Death of Savita Halappanavar


Sir, – No one should be misled by the statement of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (Home News, November 20th) into thinking that Catholic moral teaching would have permitted action to save the life of Savita Halappanavar. What she needed was precisely “the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby” as the only available means for saving her life. The bishops reiterate their opinion that this is “gravely immoral in all circumstances”. They just did not have the courage to point out the implications of their doctrine for this particular case. – Yours, etc,


UCD School of Social Justice,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – “This is a Catholic country”. These callous words were spoken to Praveen Halappanavar, more than once it seems, in the days before the death of his wife. If the speaker believed her life was in danger, they should, and could, have acted under the law of this country to prevent her death. If they sincerely believed that all was well, then they should have reassured him. But, instead of focusing on their patient and on keeping her husband informed, it seems they preferred to make statements about Ireland and Catholicism. Now, the life of Savita Halappanavar has been lost and the public life of this country has been poisoned to a degree unequalled in recent times. – Yours, etc,


Jesuit Community,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Of all the many demeaning discriminations that Irish women have had to fight since the founding of this State: legal restrictions on jury service, inheritance, rights to the family home, working after marriage, and the infamous “criminal conversation law”, in which a wife was defined as her husband’s chattel, with a cash value, none is more degrading than the current one: being defined as a category of persons whose lives are not worth more than a seventeen-week non-viable fetus. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

A chara, – Patsy McGarry (November 20th) is incorrect in his presentation of the church’s changing stance on “ensoulment” throughout history. While directly referring to a number of eminent thinkers, he fails to link the evolution of the thought in the church with scientific enlightenment.

The church is often portrayed as “anti-science” (the misleading retrospective presentation of the Galileo controversy being the main example) but this is not the case.

The church, as well as what is verifiable by science, has evolved its understanding of when life begins. The church is clear that it cannot be known precisely when ensoulment takes place, or when the exact moment of death (desoulment) takes place, but works with science to confirm when we can be sure the soul is no longer present.

In death this is, according to Pope John Paul II, a single event, consisting of the total disintegration of the unitary and integrated whole that is the personal self. The beginnings are also hard to define, but the church has evolved from the time of Aquinas when there was no knowledge or understanding of fertilisation and pregnancy was akin to “rennet coagulating menstrual milk”. Science and religion now coincide in agreeing that a unitary and integrated being now starts uniquely at conception and though we cannot be sure when exact ensoulment takes place, it is clear that a new life is present.

That life begins at conception, unlike earlier speculation by individuals, based on reason, is official church teaching.

Many now argue for abortion on medical, scientific and enlightenment values, yet these have also evolved over time. Focusing on historical church thinking, like focusing on historical scientific thought, is merely a smokescreen to avoid addressing what science and Catholic teaching now confirm.

– Is mise,



Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

Sir, – Following the very sad death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway and the forthcoming inquiry into the matter, would it be possible to step back a little and let the process do its work? We must be fair to everybody, including the hospital concerned, where the last maternal death occurred 27 years ago and which has a very good record.I am happy to say that three of my grandchildren were born there and all received excellent attention.

It may be that the hospital can not come out and defend itself at this early stage, and we cannot say if legislation or lack of it was a factor in the sad event. Let’s wait and see.

I think much of the criticism levelled at UHCG is unfair, especially from countries whose record in those matters is far from exemplary. – Yours,etc,



Co Mayo.

Sir, – It is interesting to note that all the debate about occasions when the foetus is incompatible with the life of a woman, seems to centre on philosophical and religious topics, with repetition of phrases which sound as though they are lifted from papal encyclicals.

Surely the debate should include language such as placenta, vagina, blood, multi-organ failure and infection to discuss the situations where a woman’s life in jeopardy.

By couching discussion of legislation to be put in place in bloodless terms, people are allowed escape from the biological reality.

Indeed, if the people drafting the legislation are not comfortable with the word “vagina”, Eve Ensler wrote a play addressing alternatives. I recommend it for reading along with the letters of Archbishop McQuaid, His Grace is Displeased. – Yours, etc,


Eagle Valley,



Sir, – In setting out to address the medical and ethical issues involved in treating sepsis during pregnancy, Dr Muiris Houston (Health+Family, November 20th) does a reasonable job of the former but fails to employ any consideration of the latter, preferring instead to present a brief discussion of the legal quagmire surrounding abortion in this country. In dealing ethically with an impending inevitable miscarriage and coexistent ascending infection of the womb, it is unethical not to intervene, irrespective of the presence of a foetal heart beat or not. There is no role for “watchful waiting” in this scenario. – Yours, etc,


Castleknock Manor,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – While the outpouring of sympathy over this death is understandable, there is one thing I cannot understand.

People are protesting and demonstrating because Savita Halappanavar died due to lack of treatment.

This is sad and inexcusable. But what is worse is that patients are dying regularly and have been doing so for some time, because of lack of medical treatment in this country.

Our health service is a shambles and, under its current minister things are getting worse.

Where are all the protests? – Yours, etc,


Harbour Cottages,

Ghan Road,


Co Louth.