“I am a Hindu and not a Catholic, please save me”
Sridhar Vivan and Niranjan Kaggere
Bereaved Belgaum family wishes daughter had not got admitted to a hospital in Ireland which refused to terminate her 17-week foetus. As a result, 31-year-old dentist died of blood poisoning
November 15, 2012
“What wrong did my daughter do,” asks Akkamahadevi whose daughter, Belgaum girl Savita Halappanavar, died on a hospital bed in Ireland, begging to be saved.
Savita, a 31-year-old dentist, was 17 weeks pregnant when she died on Oct 28 after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia, or poisoning of the blood. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, 34, claimed she had complained of agonising pain while in Galway University Hospital. After a scan, doctors said the foetus would have to be aborted and yet, they refused to carry out a medical termination because the foetus’s heartbeat was present. Despite several requests for termination, they were told, “This is a Catholic country.”
“She begged the doctors to save her, pleaded with them to go ahead with the abortion as it was crucial at the moment…but they just would not listen as the rules in Catholic-majority Ireland do not permit for abortion. She did not die, she was killed,” Akkamahadevi told Bangalore Mirror.
The grieving mother just can’t forget her daughter’s smile before she left Ireland. “On learning that she had conceived, we told her to come back to Belgaum for her delivery, but she felt that treatment in Ireland would be safer and better. But she’s gone and I just cannot believe that she is no more with us.”
Though Akkamahadevi is not aware of the legal framework in Ireland, her anger is palpable. “My daughter begged the doctors to save her, she repeatedly told them that she was a Hindu and our tradition allowed us to undergo an abortion. She told them that she was not a Catholic and that she could be saved if the baby was aborted. But the doctors would not listen, citing the law of the land. Had she come back to India, she would not been living with us now.”
In fact, Akkamahadevi and her husband Andanappa Sangappa Yalagi were visiting Savita in Ireland when she broke the news that she had conceived. “We were very happy. We were very eager to see our grandchild. But as our visa expired, we had to return to Belgaum. However, tragedy struck and we are not in a position to explain our grief.”
Other members of the family are also shocked by the turn of events. Savita’s brother, Sanjeev Yalagi, asked: “Is religion bigger than humanity? My sister begged to be saved. But, the doctors waited for three days and it resulted in my sister’s death. If she were in India, which other advanced countries consider not so advanced, she could have easily been saved. Here, when the baby cannot be saved, efforts are made to save the mother, it is high time we realise the importance of life”.
‘Can’t believe she’s gone. She was so full of life’
It still hasn’t fully sunk in for Savita’s husband, Praveen. “I still can’t believe she’s gone,” he told Irish Times. “I was with her those four days in intensive care. Every time they kept telling me: ‘She’s young. She’ll get over it’. But things never changed, they only got worse. She was so full of life. She loved kids. It was all in their hands and they just let her go. How can you let a young woman go to save a baby who will die anyway? Savita could have had more babies. What is the use in being angry? I’ve lost her. I am talking about this because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else. It’s very hard.”
Praveen and Savita had gone to Ireland in 2008 and were staying there for the last four-and-a-half years. Though devastated at the loss of her pregnancy, Savita was already talking about when she could get pregnant again.
“She loved kids,” Praveen was quoted as saying.
And she longed for a daughter, her brother Yalagi told Bangalore Mirror.
“She always wanted to have a girl child. She was youngest of three siblings. But, more than the brothers, it was Savita who took care of her parents. Every day, she used to talk over Skype for at least two hours with our parents despite her busy schedule. This was the reason she always wanted to have a girl child so that even that child could be like her. She used to always tell her husband that she wanted a girl child. Though sex determination is legal in that country, her husband asked the doctor not to reveal the baby’s gender. His intention was that in case the child was male, Savita would feel sad and it would affect her delivery process. So, till the last day, Savita did not know the gender of her baby. Much, much later, they came to know that the baby was a girl.”
Meanwhile, the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group and the state’s health officials have launched investigations into Savita’s death. The family will be interviewed as part of the review which is expected to be completed in three months.
A spokesman for the hospital said, “Firstly, the Galway Roscommon
University Hospitals Group wishes to extend its sympathy to the husband, family and friends of Ms Halappanavar.”
The Galway hospital said medics have carried out all standard practices in notifying the death to the coroner, informing the Health Service Executive and completing a maternal death notification. “It is standard practice to review unexpected deaths in line with the HSE’s national incident management policy,” it said.
“The family of the deceased is consulted on the terms of reference, interviewed by the review team and given a copy of the final report.”
In a statement, the Department of Health offered condolences to the family. “The department and the ministers extend their sympathies to the family of the patient on their loss,” it said. “There are currently two investigations under way and the department is awaiting the completion of these investigations before commenting further.”
Savita’s death is expected to spark a backlash against the Irish Government for failing to reform health laws to allow abortion if the life of the mother is in danger. A protest has been planned for in front of the Dail parliament. Left-wing TDs Clare Daly and Joan Collins described Savita’s death as an outrage. They criticised the Government for failing to adopt their X Case Bill earlier this year, which would have introduced new laws to allow an abortion in specific life-threatening circumstances.
Daly said, “A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life. This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus — the woman was having a miscarriage — was given priority over the woman’s life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicaemia and died.”
Cyber world abuzz
Savita Halappanavar’s death has created a furore on microblogging and social networking sites.
A community page on Facebook – ‘RIP Savita Halappanavar’ – with the tagline, ‘Woman died because she was not allowed a termination’ was opened by an Irish national on Wednesday. Soon after the community page opened, an Irish woman named Elizabeth Lorraine Comiskey commented, saying: “I am sorry for our stupid Catholic laws in Ireland and our backward medical system. Rest in peace, Savita.”
Another community member, Hana Jurkackova, said: “This is absolutely shocking. What’s going on in Ireland! Those medical professionals should be jailed! RIP Savita.
“Salma Wazir commented, “Catholic law??? Can God be so cruel to let the mom die and try saving a baby who can’t be saved anyway as only 17 weeks pregnant. Can’t understand this at all in this modern age. She herself was an Irish qualified dentist. My sympathies with your whole family Savita and yes, the doctors and HSE should be sued.”
Meanwhile, the Tweeple were at it too. Here’s a sampling:
* “Ireland, please get your act together.”
* “Words from Savita Halappanavar’s husband are a very powerful message.”
* “Someone’s daughter, wife, friend… is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable foetus was more important than her life”.
* “So, did you know that Ireland just straight-up murdered a woman named Savita Halappanavar?”
* “I’m glad Savita’s story is spreading worldwide, Ireland needs to put in the spotlight for this monstrosity.”
* One of the tweet from India, Parul Sehgal @parul_sehgal said, “Have Indian feminist groups spoken out yet?”
A wonderful dancer
She was a “wonderful classical dancer” recalls a friend, Dr CVR Prasad, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Merlin Park hospital in Galway.
“She would gather Indian and Irish children together to teach them Indian dances. She had a diamond in one of her front teeth and all the children would ask, ‘Oooh, where did you get that?’ and she’d tell them, ‘Aha, you will have to go to India to get that’.”
She had also become central to organising the annual five-day “Diwali” festival for Galway’s Indian community, choreographing the dancing. Praveen would organise the music and the couple would dance together on stage. “They were so attached to each other and a lovely couple,” said Prasad.
ABORTION has been (and remains) a criminal offence in Ireland for more than 150 years.
The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 makes it a criminal offence to procure a miscarriage (by a woman herself or anyone who assists her).
In 1983 the Irish Constitution was amended, following a referendum, to secure the right to life of the unborn.
Under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
But in 1992, during the infamous X case, Article 40.3.3 fell for interpretation by the Supreme Court.
The court ruled that if there was a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, and that this real and substantial risk could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy, this would be lawful.
As a result of X, there is a constitutional right to abortion, albeit in highly limited circumstances, but no law has ever been introduced to
give effect to the ruling. Instead, doctors must rely on the Medical Council’s guide to professional ethics which says “abortion is illegal
in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother”.
The guidelines acknowledge that “rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is
required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional
circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby”.
The Government argued before the European Court of Human Rights two years ago that there is a bright blue line provided by Irish law in rare cases where there was a risk to a mother’s life.
But the court rejected that argument and criticised the Government for failing to implement the existing constitutional right to abortion and leaving our courts with a lack of clear information.
Although the ECHR held that there is no right for women to an abortion, it found that Ireland had violated the Convention by failing to providean accessible and effective procedure by which a woman can have established whether she qualifies for a legal abortion under current Irish law.
Abortion services are available on demand in 30 European states; available on health grounds in 40 and available on wellbeing grounds alone in 35.
Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor, The Independent