Death of Savita Halappanavar


Sir, – Prof William Binchy (Opinion, November 23rd) is correct that medical guidelines in Ireland already recognise the right to access an abortion where there is a substantial risk to the life of a mother. However, he fails to address two critical points which have arisen in the debates over the past week.

First, in expressly legislating for the risk of suicide, the Oireachtas would not, as he suggests, be rushing to judgment. On the contrary, it would merely be giving legal effect to a constitutional right which the Supreme Court affirmed more than 20 years ago, and fulfilling Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Second, while the medical guidelines may indeed provide for a limited right to abortion, the continued absence of legislation leaves many doctors afraid to intervene and acts as shield for those who refuse to provide life-saving abortion services because of religious or personal convictions. – Yours, etc,


Castle Avenue, Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – Our nation is in the world’s spotlight. We stand at a crossroads in our country’s history. The decision we make about abortion will influence our society for all time.

We must show ourselves to be a compassionate people. We must also stand firm on humanity’s most basic principle, the right to life of every person – born and unborn.

What message will the Irish people and Government give to the waiting world? – Yours, etc,


Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

Sir, – My deepest sympathies to the husband of Savita Halappanavar on her tragic death.

Can we all now get off our high horses on our high moral grounds and spare a thought for the nurses, doctors and staff of Galway University Hospital, who I have no doubt acted in good faith while working under the shadow of our legal culture and systems. – Yours, etc,


Grange Manor,

Ovens, Co Cork.

Sir, – Geoff Scargill (November 22nd) compares a woman’s personal moral judgment in deciding her choice in respect of pregnancy with his apparent distaste for income and motor taxes and his belief in the compulsory retirement of journalists.

Ireland’s human rights record, with respect to women’s (and everyone else’s, for that matter) human rights is, for a modern, pluralistic, secular, democratic western nation, poor.

In relation to a woman’s fundamental right to abortion: in 1999, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); in 2000, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC); in 2005, CEDAW (again); in 2008, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (COECHR) and UNHRC (again) and, in 2011, COECHR (again), the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Periodic Review, all criticised Ireland for its abysmal record in persistently failing to fulfil its fundamental human rights obligations. These are just a few of the numerous adverse international criticisms of Ireland, made by both governmental and non-governmental organisations, related to its refusal to grant women internationally recognised reproductive rights.

I have, to date, been unable to discover such a volume of – or, indeed, any – international condemnation of Ireland related to its taxation rates or retirement terms for journalists and so I have little understanding of Mr Scargill’s “ludicrous” comparison. Perhaps it indicates a “morally bankrupt” attitude to fundamental human rights. – Yours, etc,



Drogheda, Co Meath.

Sir, – Dr John Murray (November 23rd) reproaches Patsy McGarry (Opinion, November 20th) for various errors in his piece on Catholic thinking on abortion.

One of these alleged errors, the description of a fertilised ovum as a “collection of chemical elements”, is undoubtedly a contentious claim, but is not obviously mistaken. The fertilised ovum has none of the attributes we take as characteristic of a person, or even a sentient animal. It may subsequently acquire these characteristics in the course of its development, but pending such changes it is not clear in what way McGarry’s description is inaccurate or demeaning.

Dr Murray also objects to an implied comparison between the plight of pregnant women whose life is endangered and a person threatened by an aggressor. His objection ignores the point of the analogy: in certain circumstances, even an innocent person can threaten one in such a way that one is entitled to use lethal force in self-defence. If this is accepted, it may fairly be asked why a similar principle cannot be applied in those (fortunately rare) cases in which a woman’s life can be saved only by the termination of her pregnancy. – Yours, etc,


Department of Philosophy,

Durham University ,

Old Elvet, Durham,


Sir, – Ultimately, whether the expert group report recommends a constitutional amendment, legislation, regulations or guideline, it will be the Guidelines of the Irish Medical Council which will determine the day-to-day practice of doctors. In this reality, might it not be best to concentrate minds on assessing the IMC guidelines before hastily creating a medical regime built on statute?

It also needs to be pointed out that no matter how detailed the law on this area is it will never remove from doctors the duty to make difficult judgment calls in clinical situations. Medicine, as an applied science, will always be full of “grey areas”. – Yours, etc,


Crofton Road,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – As a member of the Indian community in Ireland, I would like to urge Praveen Halappanavar to co-operate with the investigations in their current form.

A public investigation is appropriate where a deliberate misconduct is suspected. It is in nobody’s interest to see the medical staff working with Savita Halappanavar being publicly dragged and humiliated in front of a judge for tough questioning in what seems to be a case of error of judgment.

It is very rare for the mother to lose her life during pregnancy; and Ireland can be justifiably proud of its impressive record here. The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar needs to be investigated and I feel dual investigations, first by a team of Irish and international experts and the second by Hiqa should help us to get to the truth.

As an Indian though, I can see Praveen Halappanavar’s point of view. In India, people would not accept any investigation unless it was conducted in public by a senior judge of a high court. This is because the judiciary is one of few state institutions that retain modest levels of credibility.

In the past Hiqa has issued several hard-hitting and independent reports that were harshly critical of the HSE and we can expect Hiqa to apply the same level of integrity in the current investigation.

I wonder if a small group of public-spirited citizens might meet Mr Halappanavar and try to negotiate a way out of this, as I am convinced that the current ongoing investigations are our best chance to get at the truth in a timely fashion and without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money. – Yours, etc,


Tir Croghan,

Kinnegad, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Irrespective of the views, opinion or wishes of the Minister for Health, the HSE, its chief executive or members of the public, very shortly there will be an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of the late Savita Halappanavar which will be open to the public, sworn, independent, with leave to appeal and which will neither seek to blame nor seek to exonerate and which will be presided over by a member of one of the most caring and sympathetic groups in Irish society – it’s called an inquest. – Yours, etc,


Westbourne Road,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.