A rush to judgment is no basis for legalising abortion
OPINION:Irish medical practice does not need the introduction of an abortion regime into our hospitals
Savita Halappanavar’s death is a tragedy that has radiated outwards to embrace the world.
Everyone has been moved by the grief of the husband and parents of this young woman whose life was cut short.
A mother dying during pregnancy has a particular sadness. If it turns out that it could have been avoided with the exercise of care by those who were entrusted with her medical treatment, that will be a source, not only of sadness, but of great concern.
Cases of medical negligence do, unfortunately, occur in Irish hospitals as in hospitals throughout the world, where a doctor or other healthcare worker fails to exercise the care expected of a professional in the circumstances presenting themselves. Sometimes, mothers with sepsis during miscarriage die although they have received the very best of care.
If, however, Savita Halappanavar’s death was the result of an unwillingness to take the medical steps necessary to save her life, that would be so profoundly in conflict with the true position of law and medical ethics prevailing in Irish hospitals as to require the most serious investigation, as is about to take place.
A doctor who was unaware of the position would have a very great deal to answer for. If advice to delay came from on high, that would be scandalous and require very serious interrogation.
At present none of us, as members of the public, knows the true explanation. The account given by Praveen Halappanavar, as presented through the media, indicates that his wife was denied necessary treatment through a belief that the law or medical ethics relating to her unborn child required such neglect.
Before the inquiry into her death has completed its work, we can only speculate on what actually happened. But something far more radical than speculation has already taken place.
Advocates of legalised abortion have assumed that necessary medical treatment was denied because of religious or other considerations relating to the life of the unborn child. They argue that this indicates the urgent need for legislation in accordance with the Supreme Court decision in 1992.
Is this an argument that has any weight? I suggest that it actually has no substance. Savita Halappanavar’s death occurred from septicaemia during a miscarriage. In the aftermath of her death, we have heard from obstetricians who are experts in treating pregnant women in potentially life-threatening circumstances, confronting miscarriage on a very regular basis.
Naturally they have been circumspect in their remarks in order not to prejudice the inquiry, but none of them has suggested that the treatment afforded to women in the situation that presented itself is compromised in any way by legal or ethical restraints relating to the unborn child. The Medical Council guidelines contain no such restraints.