Halappanavar Inquest: Midwife’s remarks rather than clinical mistakes beg legislation and public debate

First of two important stories in the Republic this, comes from the inquest into Savita Halappanavar’s death. Firstly:

Dr Katherine Astbury said she had not seen a notation on the 31-year-old’s charts that would indicate a deterioration in her condition. She also conceded that she had not seen Ms Halappanavar’s blood results, which had changed and could have been indicative of severe sepsis.

The consultant obstetrician told the inquest that had she been aware of these details she would have brought forward plans for a termination to the Wednesday morning.

And secondly:

A SENIOR midwife has apologised after admitting she told an Indian woman suffering a miscarriage that she could not have a termination in Ireland because it was a “Catholic country”.

Ann Maria Burke, a clinical midwife manager at University Hospital Galway, said the comments had preyed on her mind since she made them five days before the death of Savita Halappanavar, and insisted she had never meant them in a “hurtful context”.

It’s hard to know which is worse. Clinically, the system is a serious concern (though not one requiring legislation). For me the Midwife’s words – that Ms Halappanavar could not have a termination in Ireland because it was a “Catholic country” – are almost more serious, in the sense that it reflects a broader certainty that abortions don’t happen in Ireland.

The truth is, they do. That’s more broadly known and understood now after this tragic case. And the core issue is not bound up with pro choice or pro life arguments. Artificial terminations already are and can be legally triggered by proper and ethical concern for the life of the mother.

That a Midwife did not seem to know that shows the extent to which even professionals appear to be ‘dark’ on the precise outlines of what is and is not permissible.

It is this second and seemingly less important from a clinic point of view issue that urges legislation and wider public debate and the more pressing concerns about clinic practice in the Galway Teaching Hospital…


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