Ever since I read about the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, my mind keeps going back to the circumstances which led to the snuffing out of another innocent life whose only fault was that she was female, with a uterus and two ovaries, which rendered her able to conceive a child. Every time I think of her heart-breaking story, I am overwhelmed with horror, disbelief and despair. Horror and disbelief, because it happened in this day and age not in some sub-Saharan African country, not in Afghanistan and not even in Haryana but in a first world country, in Europe, in a hospital and right under the nose of qualified medical professionals. Despair, because if such an incident could come to pass where it did, no wonder control over their bodies remains a pipe-dream for the majority of women worldwide!
This poor unfortunate woman was in agony for three days, begging to terminate a pregnancy that was anyway doomed and by all accounts not even going to end with a surviving baby. The doctors apparently refused to do what common sense (and not least their medical training) dictated, saying that under Irish law they could not terminate the pregnancy as long as the foetal heart was beating. The foetus was delivered only after its heart finally stopped , by which time Savita was already in the throes of a severe, fatal infection.
Now one of two things might be the case here.
1 Maybe Irish laws are truly, strictly regressive and consider women to be disposable second class citizens whose lives can be sacrificed in order to prolong, even by a few hours, the life of a non-viable foetus. The doctors, if this was the case, could be excused for trying to avoid criminal prosecution although what they did was definitely contrary to the very spirit of their profession.
2. Maybe Irish laws are archaic but open to interpretation, and it was an over-zealous doctor who insisted on interpreting the laws just so, and chose to watch his/her patient die a slow but sure death. In which case it is not just a case of medical negligence but of cold-blooded murder.
I found this news item about a symposium on maternal health in Dublin barely two months back which, while claiming that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of the mothers (idiots or what?), nonetheless states that no treatment should ever be withheld from a woman if she needed it to save her life, even if that treatment resulted in the loss of life of her unborn child. (See link)
So to me scenario -2 appears to be likelier–the law is archaic but ambiguous and open to varied interpretations and so the blame for Savita’s death must be shared by the doctors attending to her just as much as the Irish state. Shame on the doctors who killed her by denying her a life-saving abortion. At the very least they deserve to be stripped of their medical degree for so spectacularly failing to honour the Hippocratic oath.
By the way, is this really the norm in Ireland? I have heard of Irish women going to England to have a planned abortion, but are they really left to die like this when they are in need of an emergency abortion for medical reasons? If yes, how come we never heard of it before? If no, why Savita? Was she simply unfortunate in that her doctors happened to be Catholic zealots?
I wonder if this shameful incident will make even a few pro-lifers recognize the untenability of their position on abortion in any society that has pretensions of being free and democratic. I am not betting on it.