Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why the sad death of a pregnant woman has caused a stir in Ireland

Hundreds of pro-choice protesters gathered at short notice outside the Dáil to call on the Government to legislate for abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, following the death of Savita Halappanavar. She was found to be miscarrying when admitted to University Hospital Galway last month, and died of septicaemia. It's the big talking point in Ireland tonight.  I expect there'll be a massive demo in Dublin on Saturday.

For the background see Irish Times  Woman 'denied a termination' dies in hospital.

The trigger for the protest came this morning when Savita Halappanavar's husband spoke out.
The Irish Times reporters say Mr Halappanavar has claimed that following several requests by his late wife for a termination, they were told: "This is a Catholic country."
A tweet from ‏@k_tten asks "Were any of Savita Halappanavar's doctors involved in this Pro-Life symposium 2 months ago?"

Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia at University Hospital Galway. Tonight several hundred protesters gathered outside the Dáil.
(Photo: Brenda Fitzsimons/The
Irish Times)
The questions

The questions about this case, which various enquiries will need to answer, are:

(1) Would a termination have saved Savita Halappanavar's life?

(2) If yes, which of the following three scenarios applies?

      (a)    Medical error - doctors didn't realise this until too late

      (b)    The doctors did know it; and failed to follow hospital protocols due to personal religious or ethical scruples

      (c)    The doctors did know it; but hospital protocols were unclear and the doctors were prevented by uncertainty as to the law and fear of prosecution


Mr Halappanavar is a credible witness, I heard him on the radio today, and tonight's demonstrators clearly believe him, and think they know the answer: it's either 2(b) or 2(c). 

Listen to him on this RTÉ page. Search for “Praveen Halappanavar”.

But the Pro-Life Campaign claims it's “deplorable” that this tragic death is being used to promote a change in abortion legislation, and that Medical Council Guidelines are clear that women in pregnancy must be given all necessary medical treatment.  See Irish Catholic.

Catholics benefit from my advice

As it happens I read this paper every week. It gives extensive coverage to the pro life campaign and opposition to introducing any abortion legislation. A recurring theme is that research shows Ireland to be the safest place in the world for women to give birth; and that availability of abortion causes, rather than prevents, harm to women. 

Another recurring theme is deploring the trend to a secular society.

There's an irony here. The “safest place in the world for women to give birth” argument is secular, not religious.  What if the Savita Halappanavar case undermines it?

Catholics would be better advised, in my humble opinion, to abandon prudential reasoning based on scientific research, and stick instead to the sanctity of life, sin, ethics and church teaching. 

Last March, the editor of The Irish Catholic was good enough to publish a letter from me along these lines. I suggested they may find that adopting secular arguments, when they happen to be opportune, is a short-sighted policy.

In case you need it, I've made a short note on why abortion legislation is on the agenda in Ireland. 

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