The death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist, due to septicemia is shaking up Ireland’s religious convictions against abortion under most circumstances.
The bare facts of the tragic case are that Savita went to University Hospital in Galway on October 21 complaining of a back pain and it was discovered that she was in the process of miscarrying her 17-week-old fetus. As her discomfort intensified in the next couple of days she pleaded with the hospital to terminate her pregnancy.
According to her husband Praveen, among other things the couple was told that the hospital would not induce termination because Ireland was a Catholic country. She was also told that as long the fetus’s heart beat, they could not abort it. This went on for three days during which Savita’s condition worsened and eventually blood poisoning took her life four days later. The fetus was removed after three days once its heart stopped beating.
Now that Savita has passed away and Praveen is seeking answers, Ireland has been forced to question its own religion-based view of the sanctity of life. From what I have read Savita’s pregnancy had already become unviable by the time she admitted herself to the hospital and the choice to save her life was clear. Of course, it is only the doctors who were dealing with Savita could say precisely why they chose to drag the decision to terminate her pregnancy so much that it eventually took her life.
What is it that transmits to the religiously minded absolute certitude that the living, in this case Savita, may be accorded less sanctity than what is yet to be born? While the fetal heartbeat was being cited as the reason not to abort, what about a fully adult and alive mother’s heartbeat? Was that not a strong reason to save her?
It is not my argument that this a clear case of anything—religious fanaticism or medical negligence. However, circumstantially it does appear that someone exercised a medical judgment drawn from laws governed by religious beliefs. If the doctors concerned were convinced that both the fetus and the mother-to-be could be saved by not yielding to Savita’s pleas for termination, then the final outcome does not support their confidence. It seems to me that once the miscarriage occurred and in barely four days Savita passed away it became a reasonable case serious medical lapse. Someone in the hospital should have known that she could fall prey to blood poisoning.
Abortions are permitted in Ireland in case there is a "real and substantive" threat to a woman’s life, according to The Guardian. It is hard to believe that there was no one at the hospital who could tell that there was a “real and substantive” threat to Savita’s life despite her telling them.