What would have happened in Britain?

Wed, Nov 14, 2012, 00:00

Doctors in Britain, faced with a case similar to the one that claimed Savita Halapanavar’s life, would have given medication to speed up a miscarriage, or carried out a termination, the British Miscarriage Association said today.

Saying that they had ‘luckily’ never heard of a case like the Galway tragedy, Nicky Caplan, trustee for the association, said it is not unusual that a miscarried foetus could take up several days to pass.

“It is just like labour,” she told The Irish Times.

Careful not to speak about the Halappanavar case directly, Ms Caplan said terminations would be carried out in British hospitals if it became clear that a miscarriage had caused, or was threatening to cause infection that would kill the mother.

Risks from surgery do exist in such cases, she acknowledged, but ‘if there was a huge amount of infection then the risks of not doing something about it would be greater than the risks caused’ by terminating the pregnancy.

In a case in a British hospital, she said, ‘you would hope that they would give medication to speed everything up, to open the cervix and contract the uterus to ensure that the miscarriage was completed quickly.

If that was not possible, British doctors – who are legally able to carry out abortions until the 24th week of a pregnancy for all reasons, not just medical — would be expected to remove the foetus by suction under general anaesthetic, she said.

In Poland, one of the most conservative countries on abortion in Europe, abortions are legal if a pregnancy threatens the life, or health of a woman; if the foetus is disabled, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape, or incest.

In equally conservative Malta, abortion is banned in all circumstances. Exceptions are not made to save a woman’s life, though terminations on medical grounds have been carried out without prosecutions occurring – though doctors take a risk doing so.

Irish doctors urgently need legal clarity on when they can carry out terminations in hospitals to save the lives of mothers, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service has declared in the wake of the death of Ms Halappanavar.

“It is appalling that doctors might feel they have to wait until death is imminent before being able to intervene when treatment could have been offered much earlier,” declared Ms Patricia Lohr, BPAS medical director.

“They are in fact legally allowed to perform an abortion when a woman’s life is at risk, but this case appears to highlight just how problematic this threat to life “exception” can be in the most devastating way imaginable,” she said.

Marie Stopes International said it ‘highlights the need for clarity and guidance for healthcare professionals so that they are able to make critical decisions in complex situations that could save the life of a mother.'

“Our thoughts are with Ms Halappanavar’s husband and family at this time, and also for the helplessness of the medical staff in such a difficult situation,” said Ms Tracey McNeill, UK Director for Marie Stopes International said.