Savita Halappanavar- The view from India
BANGALORE/BELGAUM: Praveen Halappanavar has decided not only to fight for justice, but also to lead a campaign to change the abortion laws in Ireland. The issue, which has been pending for years there, gained momentum following the death of his wife Savita.
Praveen said several organizations and Indians working in Ireland, especially doctors, had asked him to lead the campaign. A hospital in Ireland refused to abort his wife Dr Savita’s fetus, though she had miscarried, citing medical council guidelines which ban abortion. “I’ll do my best, for no religion favours death. I know my wife will not return. But the campaign’s objective is to ensure no other woman undergoes the pain, trauma and meets the tragic end like my wife,” Praveen told TOI.
Dr CVR Prasad, orthopaedic surgeon, Galway Clinic, Galway, Ireland, told TOI over the phone: “It’s ironic that people from outside the country are putting pressure to change the laws and by-laws of Ireland. Savita’s case is a focal point for people here. I think she was born to change Irish law. The demand for change in abortion laws has taken a momentum. The laws may not become as liberal as in India but I hope it pushes the law further.”
He added the government has been dithering on this issue for about 20 years.
“India has an Act, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. But, there is no such legislation here. The administrators keep talking about it every few months, but nothing has been done. Religion shouldn’t influence medical practice,” he said.
Prasad said meetings and demonstrations were happening across the country and there was public anger.
MEA EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER DEATH
The outrage over the death of a pregnant Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, in an Ireland hospital drew India into the controversy with the government stating that it was awaiting the outcome of the enquiries being carried out by Irish authorities.
“We deeply regret the tragic death of Halappanavar; the death of an Indian national in such circumstances is a matter of concern,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
“Our Embassy in Dublin is following the matter closely. Our sympathies have been conveyed to the next of kin who our Embassy has been in touch with. We understand that the Irish authorities have initiated two enquiries. We are awaiting the results of the enquiries,” he added.
MOTHER WANTS CHANGE IN LAWS
Savita Halappanavar had planned to celebrate her baby’s first birthday in Belgaum to coincide with her parents’ wedding anniversary. Savitha shared this dream with her father Andaneppa Yalagi a week before she died. “She had shared with me her wish to celebrate her child’s first birthday and our 40th wedding anniversary in a grand way in Belgaum,” Yalagi said. Though Savita’s condition had deteriorated a week later, she had not to reveal anything to her family. His wife Akkamahadevi said, “She never tolerated injustice and if anybody wants her soul to rest in peace, the injustice that happened with her should not be repeated. Everybody should force Ireland to amend their law.”
The debate in the Western world on abortion is often portrayed as one between the ‘pro-life‘ and ‘pro-choice’ camps. As this case should illustrate to those who view an anti-abortion position as pro-life, that can often be a dangerously misplaced notion. In this specific case, it appears clear that the yet-to-be-born child’s life was doomed whether or not an abortion had taken place. The mother’s life, on the other hand, could have been saved had the abortion been done. The ban on abortion therefore ended up taking a life that need not have been lost. How does that square with viewing the ban as pro-life
Two investigations are under way into the death of a woman who was 17 weeks pregnant, at University Hospital Galway last month.
Savita Halappanavar (31), a dentist, presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later.
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.
This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”.
She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.
The dead foetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28th.
An autopsy carried out by Dr Grace Callagy two days later found she died of septicaemia “documented ante-mortem” and E.coli ESBL.
A hospital spokesman confirmed the Health Service Executive had begun an investigation while the hospital had also instigated an internal investigation. He said the hospital extended its sympathy to the family and friends of Ms Halappanavar but could not discuss the details of any individual case.
Speaking from Belgaum in the Karnataka region of southwest India, Mr Halappanavar said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.
“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.
“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. 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 ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.
“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.
“The next morning I said she was so sick and asked again that they just end it, but they said they couldn’t.”
At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”
At 11 pm he got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”
Mr Halappanavar took his wife’s body home on Thursday, November 1st, where she was cremated and laid to rest on November 3rd.
The hospital spokesman said that in general sudden hospital deaths were reported to the coroner. In the case of maternal deaths, a risk review of the case was carried out.
External experts were involved in this review and the family consulted on the terms of reference. They were also interviewed by the review team and given a copy of the report.