There is still no light on what actually happened in the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who died of septicaemia following a miscarriage in University Hospital, Galway on October 28. There have been many allegations on the part of the press, predictably hostile to the Church, but until there has been a proper investigation we cannot know for certain what the facts of this case are. I contacted a friend in Dublin yesterday who is a law lecturer at UCD and asked her for her views. She emailed back: “After listening to a range of commentary and reading various statements including one from the husband’s solicitor, I am not one bit wiser as to the facts. Any comment I might make would only be based on general intuition. For example, I find it hard to imagine that anyone living in Ireland today would describe Ireland as a ‘Catholic country’. While a huge majority list their religion in the census as ‘Catholic’, the level of ‘practice’ in many urban areas is tiny.”
The latest news, reported by LifeSiteNews yesterday, is that the official inquiry into Savita’s death has now run into difficulties because the widower, Praveen Halappanavar, has stated that he and the family will not cooperate with it on the grounds that it is being run by the same government agency that he alleges caused his wife’s death. The Health Services Executive has been refused access to his wife’s medical records, “a decision which will cripple the investigation”.
Prior to this, three senior medical consultants from Galway have been dropped from the group of seven physicians conducting the inquest as the dead woman’s family had also objected to them on the grounds that no doctor from Galway University Hospital, where their daughter died, should be included. Despite their removal, Mr Halappanavar still states that he “will not cooperate with the inquiry in any way”. Some of this is probably the result of natural grief as well as anger at what he perceives to be the death by medical neglect of his wife; some of it is also probably driven by his and his wife’s family’s legal team. Either way, it will not help the Irish government in its desire that the investigation should provide answers “speedily, thoroughly and comprehensively”. It has opposed the family’s demand for an investigation independent of the Health Services Executive.
On Tuesday the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued its own clarification of Church teaching in this area, insisting that “a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life”. The bishops say that they “share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances” and go on to explain that “the Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother”.
They continue: “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 the 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. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby. Some would claim that the unborn baby is less human and less deserving of life. Advances in genetics and technology make it clear that at fertilisation a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence…”
The bishops conclude by stating that “with many other religious and ethical traditions we believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practices. This helps to ensure that women and babies receive the highest standard of care and protection during pregnancy.”
Whether the doctors involved in Savita’s case followed Church teaching, or whether the couple really were told, as is alleged, that “Ireland is a Catholic country” and that therefore they could not intervene as she miscarried, is what the inquiry is all about. For me the most telling detail of LifeSiteNews’s report for Tuesday was the sentence “Irish Health Minister James Reilly has stated there is no evidence that a Catholic ethos prevented responsible treatment.” If this is true, then all the criticisms, allegations and misinterpretations of Church teaching – some of them deliberately malicious – in the media are out of place. The sooner an investigation into the whole sad event publishes its report the better.