The principled barbarity that can happen in a “Catholic country”

Excellent reporting by Kitty Holland and Paul Cullen in the Irish Times, that is all the more compelling for being dispassionate. Who will raise as voice against such shame?

The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”

Critically ill

At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”

At 11 pm he got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”

And here is the profile that tells us more of the spirit of Savita.


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  • This is possibly one of the most disturbing stories I have read in recent times. What can one say about the sheer hypocrisy and depravity of religion and religion-inspired stupidity?

  • oakleaf

    Give it a rest. Wait till what the inquiry says. On another note not too many threads about wide scale abuse cover ups in the uk lately?

  • Mick Fealty

    My apologies for crossing with Brian, I was too busy pulling bits and pieces together for my own take.

    AU, is off the site for two weeks, for ignoring the point of the story and blatant sectarian needling.

    Sorry Neil, yours had to go too (Do NOT feed the trolls.

    Oakleaf, where have you been???

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Shame is too soft a word for this travesty.

  • galloglaigh

    This is a very scary case. What implications has this for N.Ireland, and our Flat Earth Health Minister?

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Horrific. The poor woman. This is the type of situation that killed so many women before modern medical care – allowing it to happen in a first world country in 2012 is obscene.

  • Kevsterino

    Abortion has to be the most vexing argument I have seen in my lifetime. If anything, it shows the limits of ideology and principles. On the extremes, there are those who want it to be free of charge and untouchable by the law, and those who want it banned under all circumstances. The only compromise possible is devoid of any principle at all. I don’t see an end to the argument.

  • tacapall

    It is not just a black and white argument Kev there is a grey area where abortion is legal and advised when the mothers life is at risk. Clearly in this case the life of the child was deemed paramount while the risk to the mother was overlooked. Whether your pro or anti abortion is irrelevant. This is a situation where Doctors took the decision to put a mothers life in danger to save a child she believed and the diagnosis determined, should be aborted, that decision to ignore the facts of her condition in the end resulted in both them dying which is a disgrace in a modern democracy that supposedly believes in the right to life.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    This was never going to end in a live baby, though. 17 weeks!

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s the point though of calling for a more secular base to our ethical understanding.

    On the other thread, someone pointed out that there is an imperative, once the waters have broken to get the baby out within 24 hours. But three days??? There was no determination here to make a strong and ethical judgement.

    Why? Because no one in a position of public responsibility of wants that responsibility!!

    And I’m afraid the recourse to catholic dogma in a country where a large majority of us Catholics say we don’t believe in a lot of it is just a cop out!!

  • Kevsterino

    All I can say is I would absolutely hate to be that doctor driving home to my family that day, no matter the outcome. Save the baby, save the mother, lose the baby, lose the mother or lose both. A truly horrifying set of choices.

    Viability of the child notwithstanding, it was a horrible tragedy. If I was that doctor, and needed to terminate the life of the baby to save the mother’s life, I would have done so, then felt like hell about it.

    What a horrible day to lose both caught in a sea of ambiguity.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    All the more need for strong, clear, pro-choice legislation, where individual doctors have the right to refuse to participate in abortion if they insist (as they do under the 1967 Act in GB) but patients in need are directed to other providers.

  • Desmond Trellace

    It appears that blind ideology has needlessly cost this poor woman her life. For this to happen in a hospital is incomprehensible and totally unacceptable.. Why did none of the senior doctors have the courage – or simply the humane wisdom – to do what was necessary to save the woman’s life?

    Doctors decisions should be based on medical necessity and not on blind ideology.

  • sherdy

    ‘Ireland is a Catholic country’..
    Was that quote supposed to imply a Christian duty of care to mother and baby, or in the wake of all the Church scandals, did it imply ‘God help you and your baby because we can’t.

  • andnowwhat

    I’m just stunned at the story. It’s like something from either a distant time or a distant country, not somewhere in western Europe.

  • Henry94

    We have had two decades to legislate for the X case but Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have made not doing so a condition of every government and The Greens, the PDs and the labour Party have all gone along with that.

    Had it been the price of government I’m fairly sure Sinn Fein would have done the same.

    But they were all reflecting the sad reality that for most Irish people the current position where our abortions are carried out in England, suits us. Ireland was united on that point north and south.

    But it’s a shamefully hypocritical position and we should have long grown out of it. I feel shame that this poor innocent woman was caught up in our stupidity and paid for it with her life.

  • So when will the doctors be charged with manslaughter of the mother, and when will they face a fitness to practice hearing? Will it need a private prosecution to get doctors to do the right thing?

  • BarneyT

    Hi Mick. I believe it was me that mentioned the 24 hour period. I’m just going from my own experiences, when my son was born, following waters breaking prematurely. Luckily he was 35 weeks in…but I recall being told specifically that my child would have to be produced within 24 hours due to the risk of infection. The womb had become compromised you see.

    He was born 16 hours after the waters broke and in this period an infection still developed. Cutting a long story short, all ended well and he’s a big strapping fella now.

    We don’t know if Savita presented initially with an infection, however given the extent of the dilation, it’s very likely that she did. If this was the case, the three days that subsequently passed in my view allowed an infectious cocktail to develop, and the rest is sadly all too well known.

    For me it made no sense to refuse the requested treatment as the baby was never going to survive and the medics has determined that. They should have acted and had Savita….excuse this term…evacuated… so they could focus on attacking any infection she had contracted.

    Whilst we may not have the full picture, based on the accounts so far, I see immediate culpability resting within the hospital.

    However, I believe the lack of political clarity and leadership to tackle abortion over the years presented individuals, perhaps informed by their own religious code, to take the wrong path. This combination was as lethal as the bacterial time bomb that was allowed to grow within Savita.

  • BarneyT

    Any thoughts on the inquiry team?

  • BarneyT

    “Last night, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the holding of the HSE inquiry would not prejudice subsequent inquiries”

    Of course it will. Any position established internally will always be carried forward to a more appropriate public enquiry.

    “Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the people directly involved should be allowed conduct their inquiry, and they are best placed to decide if another investigation is needed”

    I smell a huge big whitewash and fully appreciate why there can be no faith in the HSE inquiry.

  • galloglaigh. [2.01]
    Never mind flat earth minister, the whole Stormont set up is de facto flat earth. To hear Donaldson on the air claiming that NI abortion laws are perfectly straight-forward is to give up on the whole edifice, carefully preserved as it is in aspic at Stormont.Samuel Beckett would have been proud of them. It’s the theatre of the absurd on stilts.