The parents of Savita Halappanavar have described the HSE report into her death as "a whitewash". And they say the Government's proposed legislation on abortion does not go far enough to save women's lives.
Speaking to The Irish Times in their home in the Sri Nigar area of Belgaum, in the southern Indian province of Karnataka yesterday, they say nobody takes responsibility for their only daughter's death in the recently published HSE report into her care and death at Galway's University Hospital last October.
'Our only daughter'
Andanappa Yalagi and his wife Akamahadevi break down several times while recalling what happened. Apologising for his tears, Mr Yalagi says: "Every time I think of her I cannot help it. She was our only daughter. She was a very sweet daughter for us."
Mr Yalagi has read the report of the HSE inquiry into Savita’s death on the internet. “I have read the news reports about it and they are very clear. It is only a clinical report. There is no responsibility in it. It is a whitewash for everyone. The Government is hiding behind the doctors and the hospital, and the doctors and hospital are hiding behind the law. It is not enough. There are lots of recommendations for what should have been done and what should be done in the future, but what about my Savita? Someone must take care and responsibility for my Savita.”
Asked about the litany of failures pinpointed in the HSE report, including the inadequate assessment and monitoring of Savita's condition in the hospital, he says he and his wife take some satisfaction from these issues being highlighted. "There were so many failures, yes. But why is no-one taking responsibility? In India, if a healthy person died like this in a hospital there would be responsibility. We have not got justice from this report. My daughter's life has been sacrificed and there needs to be justice for that."
Savita Halappanavar (31) died at the Galway hospital on October 28th last year, having presented a week earlier with severe back pain. She had been 17 weeks pregnant and was found to be miscarrying. She asked for a termination and this was refused because the foetal heartbeat was present. One staff member, senior midwife Ann Maria Burke, told the inquest into her death in April that she had explained to Savita an abortion was not possible while the foetus's heart was beating and that this was a "Catholic thing".
The heartbeat stopped four days after Savita was admitted and the womb contents were removed. However, Savita died in the intensive care unit having contracted septicaemia.
“I was with her in the hospital for two hours on Monday [October 22nd] and she was sitting up and she said, ‘Poppa, it’s okay. I am fine. This is an Irish hospital. It is a good hospital and they will take care of me’,” said Mr Yalagi. “We were in Dublin the next day at the airport and she called about three or four times, always checking that we were okay. Even on the plane she was saying, ‘Turn off your phone now Poppa, I will talk to you when you are home.’ That was the last time I spoke to her,” he said, his voice breaking.
Referring to Ms Burke’s testimony at the inquest Mr Yalagi says: “This is a very kind, very wonderful woman. She told Savita the truth and she told the truth after too. We will always be grateful to this woman.”
He and his wife firmly believe the truth is that Savita should have been offered an abortion and he believes the refusal was rooted in an application of Catholic teaching to Irish laws. He says he was “shocked” when he heard the law in Ireland did not permit abortion to protect women’s health.
'An evil law'
"We were shocked when we heard about this law about abortion in Ireland. This is an evil law. How can this be called a Christian law? God is merciful. He does not want women to die. Religion should have nothing to do with medicine. We are Hindu and Savita was Hindu and very religious. She worshipped every day. But that is religion. It should have nothing to do with medicine."
India, he says, looked up to Ireland in its battle for independence from Britain. Now he wonders how Ireland can be called a republic. “A republic has laws that are for everyone. A republic looks after all its people.”
He has looked into the history of the Irish abortion situation and asks why, 20 years after the Supreme Court ruling in the X case, the Government had not enacted legislation.
“A country should respect its own Supreme Court. Its own court. Its own Supreme Court makes a ruling and the Government does nothing? If the Government had respected its own court my Savita would have been alive today,” he says, shaking his head. “They must change the law to save women’s health. Women’s health is as important as a man’s. If the law does not do that, Savita has been sacrificed for nothing. How many Savitas do they want? They must look after Irish women. We would like a law that saves women .”
He says Irish people are “very, very lovely” and “very open and kind”.
“We do not believe the Irish people want a law that doesn’t save women. We love the Irish people,” he says.
Although the inquest completed its work on April 17th and the HSE inquiry chaired by Prof Sabaratnam Arulkumaran published its report on June 13th, the report from the State’s independent health watchdog, the Health, Information and Quality Authority, is not expected until the autumn.
His family has had no contact, he says, from the Irish Government and they would have appreciated contact (although Minister for Health James Reilly and the HSE are liaising with Praveen's solicitor). "The Indian government, though, is in touch every day. They are asking us what we want to do. Savita's husband advises us that we must wait for all the inquiries to finish and then we will decide. The Indian government says they will support us any way they can when we decide. If it is necessary to come to Ireland we will, but I don't want to. The memories of Savita would make it too hard for us," he says.
Savita’s mother, whom she called “Momma”, sits beside Mr Yalagi, interjecting on occasion in the local dialect Kananda. Several times she wipes her eyes as she speaks to local journalist Ravi Uppar, who is with us, telling him some of her memories of Savita.
“She was always so close to us. When she was here in Belgaum, she was always with me. The only time she wasn’t was when she was in college. When she was in Ireland every day, at 9 o’clock every evening she would be on Skype. It was like she was not gone away at all,” she smiles.
'Now she is gone'
Later she gets tea and comes back with hundred of photos of Savita – as a baby, when she was a toddler, dancing in school competitions, at dental college, on family holidays, birthdays, on a trip to Mumbai with her best friend, holiday snaps with Praveen and, of most pride, the wedding album. "Savita was so happy that day marrying Praveen. We knew Praveen was a very kind, very lovely man and that he would take good care of our Savita," says Mr Yalagi. "Now she is gone . . . we cannot bear our future."
Savita’s body now lies in the quiet Kalmath graveyard, about a 10-minute drive from her home.