Indian dies after being refused abortion in Ireland
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A 31-year-old Indian woman dentist, Savita Halappanavar, died in Ireland from blood poisoning after doctors allegedly refused to terminate her 17-week-long pregnancy despite a miscarriage, telling her that "this is a Catholic country". Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was awaiting findings from three investigations into the death.
Savita's husband Praveen said doctors at University Hospital Galway determined she was miscarrying within hours of her hospitalisation for severe pain and blood poisoning on Sunday, October 21. He said that over the next three days, doctors refused their requests for an abortion to combat her surging pain and fading health.
"Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby," he told The Irish Times in a telephone interview from Belgaum, Karnataka. "When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning, Savita asked if they could not save the baby, could they induce to end the pregnancy? The consultant said: 'As long as there is a foetal heartbeat, we can't do anything'."
"Again on Tuesday morning... the consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: 'I am neither Irish nor Catholic', but they said there was nothing they could do," Praveen, an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, said.
He said his wife vomited repeatedly and collapsed in a restroom that night, but doctors wouldn't terminate the foetus because its heart was still beating.
The foetus died the following day and its remains were surgically removed. Within hours, Praveen said, his wife was placed under sedation in intensive care with blood poisoning and he was never able to speak with her again. By Saturday her heart, kidneys and liver had stopped working and she was pronounced dead early October 28.
An autopsy carried out two days later reportedly found she died of septicaemia "documented ante-mortem" and E.coli ESBL.
Praveen took Savita's remains back to India for cremation on November 3. News of the circumstances that led to her death emerged Tuesday in Galway after the Indian community cancelled the city's Diwali festival. Savita had been one of the festival's main organisers.
Her case highlights the bizarre legal limbo in which pregnant women facing severe health problems can find themselves in predominantly Catholic Ireland.
Ireland's constitution officially bans abortion, but a 1992 Supreme Court ruling found the procedure should be legalised for situations when the woman's life is at risk from continued pregnancy. Five governments since have refused to pass a law resolving the confusion, forcing the vast bulk of Irish women wanting abortions, an estimated 4,000 per year, to travel next door to England. But that option is difficult, if not impossible, for women in failing health.
University Hospital Galway declined to say whether doctors believed Savita's blood poisoning could have been reversed had she received an abortion rather than wait for the foetus to die on its own. In a statement, it described its own investigation into the death, and a parallel probe by the national government's Health Service Executive, as "standard practice" whenever a pregnant woman dies in a hospital. The Galway coroner also planned a public inquest.
The couple had settled in 2008 in Galway, where Praveen works as an engineer at the medical devices manufacturer Boston Scientific. Savita had taken time off for her pregnancy. Her parents in India had just visited them in Galway and left the day before her hospitalisation.
Opposition politicians appealed Wednesday for Kenny's government to introduce legislation immediately to make the 1992 Supreme Court judgment part of statutory law. Barring any such Bill, the only legislation defining the illegality of abortion in Ireland dates to 1861, and it states that it is a crime punishable by life imprisonment to "procure a miscarriage".