Short roundup on the #Savita case…

With as little comment and ado as possible…

– Alex Massie notes the irreducible paradox of how the law as it stands was caught out by circumstance:

Clearly, doctors did not think Mrs Halapannavar’s life was in danger. Equally likely: this delay helped kill her.

– In the Irish Times, James McDermott notes:

It is far better for the Oireachtas to debate legislation in a calm and coherent manner rather than for courts to have to develop the law on a piecemeal basis in response to ad hoc emergencies and where understandable sympathy for the individual before the court may colour the debate on the issues. Under the separation of powers, it is the job of the Oireachtas to enact laws and of judges to interpret them. [Emphasis added]

– And the London Independent does a comparative trawl across the world:

…the law in Ireland is more stringent than that of Saudi Arabia – which allows abortion where the mother’s health is at risk, as long as there is permission from her spouse. Many African countries have similar laws to those in place in Ireland. Nigeria, for example, also allows abortion when it is necessary to save the mother’s life, as does Uganda.

Emer O’Toole in the Guardian writes:

In 1992 the supreme court ruled that a suicidal teenage rape victim had the right to an abortion. In the referendum that followed, Irish people voted to uphold this judgment. Yet, 20 years later, no government has been brave enough to legislate. In 2010 the European court of human rights ruled against the Irish state in favour of a woman who had to travel to the UK to terminate a pregnancy while undergoing chemotherapy.

The Examiner provides some clarity on the position under the current law, and the alleged invocation of Catholic teaching:

Such crass insensitivity is a perversion of the Catholic position. Under Irish law, if the purpose of an operation is to kill the baby it is wrong, but if the aim is to save the mother’s life it is permitted both by the Catholic Church and the Irish Constitution.

David Quinn in the Indo:

…it is necessary to remind ourselves that sometimes women die because of botched abortions in legal settings. Indeed, last year a doctor – Phanuel Dartey – was struck off in Britain because he nearly killed an Irish woman while performing an abortion on her in a Marie Stopes Clinic in the UK.

This story received remarkably little publicity here in Ireland. RTE did not cover it at all, whereas it has given the Savita Halappanavar story wall-to-wall coverage. Why this discrepancy?

Hazel Nolan on the Irish Times Generation Emigration blog:

These TDs remain in defiance of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the X case, the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v Ireland case; and the two referendums where the Irish people have upheld the right to an abortion where pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s life, including the risk of suicide.

Phillipa Willetts guesting on the F Word Blog

Being forced to carry a dying foetus inside her until its heart stopped beating weakened and poisoned her body. She died in pain, in distress, in the knowledge that her life could have been saved.

Understandably, we are angry.

And this from the Daily Mail is well worth reading to the bottom

For a more comprehensive listing, try Una Mullally’s epic list at the Irish Times..

No digitallunch tomorrow, I’m away at a conference in Tunisia. But I’m hoping to pull together a sane debate on how the Oireachtas might meet the challenge of an Irish public opinion that’s been energised and focused by the #Savita case.

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  • Alias

    “…it is necessary to remind ourselves that sometimes women die because of botched abortions in legal settings. Indeed, last year a doctor – Phanuel Dartey – was struck off in Britain because he nearly killed an Irish woman while performing an abortion on her in a Marie Stopes Clinic in the UK.”

    Good point related to a deliberately overlooked fact that the mother’s life is at greater risk from having an abortion than from not having one.

    Another good point:

    “And we must also repeat for the umpteenth time that Ireland has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world. It is lower than the British rate where abortion is available on demand.”

    The British media should examine the giant beam in its own eye instead of engaging in paddywhackery over an apparent speck of sawdust in Irish eyes.

    And, of course…

    “This story received remarkably little publicity here in Ireland. RTE did not cover it at all, whereas it has given the Savita Halappanavar story wall-to-wall coverage. Why this discrepancy?”

    Because large chunks of the media is a propaganda tool in the hands of statists and others with assorted undemocratic agendas and objective journalism and reporting of facts doesn’t rank with that ilk?

  • Republic of Connaught

    Agree, Alias.

    The press in Britain don’t need much opportunity to lambast “backward, Catholic Ireland” as if it’s the 1950s. They thrive on old sterotypes about this island and won’t mention in any of the their papers that pregnant women are medically safer in Ireland than the UK. A strange fact to omit when lambasting a country’s treatment of pregnant women.

    It’s a noticeable fact about this tragic story that objective journalism has been missing and instead we’ve seen anti Catholic and pro abortionists out in full force promoting their agendas.

  • socaire

    I’m not a catholic but I still don’t think it is right to snuff out a child’s life …… whether the spouse gives his permission or not.

  • socaire,

    Does that mean that you think it’s ok to let a pregnant mother die in agony even though the foetus is already doomed, just because the potential child still has a heartbeat?

  • socaire

    No, Mister_Joe, but I would be interested how you came to know that the foetus (baby) was a lost cause. I think that the word ‘potential’ is a bit disingenuous. I mean, you are a potential murderer. Should you be gassed?

  • socaire,

    I don’t know. I’m happy to await the outcome of the enquiry. But, the foetus did die did it not?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Joe, of course it isn’t, and even though the grieving husband made an accusation that that was the case I suspect that things were not so simple.

    Possibly someone did make the stupid statement about a catholic country, but I would find it hard to believe senior staff made the decision solely on such beliefs, it would be wise to wait for the investigatinos to report the full details.

  • DR

    Your point is well taken. I may have misspoke, prejudging, although I have tried not to do that in my other comments by saying “If true, as reported”. .

  • Drumlins Rock

    Think I am just getting tired of media fed crusades, the hospital has a right to defend itself against extremely serious allegations,any response should be speedy but not immediate, it is right that a respectful period should pass before contradicting a grieving relative.

    I think it is cheap and distasteful for the Pro-choice campaigners, and there media mouth pieces, to jump on this case so quickly, equally if the Phanuel Dartey case had of proved fatal it would have been wrong for Pro-life campaigners to use it in the same way, although in that case I’m sure the medai would have taken that as their slant on the story not the dangers of abortion.

    The religious morality being left behind has had it short falls to put it mildly, but I find the new “liberal” morality that equally feeds on the rise and fall of Saville and the like to be just as disturbing.

  • Coll Ciotach
  • Let’s be realistic: nobody is going to ‘win’ this argument. the demarcations have long and absolutely been drawn.

    That said, it’s gone international, hypertonic and hyperactive. Someone, somewhere has a cause célèbre on their hands.

    As such, it’s going to be an instructive object-llesson in political containment.

  • I have a horror story of my own. About 30 years ago, a close relative living in the Republic of Ireland, married, became pregnant. After 6 months, the foetus died. She asked to be induced. The doctor refused, saying that it was God’s will and in his hands. She carried the dead foetus for another 3 months, in great distress. Happily, she recovered and had 3 children, all alive and well.

  • GoldenFleece

    Mister Joe, that is disturbing, inhumane and horrific.

    I am really shocked by that. Religion should be kicked out of hospitals and state schools forever.

  • weidm7

    In all this, I can’t help but wonder how much of it was an incompetent doctor or medical staff making the wrong decision and how much did those staffmembers have their hands tied by the lack of clarification of legislation. Either way, there should be clarification, as ruled by the ECHR, that is something worth protesting about, regardless the reasons for this tragic death, all other judgements should wait for the results of any inquiry that is done.

    In terms of the ‘this is a Catholic country’ remark, it’s possible a doctor was trying to explain to a foreign national why we have such abortion laws here which tied his hands. Seems like a fairly mental thing to say and would make me question that doctor’s competence.

  • fordprefect

    Mister Joe and Weidm7, I agree with you both. I can’t say whether a doctor said: “this is a Catholic country so we can’t do that”. If he/she did, they should be struck off! I also understand the doctor’s dilemma, that if he/she had carried it out, they could have been charged with manslaughter or worse murder. My personal opinion is, they should have carried out the abortion (as it was a risk to this lady’s life). If I’d been the doctor, I’d have said “fuck it”, lets do it and save this lady’s life! I have to laugh (sarcastically) at these so called “Pro-Lifers”, just across the pond, the same said people kill people in pursuit of their goal that “all life is sacred” (I mean USA), ironic or what? Or is it an oxymoron!

  • BarneyT

    Thanks for this post Mick.

    If I am correct, someone with a pro-life\anti-abortion view would accept that if the child is not going to survive (and that is beyond doubt) and the continuance of the pregnancy will probably kill the mother, then the baby should be delivered, and in doing so have the end of its life hastened.

    A Pro-choice person would also take this view. Therefore surely this case falls into common territory. Surely?

    The classic pro-choice\pro-life debate has no role here surely.

  • Just a passing thought, as one has painting ceilings:

    … this is a Catholic country …

    Well, legally and constitutionally, is it? The fifth amendment, 1972, removed from the Bunreacht the special position of the Catholic Church and recognition of other named religious denominations.

    Now, if the University Hospital in Galway claims ‘higher’ loyalties than the State and its citizens, let’s hear ’em.

  • drc0610


    “Good point related to a deliberately overlooked fact that the mother’s life is at greater risk from having an abortion than from not having one.”

    sadly not in this case.

    “And we must also repeat for the umpteenth time that Ireland has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world.”

    Could this be because Ireland exports it’s problem to the UK? 5000 abortions last year.

    Or is it more likely related to the amount of money a country spends on midwifery as opposed to the legal status of abortion.

    And moaning about the brits, really, somewhat off topic no?

  • Alias

    drc, she had an abortion – and died 4 days after it from septicaemia and an E.coli infection.

    You’ve been reading too many (UK) tabloids…

  • wild turkey

    Sanctimony +
    bullying cloaked in victimhood +
    moral cowardice =
    ‘I will fight to the death for my deeply held beliefs…. as long as it’s someone else who dies for them’

    upside? at least the irish tribunal/investigation industry cranks on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on

    an irish solution to an ….. ah fuck, you know the rest.

  • babyface finlayson

    “Let’s be realistic: nobody is going to ‘win’ this argument. the demarcations have long and absolutely been drawn.”

    Of course, few will change their view, but laws will be made and amended.
    As medicine advances the chances of a foetus surviving outside the womb will probably extend.. That will surely lead to further calls for changes in the law.
    So those who succeed in changing the law, or maintaining it, in their favour will indeed have won the argument.
    I think the pro-choice, or pro-abortion lobby understand this and so steer clear of debating the viability of the foetus, preferring to frame the argument solely in terms of a woman’s choice.

  • Mr Joe. That’s the point isn’t it. These zealots who would call themselves Christian have a curious lack of compassion for a mature individual which is in stark contrast to their concern for a life not viable as proven in this case. It’s not clear to me from what I’ve read whether this lady was simply at the mercy of a ultra conservative doctor and therefore not a victim of government policy on abortion. According to the law, it’s clear she should have been allowed the abortion as the foetus was already declared miscarried,presumably by the same doctor who was more concerned with dogma than patient care.

  • Comrade Stalin

    If I heard of a doctor refusing to perform any kind of procedure on the basis of some sort of religious shortcoming I’d be talking to my lawyers about getting a malpractice lawsuit going, irrespective of the outcome.

  • Coll Ciotach

    The dogma would declare you would try to save the woman. Only an extremist who wants to vilify rather than understand would think different

  • Coll Ciotach,

    That’s predicated on understanding the dogma. Unfortunately, many don’t, even though they might be well educated.
    We simply have to wait until the investigation reveals the “true” facts.

  • Mick Fealty

    On a point of information, here’s a table of maternal mortality rates from 2010. Ireland is at sixth place in the world:

    All of the named countries with lower death rates allow abortions more freely than Ireland does.

  • Mick,

    Interesting data and Ireland does have a pretty good record. It is encouraging that the total numbers worldwide are decreasing steadily although poorer countries still have a long way to go. It would be interesting to know if the availability of abortion does have a direct effect on the numbers generally. Mind you I’m not sure that if estimates were available that it would have a significant effect on the debate given the complete polarization of opinions on the extreme ends of the bell curve.

  • A question mark was placed over the reliability of the Irish statistics and a new approach was introduced by Mary Harney in 2009:

    In January 2009, Ireland joined the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) in the UK, an independent charity that for the last 50 years has worked to improve the health of mothers by carrying out confidential inquiries into maternal deaths.

    As a result of joining this initiative, a reliable record of maternal mortality in Ireland will be available for the very first time. The first Irish figures will be included in the organisation’s 2013 report.

    The availability of true figures will not only inform policy but more importantly, will ultimately save mothers’ lives. CMACE, which examines all cases of maternal death in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, publishes a report of its findings every three years.

    These triennial reports have not only become essential reading for all health professionals in the maternity services, but the implementation of their recommendations have also contributed to greatly improved maternity care throughout the UK.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    For people upthread suggesting the foetus wasn’t necessarily doomed because all things are possible – there was no amniotic fluid around it. The woman’s cervix had been fully dilated for days. This was a remarkably clear cut case. It’s hard to see where the supposed ‘controversy’ comes from. If the Galway doctors didn’t think her life was in danger they are incompetent. Nothing very complicated there.

  • Yes: I’ve seen those figures. They are historic (2005); they do depend on the honesty of the national governments’ reporting; and they have been questioned.

    I know that’s guilt by association; but these numbers have been given a drubbing in that hot-linked report itself:

    … despite the fact that official reports have long heralded Ireland as one of the safest places in the world to have a baby, at one maternal death in 100,000 live births, experts believe that the true number may be as much as 10 times that figure.

    I think you will find a previous thread when a similar benign prospect was offered over HIV infections — only for other evidence to show the figures were somewhat romanticised.

  • BarneyT

    Ní Dhuibhir – some people believe in miracles.

    I thought it was common knowledge that the clock started ticking for the mother and child when the waters break, due to the risk of infection. The window is 24 hours is it not.

    I don’t have much faith in the enquiry process (particularly ones of a whitewash…sorry…internal nature), but perhaps when Savitas family see the terms of reference, they can keep the enquiry on course. Given that there appears to have been little contact between the government and her family to date, it’s possible that the enquiry will move forward without their input.

    Then again, we have the prospect of legal action against the hospital in question. It could be that they need to broaden the litigious net

  • BarneyT

    HSE says inquiry to be fair, methodical and completed in shortest time possible…

    It seems the foxes have been put in charge of the hen house, as a result of three internal Galway University Hospital (GUH) staff being drafted into the inquiry team.

    Without questioning their professionalism, this in my view compromises the inquiry, not just because it could prevent medical staff from divulging what really went on, but it could skew the inquiry. Those asking the questions of GUH staff must be independent.

    Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran stated that it was important to have GUH representation on the panel to compare the guidelines in use…and also to allow the inquiry to find out about their standards and practice.

    I don’t see why these terms warrant GUH staff inclusion in the inquiry panel as this information can be extracted from them during the inquiry interview and investigative process. They most certainly need to contribute however it is a mistake for them to help constitute the panel.

    Is this starting to stink?