“This is a Catholic Country”

That was the excuse for letting a woman die in Ireland. Savita Halappanavar, a 17 week pregnant woman who began to miscarry, went to University Hospital in Galway expecting medical treatment. Instead, since her fetus continued to have a heartbeat, she spent days with her cervix fully open, inviting infection, until the fetal heartbeat stopped and they removed it. By that point, it was too late and Halappanavar died of septicaemia after 2.5 days in agony so bad she couldn’t even walk.

Halappanavar is neither Irish nor Catholic, but “this is a Catholic country” was excuse enough to allow her to suffer horribly and die. “This is a Catholic country” was enough of a reason to allow her to spend days with something that is as risky as an open head wound. “This is a Catholic country” irrationally defines a “heartbeat” as meaning a damn thing other than fuel can be brought to cells, attributing to the heart some sort of mystical, magical force that determines whether something is alive and human or not, or perhaps just transferring the humanity from the incubator surrounding it (commonly called a “woman”) so that it matters and she doesn’t.

It’s situations like this that make me want to vomit whenever people like the ever-nauseating Timmy Dolan burble on about “humility” and try and tell us that the problem isn’t the Catholic message, it’s the way it’s presented.

The Catholic message, no matter what words you use to describe it, is “women are sinful, only innocent fetuses matter.” It’s the message that they have been preaching long before evangelicals thought it was cool. It’s the message that has over-ridden, time and time again, any competing message of compassion, care, or dignity.

“This is a Catholic country.” Those words should send a shiver of fear through anyone who doesn’t fit their standard of humanity. Apparently they let women who are having difficult miscarriages die in Catholic countries. I have no doubt the Irish bishops are currently looking for the proper way to articulate that message.

5 thoughts on ““This is a Catholic Country”

  1. The death of Savita Halappanavar should provoke outrage in anyone truly concerned about the health of women.

    Hopefully the investigation will shed some light on why Mrs. Halappanavar was refused treatment for miscarriage, when this treatment is regularly administered in this country, and is allowed for by the law and by the Medical Council.

    The treatment she needed was legal, so there is no question that a change in the law is what is needed here. It is medical negligence that she was not treated urgently.

    In cases where the fetus is still alive, the Medical Council in part 21.4 of its guidelines for medical doctors states that treatment is allowed even if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”.

    The treatment that Mrs. Halappanavar should have received is legal in this country. In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like hers. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law.

    I suspect that the medical council will strike off one or more people because of this and rightly so.

    The greatest thing we can do to honour Savita’s life is to insist on obstetric excellence – that is what saves women’s lives, not abortion.

    • I would argue that obstetric excellence requires that abortion be an option when medically appropriate, but otherwise I agree entirely with you. Also, I appreciate you pointing out the legalities and want to provide this link to the medical guidelines you’re discussing for others to be able to reference directly. Obviously, I’m no expert on Irish law and jurisprudence, so I appreciate any direction provided.

      It was bad enough to think that this was a legal hurdle, but I think it becomes a lot more infuriating to think that this was just the staff at the hospital letting a woman die because they wouldn’t perform the medical procedure that would have saved her life. You’re absolutely correct that we need to insist on obstetric excellence, based on evidence and concern for the well being of the patient.

  2. This makes me so incredibly sad and angry. A life lost is a tragedy. A life lost when doctors are,standing by, able but unwilling to help, is a travesty.

    And from what I’ve read, the law in Ireland is ambiguous enough to cause many doctors to err on the side of “no abortion,” for fear of prosecution. That needs to change. It needs to be spelled out, in unmistakable detail, that in a situation like this, an abortion IS the proper obstetric care.

    • From what I can tell, the Medical Council guidelines (see above comment) are such that it should be clear that the life of the mother is the priority. However, the Irish constitution is explicitly anti-abortion. The European Court on Human Rights ruled on a case recently, called the X Case, that basically said that it’s necessary for countries to prioritize the life of the mother over the life of the fetus, but Ireland has refused, due to Catholic influence in the Dail, to pass legislation that makes that clear. What many of the protests are demanding is that the Dail legislate on the X Case, and already several TDs are trying to stonewall and say it’s not really what they’re focused on and this is just an attempt to make abortion legal.

  3. Pingback: Pro-life Movement Silent on Savita | Reasonable Conversation

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