Thursday, November 15, 2012

This shouldn't have happened

Savita Halappanavari & her husband Praveen

Based on what is available in the public arena,  Savita Halappanavari should not have died in a Galway hospital last month. Other facts may emerge to change that view. It is early days. The story only broke yesterday. But on the basis of the facts as they have been reported her death was avoidable. She should have left hospital heartbroken but alive.

I know from my stats that a lot of those who read this blog are based in the US, so I will give a very basic outline of what happened as I understand it. Please understand that this is based on media reports and may be inaccurate. 

Ms Halappanavari presented at hospital as 17 weeks pregnant,  fully dilated, and in great pain. She was informed she was suffering what is termed an 'inevitable miscarriage' & nothing could be done to save her baby. Apparently she was also told she could not receive the treatment that would end her suffering while the baby's heart was beating. This was expected to stop within a few hours. It took more than three days. When the heartbeat stopped, she received a D&C. However, she had picked up a serious infection while they waited, a known danger of being fully dilated, and  some days later she died of septicemia. 

While we are waiting for more information, I wonder are there any people out there who could answer some questions for me? The first is for those who may be experts in the area of medical law. I was under the impression that under our current legislation a woman in Ms Halappanavari's situation should have been able to receive the treatment she needed. Is this actually not the case? 

My second question relates to the teaching of the Catholic Church. The husband was told the reason why medical staff was prevented from doing anything earlier was because 'this was a Catholic Country' (it is unclear who said this to him). A letter writer to the Irish Times has stated that the Catholic Church 'had, indirectly, a hand in the death of an innocent woman needlessly' (sic). As the Catholic Church has been made a part of this sad story, inevitably I suppose, I wonder if there is anyone reading this who is expert enough in this area to let me know if the treatment Ms Halappanavari received was in accordance with Catholic teaching? 

I would have thought the doctrine of double effect would have allowed her to be treated earlier. She was fully dilated and at serious risk of a life-threatening infection; a procedure was required to remove that risk; the intention would have been to protect the mother from the infection, not to kill the dying baby; therefore performing the procedure would have been morally licit. I ran this past a senior Catholic clergyman & while he also is not an expert in this area he thinks my assessment is correct. But perhaps there is someone who is better versed in these matters who can let us know if we are right or wrong on this.

Now let me be crystal clear: I am 100% against abortion. But I believe based both on the law of Ireland as it stands & the teaching of the Catholic Church as I understand it, that Ms Halappanavari should have received the treatment that would have saved her life.
But as I have said repeatedly above, I am only going on the facts as I have them and more information may emerge to change the picture. 

Already, inevitably, there are calls in the media & by activists that this sad incident demonstrates a need for change in our laws relating to abortion. It's probably too soon to draw any conclusions. I will say that it if transpires that this woman's death occurred because medical staff were confused and felt the law precluded them from helping her when in fact they could have, then of course clarification is needed. But we'll  have to wait until everything is known. In the interim, my heart goes out to Ms Halappanavari's husband and family. This is a terrible time for them. Please keep them in your prayers.


  1. You are not certainly alone in your view of this tragic situation. This is a link to journalistic comment from the other side of the Irish Sea -

  2. Thanks for the link, Father; a good, balanced report ... sadly, many with an agenda began to try and hi-jack this sad happening the moment this hit the air-waves with no care for the facts, nor I suspect the poor woman or her family.

  3. Your assessment of Catholic Teaching is correct. Catholic Medical ethics cannot be blamed for this death. You may also want to read this article from the Irish times:

  4. Oh my goodness - how heartbreaking. This is the first I heard of the story and, like you, would imagine given the circumstances as described, she should have recieved full treatment.

    Regardless, they've got my prayers. This heartbroken husband and father has at least one saint in Heaven now. If his wife isn't there yet, may she join her little one soon. Oh, Lord... mercy...

  5. Thanks Gina - I'm surprised this hasn't made the news in the US ... a certain section of the media here is acting like the whole world is slack-jawed in amazement at our barbaric, anti-woman policies ... but then, perhaps what that section of the media puts out isn't always to be trusted? ;-)

  6. Fr Gabriel - thanks for your comment & letting me know I am on the right track in my assessment. Sorry for the delaying it posting it ... it got a bit lost in the shuffle!

  7. By the way Gina, I encourage you to do you own post on this topic ... no harm for Ireland to know that the world is really watching ... & not necessarily frowning with disapproval at our 'backward' ways ...