Witness says midwife refused abortion saying: ‘It’s a Catholic thing’

No hospital records of conversation with midwife claimed by Mrdula Vaseali

Mrudula Vasealli  a witness at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Mrudula Vasealli a witness at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar.


A midwife who cared for Savita Halappanavar told her that her unviable foetus could not be terminated because “We don't do that here dear. It’s a Catholic thing,” one of Ms Halappanavar’s close friends told the inquest into her death.

Mrdula Vaseali spent the morning of Tuesday, October 23rd, last year with Ms Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital while Ms Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, drove his parents-in-law to Dublin Airport.

“Savita was very unhappy. She was saying, ‘What kind of mother am I, waiting for my baby's heart to stop?’,” Ms Vaseali said.

She said they asked a senior midwife whether there was any possibility of saving the baby given that its heartbeat was still present, and if there wasn’t whether they could stop the foetal heartbeat.

The midwife told them there was nothing that could be done to save the baby as the uterine membranes had ruptured. Ms Vaseali said the midwife, when pressed on a possible termination, said: “We don't do that sort of thing here, dear. It’s a Catholic thing.”

‘Best guess’
Coroner Dr Ciarán McLoughlin asked Declan Buckley SC, for the hospital, if it was possible to identify this midwife. Mr Buckley said it was the hospital's “best guess” the midwife in question was Anne-Marie Burke, who had given a statement for the inquest. Dr McLoughlin asked that she be called to testify.

In a robust challenge to Ms Vaseali’s account, Mr Buckley said it was her “assumption” that the midwife had used the term “Catholic thing”. He suggested she “could be wrong”. Ms Vaseali said: “No, I am not wrong.”

“But there is no record in the notes of that conversation ever having taken place,” Mr Buckley said. He asked her if she had told Mr Halappanavar of the exchange and the “Catholic thing” reference when he drove her home from the hospital, saying it would be extraordinary if she had not. She could not recall, she said. They had discussed many things.

“It was normal conversation. The most important thing we talked about was Savita's health. I cannot recollect everything of the conversation.”

Dr McLoughlin told Mr Buckley he “must remember this traumatic event lasted a whole week”. He said witnesses may not remember every minute of it. “We must give some degree of leniency.”

Mr Buckley said his rigorous questioning was “just to seek clarity”.

Later, Dr Ikechucwu Uzockwu, senior house officer at the hospital, described how he was the first medic to raise concerns that Ms Halappanavar had sepsis, at about 7am on Wednesday, October 24th.

He disputed being told at 9pm on Tuesday 23rd that Ms Halappanavar's pulse was elevated. It was put to him that the midwife, Ms Burke, said in her statement she had told him Ms Halappanavar's pulse was 110 beats per minute at 9pm on Tuesday.

”There is no question that if I had known she had an elevated pulse – this lady had ruptured membranes – I would have attended immediately.”

Eugene Gleeson SC, for Mr Halappanavar, said: “The membranes had ruptured 32 hours earlier. With the elevated pulse, isn't that stingingly indicative of sepsis?”

“Yes, I would have been concerned, but I was not told of the elevated pulse,” said the doctor.

“You should have been told?”

“I suppose I should have yes,” he replied.

He reviewed Ms Halappanavar at about 6.30am on Wednesday 24th. He said she had a tachycardia (elevated heart rate) of 160bpm, a foul-smelling discharge from the vagina, a temperature of 39.6 degrees and her blood pressure was 100 over 60. He put her on antibiotics and took blood samples and a vaginal swab.

“You felt she had sepsis?” Mr Gleeson asked him.

“I did,” he said.

He said earlier in evidence that he had informed senior specialist registrar Dr Sarah Campbell of his concerns of sepsis and that she had told him she would come to Ms Halappanavar to review her.

“Did she?” asked Dr McLoughlin.

“No,” said Dr Uzockwu.

“So she was the most senior person to realise early on that something was going on, at 6.30 on Wednesday morning,” said Dr McLoughlin.