Public inquiry demanded into death of woman refused abortion
The death of Savita Halappanavar must be the subject of an independent public inquiry, according to a Galway-based surgeon who is a close friend of the 31-year-old woman and her husband Praveen.
Dr CVR Prasad, a former orthopaedic surgeon at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway who now works in the Galway Clinic, said such an inquiry must be taken out of the hands of the Health Service Executive or University Hospital Galway.
The Government is not ruling out an independent inquiry into the tragic death of Ms Halappanavar, who presented on October 21st with back pain at Galway University Hospital where she was found to be miscarrying at 17 weeks. She died of septicaemia on October 28th.
Her husband, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, had described how she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated, given that she was in pain and was miscarrying. He said the request was refused by medical staff who said they could not do anything because there was still a foetal heartbeat. He said they were told that this was the law and that “this is a Catholic country”.
He said she spent more than three days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was removed, but Ms Halappanavar’s condition deteriorated and she died.
The HSE said last night an independent external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology would be appointed to strengthen the incident management team it has asked to investigate the circumstances of Ms Halappanavar’s death.
Next of kin
The terms of reference for this review and the members of the team were currently being finalised, a spokeswoman said. The team would liaise with Mr Halappanavar as next of kin.
“The process of incident review seeks to ascertain the facts relating to the incident, draw conclusions and make recommendations in relation to any steps that may need to be taken to prevent a similar incident occurring again.” She extended the HSE’s deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Ms Halappanavar. Both the hospital and the HSE said they would not be commenting on the circumstances of the case.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not rule out an independent inquiry when it was suggested by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. He said it was appropriate for Dr Reilly to first receive the reports of the hospital and the HSE.
The case, which attracted worldwide media attention yesterday, has increased pressure on the Government to legislate for the implications of the X case 20 years ago.
Dr Prasad, who visited Ms Halappanavar in hospital before she died, said: “Any inquiry should be public. That is the way it should be, it should not be conducted by the HSE or the hospital. It should be independent.I hope that might save the life of another women. This should never happen to another woman. Religion and medicine should never mix.”
Mr Halappanavar yesterday repeated his belief that his wife would not have died if she had been given the termination that the couple repeatedly asked for in the hospital. Asked whether he thought things could have turned out differently if a termination had been carried out, he said: “Yes of course.”
Speaking to The Irish Times from Belgaum in southwestern India, his wife’s home region, he said Ireland’s reputation for being a “good place to have a baby” was among the factors in their decision to start a family here. “All our friends had great stories to tell about the babies they had in Ireland. So we decided we’d go there. We had heard Ireland was a good place to have a baby. Most of our friends there had babies there and they’re all fine and so we decided: have a baby in Ireland.”
A postmortem has been carried out on Ms Halappanavar and the coroner has been notified. The couple came to Ireland in 2008. She had a dental post in Westport, Co Mayo.
Several hundred people gathered at Leinster House last night to demonstrate in favour of abortion legislation, while candle-lit vigils were held in Cork, Limerick and London. Further protests are planned in Dublin, Limerick, Belfast and Galway in coming days.
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said it would be an extremely serious matter if there had been any hesitation in relation to Ms Halappanavar because of moral or religious beliefs. However, he said he had no evidence of the application of a Catholic bias in relation to treatment and he warned against prejudging the circumstances surrounding the death.
Dr Reilly said it was a terrible tragedy for the family involved. For the staff involved, it was an emotionally traumatic time and they were entitled to due process.
Speaking in the Dáil, he said he had asked his officials to consider the report of the expert group on abortion, which had been submitted to his department on Tuesday.
Independent Senator Ronan Mullen described the case as deeply tragic but said it should not be “used as a wedge by abortion campaigners”
He added: “Its regrettable that some people are seeking to use this tragedy as an argument for legislating for the Supreme Court decision in the X case”.
Two years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had failed to provide for abortion in circumstances where the mother’s life is at risk. The decision means Ireland has to legislate but Dr Reilly is facing resistance from within Fine Gael to any liberalisation of the laws on abortion.
*This article was amended on November 16th, 2012, to correct a factual error.