Halappanavar interview: Consultant ‘took shelter under the law’ at inquest
Husband says question of why his wife died has not yet been answered
Savita Halappanavar and her husband Praveen: “She was full of energy, very playful, vibrant, lovely. I am very fortunate to have loved her,” he recalls.
The hospital consultant who treated Savita Halappanavar during her final week “sheltered behind the law” at the inquest into her death, Savita’s husband Praveen said last night.
Mr Halappanavar, in an interview with The Irish Times, said he hoped the inquest would hasten the enactment of legislation ensuring no woman would ever die in such circumstances in Ireland again.
“It gives some sort of comfort that the truth has come out,” he said.
He said he had learned things at the inquest which he would have acted on himself if he had known about them when his wife was in hospital.
“The blood results not being followed. The midwife calling to SHO [senior house officer] doctor or not on the night. If I had known I would have followed them up myself. I was not told her temperature was high, even. She was chattering and now I know it was a symptom of sepsis.”
If Savita had known how ill she was, she would have demanded to be moved to another hospital, he added.
He remained adamant both that a request for a termination was made first on Monday, October 22nd – six days before her death – and that her hospital consultant Dr Katherine Astbury told them she could not perform one while the foetal heartbeat was present as “this is a Catholic country”. Dr Astbury disputes these claims.
“The request for termination was definitely made on Monday which she [Dr Astbury] denied. I don’t know why. She did tell us after the scan on Monday, and Savita kept insisting. The main reason was she wanted to be home Tuesday before her parents flew out. She wanted to be there at any cost. She was so determined to be there to see them off at the airport as well. She’s such a strong pleader and that’s the reason she was pushing them hard to terminate on Monday. Dr Astbury did say she would go and check and come back. But she never came back.”
Asked his opinion of the expert testimony delivered by Dr Peter Boylan, who said Dr Astbury was unable to accede to the request for a termination before Wednesday, October 24th, because, legally, there was not a sufficient risk to Savita’s life until then, he replied: “Well everyone has their opinion. He’s a doctor. I think he was soft on [Dr] Astbury. I was told the obstetricians’ is a small world and they all know each very well. I don’t know. It looked like he came across very soft on her.”
Asked about Dr Astbury’s testimony, he said: “She just got away saying that it is the law. She took shelter under the law”.
He said Dr Astbury's refusal of a termination had been a “huge shock” to him and “devastating news” for Savita.
“You lose your rights basically when you are pregnant here, I think. You lose your rights to get necessary healthcare. Savita and me, we knew that abortion was illegal in Ireland but not termination when it is a planned pregnancy, when you can’t save the baby and the mother may die if you don’t do something like terminate. That was a big shock for us.”
He said he found seeing and hearing the staff from the hospital very painful at the inquest.
“I was thinking a lot about all the moments of the last few days I spent with Savita. It was not easy and seeing the staff and remembering them and all the discussions I had with them and Savita talking to them. I could see some of them were much moved. They all came to me to say sorry. It is some comfort.
“There were loads of my friends calling, asking how I was doing, who wanted to come and be with me, but I said I was okay. That did give me strength I could hold myself.”
He found waiting for the verdict very difficult and when the jury came back with its verdict he was anxious.
“When the jury came in I was so nervous you wouldn’t believe it, when they were taking so long I couldn’t sit there. I went for a long walk at the back of the city council offices. Maybe my expectations were high when they took so long, but my question of ‘why’ is still not answered.”
He said he would talk to Savita’s parents, and take legal advice but the next most likely step is an application to the European Court of Human Rights.
“They [her family] are hoping the same question, they want to know why this happened and who is responsible, the truth.”
He finds he cannot sleep unless he exhausts himself.
He has kept busy when awake or when thoughts of Savita and her death “hound him” and he even went to work every evening during the course of the inquest.
‘I don’t really sleep’
“I run and swim and go to the gym to make myself tired to get some sleep. I don’t really sleep. I wake up early in the morning. I never miss work.
“Even when I was at the inquest I would go at 6.30pm to keep me busy.”
He plans to stay in Ireland, saying he has great friends here and ongoing commitments to his employer, Boston Scientific.
Of Savita, he says: “She was full of energy, very playful, vibrant, lovely. I am very fortunate to have loved her”.