Tragedy of Savita should not be used as excuse for witch-hunt
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So many women I have talked to about the desperate tragedy of Savita Halappanavar have said, “It could have been any of us.” More than one shivered at the thought.
We are not used to thinking about pregnancy-related death, although our mothers and grandmothers certainly did. And yet maternal deaths happen, even in a developed country like our own.
Unicef rated the lifetime chance of maternal mortality in Ireland as one in 17,800; that is one of the best rates anywhere. But when that one is your wife, your sister or your friend, it does not make it any less catastrophic.
We simply do not know what caused Savita Halappanavar’s death. There are a number of possibilities, including unnecessary and dangerous delay in carrying out an evacuation of her uterus. But the overwhelming rush to declare with certainty that this is what happened is very frightening.
We saw what happened to Fr Kevin Reynolds and to Lord McAlpine when people were certain of guilt, so certain that they did not feel they had to wait for evidence. Yet there is no hesitation in some quarters to not only condemn the medical team, but to also blame alleged malpractice on their Catholic beliefs.
A large poster outside the Dáil this week presented this view at its most extreme. “Have the guts to end the Roman Catholic inspired murder of women.”
What is this but incitement to hatred? The poster may be extreme, but look at Una Mullally’s exhaustive chronicle of international media coverage on the Irish Times website. The dominant narrative is that Ms Halappanavar would have been alive if an abortion had been carried out, and that the reason that it did not happen is because Ireland is a Catholic country.
If it is eventually established that this was a case where a miscarriage led to infective complications, and it had nothing to do with Catholicism and even less to do with the current state of abortion law, it will garner no headlines around the world.
Possibility of baby surviving
If, as it has been reported, Ms Halappanavar presented with an inevitable miscarriage where there was no possibility of the baby surviving, there was absolutely no impediment in either Medical Council guidelines or in Catholic teaching to performing an evacuation of the womb. Such procedures are regularly carried out. Sadly, as the case of Melissa Redmond demonstrated, the problem in the recent past was that surgical procedures were sometimes offered in cases where it was not necessary. She was told that her unborn child had died, when in fact her son was perfectly healthy.
A review board was set up by the Health Service Executive, which examined 24 cases where a diagnosis of miscarriage was made in error and drug or surgical treatment was recommended to a woman whose baby was still alive.
Prof William Ledger, who conducted the inquiry, declared himself shocked that, in six cases, the women remained pregnant despite undergoing a surgical procedure to evacuate the contents of their uterus. Four went on to give birth.
Every woman I know, including myself, who began to miscarry, has hoped against hope that the pregnancy would continue. Sometimes the miraculous happens, the bleeding and cramps stop, and all is well. The cases examined by Prof Ledger demonstrate that, in some cases, a cautious approach is justified, and that devastation of another kind can happen if a surgical procedure is done too quickly.
We just don’t know what happened in the case of the Halappanavar family, when the infection set in, or how well it was managed. When I asked a senior medical consultant as to whether three months was necessary to conduct a review, she replied that a month should be adequate, “but the HSE moves slower than the Vatican”. It is not acceptable, for the Halappanavar family, the staff of Galway University Hospital, or for indeed the rest of us, that there should be such delay in establishing the facts.
It is sad that this family tragedy is being used to advance abortion legalisation. It is also deeply sad that outrage can be so selective. A doctor was struck off in Britain in December 2011 for botched abortions, including on an Irish woman who nearly died and spent two months in hospital after he ruptured her uterus. There was little or no coverage of it. If it had been plastic surgery, I suspect it would have been all over the media.
In April 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration recorded eight deaths from septicaemia, and two from ruptured ectopic pregnancies after the so-called abortion pill. Irish crisis pregnancy counsellors are alleged to have advised women to smuggle the abortion pill and take it without medical supervision.
These counsellors were also allegedly advising women to conceal abortions, depriving doctors of vital and potentially life-saving medical information. Where was the outcry? It is right that we should remember and grieve for Savita Halappanavar, for how her dreams were shattered, and how her life and that of her baby were lost. If there was negligence of any kind, those responsible should face the full rigour of the law. But let us not use her death as an excuse for a witch-hunt.
David Quinn: Ireland is safe, despite the propaganda
Savita laid out in wedding sari
International expert for Savita death inquiry team
Friday November 16 2012
IN the debate about abortion we are constantly dealing with what can only be described as 'asymmetrical hysteria', that is we are only ever outraged by anti-abortion laws and their consequences and never by the consequences of pro-abortion laws.
The result of this 'asymmetrical hysteria' is that public opinion is constantly being pushed to favour more liberal abortion laws rather than more restrictive ones.
Indeed, we are conditioned to believe that laws against abortion are the result of irrational dogmas that are placing women's lives at risk.
Thus we now think that if only we were more like our more 'rational' next-door neighbour, Britain, Savita Halappanavar would be alive today.
In fact, it is impossible to know that, and certainly not before the completion of the investigation into her death.
In the meantime, what we do know is that the Irish maternal death rate is one of the very lowest in the world at roughly three women per 100,000. The British figure is four times higher at 12 per 100,000 and the US figure is eight times higher at 24 per 100,000.
How is it that Ireland without abortion is so much safer for pregnant women than Britain and America, which both have highly liberal abortion laws?
The above data has been obtained from 'Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2008', which has been developed by the World Health Organisation, the UN and the World Bank.
However, thanks to the highly tendentious coverage of the tragic case of Mrs Halappanavar, particularly by RTE, most Irish people probably believe that Ireland is a particularly dangerous place for women to have a baby.
This notion, now commonplace and gaining worldwide traction, is actually a gross calumny against our country.
Our politicians ought to defend the medical record of this country and point out that our maternal healthcare system is superb at bringing babies to full term without compromising the lives or health of their mothers.
We would also do well to point out how the dogmas behind the abortion laws of other countries cost lives.
For example, in Britain, how many babies are unnecessarily aborted because a doctor erroneously imagines that the only way to save the mother is to abort the baby?
What kind of dogma makes some of us think that 190,000 abortions in England and Wales each year is 'normal', meaning that one pregnancy in every four ends in a termination?
What dogma leads abortion clinics to think 'gendercide' is okay, namely the killing of an unborn child simply because it is the 'wrong' sex, usually a girl?
The 'Daily Telegraph' discovered in a sting operation earlier this year that sex-selective abortions take place in UK abortion clinics.
What kind of dogma thinks it is okay to abort a child simply because the child has Down's Syndrome or cystic fibrosis?
In Ireland, a service is now on offer which allows couples to have their embryos screened to ensure they are in no way 'defective'. This is eugenics and it is common practice today.
None of the scandals just listed ever causes anything like the outrage generated by the hard cases an anti-abortion law will cause from time to time.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that they do not attract anything like the same publicity and so most of us are completely unaware of them.
The second reason is a dogmatic attachment to the ideology of 'choice', which causes many of us to simply turn a blind eye to the innumerable scandals caused by abortion laws.
We must not allow ourselves to be conditioned by ceaseless one-sided propaganda into thinking our law on abortion is inhumane and unjust.
The truth is that our law with respect both to mother and child is far more humane than in other Western countries, including Britain, and we should be very proud of that.