point out to you, you ain’t the Pope. Or even a member of the Curia (as far as I am aware).