There has been a despicable series of developments in the news lately, after the unfortunate death of Mrs. Savita Halappanavar—an Indian woman denied abortion, and whom subsequently died on October 28th 2012 at an Irish hospital. The physician in charge of her care, Dr. Katherine Astbury, told the patient and her husband that a termination could not be performed because Ireland “is a Catholic country”.
At the time of her death, Mrs. Halappanavar had been 17 weeks pregnant, and the official cause of her premature passing was blood poisoning (septicemia) secondary to a miscarriage. Although Mrs. Halappanavar specifically requested a termination (on multiple occasions), when the miscarriage started she was denied the procedure for three days until the 17-week-old fetus had died. Mrs. Halappanaver died three-and-a-half days later from organ failure.
Recently, an Irish jury unanimously ruled against the hospital and the physicians treating Mrs. Halappanavar in a case that has divided Ireland. The Irish government subsequently changed their laws, enacting a bill that permits abortions in cases where a threat exists to a woman’s life, including from suicide. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland subsequently condemned that bill.
The entire scenario is atrocious on many levels. Firstly, as a physician I have gone through many years of schooling and training to do what I do, which makes me qualified to diagnose, manage and treat. Other people may mistakenly think they have an idea of what is going on, but unless they have the same training and experience their assumptions are unfounded and baseless. How can any Irish bureaucrat who lacks a medical degree, and has no medical training, even imagine enacting rules that trump the medical judgment of a physician who actually treats a patient? They also must assume that as they sit in a grandiose legislative hall, they have the predictive ability to know that what they enact now is what is best for every single patient that will exist in the future.
If politicians have the nerve to make medical decisions, why not buy your groceries from radio shack? How about hiring a lawyer to remodel your bathroom? Contract an electrician to do your taxes? Choose a swimsuit model to perform open heart surgery?
Second, the Halappanavas were not even Irish citizens. Moreover, they were not Catholic (they were Hindus). So, the medical personnel and the State decided to impose their erroneous laws on people who did not even live in that country and who also did not share their religious beliefs. People who cut off the hands of foreigners for thievery use the same rationale.
Finally, what ever happened to “do no harm”? Despite all the rules and laws, the ultimate responsibility fell upon the physicians treating the patient. A doctor must always act in the best interests of the patient, because we are their advocates. Sometimes this means going against the grain, and sometimes this means doing what may not be popular. Sometimes, this even means telling the patient what they don’t want to hear. Regardless, a young woman’s life was carelessly thrown away due to medical negligence and professional sinfulness. The team of doctors specifically knew what was wrong, had the means to help and made the conscious decision to do nothing. And by the way, a 17-week-old fetus is non-viable, meaning even if delivered, it would not survive. So for all those who support the Catholic Church or the hospital, there are now two dead patients and a heartbroken husband who has been robbed of his wife—the alternative would have been to treat the patient appropriately and save a life, giving her the chance to bear other children and live out the rest of her days. Would anyone from the Church in Ireland have the guts to look their daughter/wife/sister/loved one in the eye and tell them, “They could save your life but the law prevents it, so it is the right thing to do”? Is that the correct interpretation of the golden rule or do you think the Creator intended to do more good with one living soul as opposed to two dead ones?
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal