“Ms P” was 26 years old and 15 weeks pregnant when she died. Against her family’s wishes, she was kept on life support for almost a month due to doctors’ uncertainty about the implications of the Eighth Amendment for her unborn child.
It took four weeks of heartache and a High Court case in December 2014 before they got orders allowing the life support to be switched off. An inquest in 2015 returned an open verdict on her death.
The family are now suing the HSE over the death of the woman – known as Ms P – and because she and they were left in a legal “limbo” for weeks.
Her father – Mr P – who has never publicly spoken about what happened to his daughter or the family’s ordeal, has now broken his silence.
Mr P’s mother also died aged 26, immediately after giving birth to his younger brother. Mr P only learned how she died years later, from a note his deceased father left in his Bible.
Decades later, his only daughter died aged 26 and pregnant. He shakes his head over the coincidence. “It’s eerie.”
His daughter had two children by previous relationships and she and they had lived with Mr P. That situation has changed since she died and, while he still sees his grandchildren, he misses their lively daily presence in his home.
“I didn’t just lose my daughter, I lost three other children – her baby and my grandchildren. The house is very quiet.”
Mr P was born in the early 1950s in southeast Asia. After his mother died giving birth to his younger brother just over a year later, his father reared both boys with the help of nannies. The family emigrated to the UK in the 1960s.
Mr P’s father died just a year later when he was just 14. Their Irish landlady resisted efforts to have the two boys taken into care and looked after them until Mr P was 18.
In his early 20s, he met a young Irishwoman in London and they married four years later. Because they couldn’t have children themselves, they sought to adopt.
After they were approved, they went to see the eight-month-old Ms P, then in a children’s home in Middlesex. “She looked so lonely.”
They adopted her and later adopted another child.
The family came to Ireland some 20 years ago and Mr P got a job just a month after arrival.
There was sadness ahead. His wife died of cancer when Ms P was in her mid-teens. Mr P believes his daughter never really addressed her grief.
“Growing up she was grand, but after her mother died, she became a bit stroppy, staying out late, all of that.”
She became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Her relationship with the baby’s father didn’t last and, some years later, she became involved with another man and they had a son.
That relationship also did not work out, and Ms P and her children then mostly lived with Mr P. She was a full-time mother who loved her children, but her father believes she sometimes felt she was missing out as a result of her responsibilities.
“She loved buying clothes, make-up, going out, dance music. She wouldn’t leave the house without make-up and her hair done. She always looked smart and made sure the children were as well turned out as she was.”
He smiles. “She was a yummy mummy.”
She also liked cars and regularly borrowed his to bring her children places. “Whenever I see a slight young woman barely peering over the wheel of a black Golf, I think it is her.”
She pestered him for money to buy cars of her own and favoured “boy racer” ones with pink-coloured accessories. “She was a bit of a wild child.”
He is often struck by “flashbacks”, seeing resemblances to his daughter in other young women.
He produces photographs of his daughter – a beautiful woman in her 20s with long, dark hair and impeccable make-up.
He says when Ms P became pregnant in 2014, it was different from her two earlier pregnancies, which she had sailed through.
From October 2014, she was complaining of headaches and vomiting, and was referred to a regional hospital a number of times.
On November 27th, he came home from work to find her in the diningroom with her aunt. “She was holding her head, she couldn’t look up at us and said the light was affecting her. This was very unusual, different from the other pregnancies. I didn’t know what to do.”
Her aunt took her to hospital where she was admitted.
She was in a room of her own when he went to see her the following evening, a Friday, after work. “She was barely able to speak and looked very sick. She asked me to turn off the fluorescent light immediately above her head because that was causing her headache and strain on her eyes.”
That was the last time he saw her alive.
The following day, Saturday, he was due to meet a friend but rang his daughter first to see how she was feeling. “She said she was grand and talked of a doctor coming and examining her and saying they would do a CT scan.”
When she told him they had said there was nothing to worry about, he queried how they knew that, asking what kind of examination was done. She told him a doctor had felt her shoulders and neck and said they would do a CT scan later that evening.
After she told him it was okay for him to go out, as her partner was coming in, he went to meet his friend. That night, while he was in a restaurant, the hospital rang, saying his daughter was unresponsive and that he should come to the hospital.
She was quickly transferred to a Dublin hospital and he got there some time after 3am.
From the faces of other family members in the hospital car park, he knew “something was not good”.
“They told me that she’d died. I couldn’t believe it.”
Later that morning, he was told by a doctor that, due to the fact she was pregnant and because of the Eighth Amendment, they couldn’t turn off the life support.
He said the doctor had asked what the family would like to be done and he replied, with the permission of Ms P’s partner, they wanted the machine turned off.
“That’s when he said, look, it’s not possible.”
Mr P ultimately took legal proceedings.
“I’m not a medical professional but I knew in my heart that foetus would not survive. Feeding [Ms P] with drugs to try and keep the foetus alive was not only harming my dead daughter, ruining her body, but the foetus wouldn’t survive.”
He says a doctor at the regional hospital later told him: “I don’t know why they are doing this, the chance of that foetus surviving is zero.”
Seeing his daughter on life support was “a horrible experience”, he says.
“You could see her stomach move because of the machine keeping the internal organs functioning for the baby. And then holding her hand and talking to her knowing I wouldn’t get a response. It wasn’t pleasant, not pleasant at all. She did not look like my daughter.”
Her face and feet were swollen and there was a bandage on her head which he later learned concealed an open wound.
He regrets acting on advice to have his grandchildren, who had not seen their mother since she went into hospital, visit her on December 22nd. Her daughter was very distressed and her then four-year-old son was confused.
On St Stephen’s Day 2014, the High Court ruled the life support could be switched off on the basis there was no prospect for the unborn except “distress and death”.
It was later decided, especially for the children’s sake, to have a sealed coffin.
It was a grim Christmas, Mr P recalls. His workmates cancelled their office Christmas party and, unknown to him, collected funds to help the family.
Christmases remain bleak. “Since my daughter went, I haven’t celebrated Christmas as I would like to. I’ve no enthusiasm to put up decorations or anything like that. It’s not just my daughter who has gone but her two kids have gone too. The house was very cold and eerie that Christmas.”
He believes more should have been done for his daughter when she was admitted to the regional hospital and that, particularly if a CT scan had been done, she would have survived.
During the High Court case, he was warned by family members to stay away from social media sites as there had been abusive messages from anti-abortionists about the bid to end the life support. He never received any such messages himself.
“My daughter’s tragedy wasn’t to do with abortion. That provision should not have come into force.”
The family were told the doctors “had their hands tied” and were seeking clarification. He does not know from whom. “We were left in limbo.”
Five years later, he is still struggling to cope with what happened. “I’ll never be able to get this out of my head, even when the court case is finished. I will keep asking, what if, what if. That’s not going to leave me, or any of us.”