Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tragic Death in Galway Hospital Leaves Unanswered Questions

From Pro-Life Ireland:

The death of Dr Savita Halappanavar last month in University Hospital Galway was a tragedy. It is all the more shocking because essential medical treatment in pregnancy is guaranteed to women under Irish law and under the Medical Council’s rules which govern the practice of medicine in this country.

A number of investigations are currently underway into the circumstances leading to Dr Halappanavar’s death. There are important questions that need to be answered and it would be wrong to preempt the findings of these inquiries. Among the questions that need to be answered are whether the patient was properly monitored and the sepsis managed in accordance with best medical practice.

When life-threatening complications are identified, doctors can and must act to preserve the life of the mother. Normally, a doctor will induce labour and/or perform a D&C/ERPC (Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception) to prevent infections developing. In most cases the baby is already dead and in some cases the baby will die shortly thereafter.

It is vital to reiterate that standard medical practice, in conformity with Irish law and medical ethics, requires that pregnant women receive all essential medical treatment. This may include interventions which result, unintentionally, in the death of the baby.

The death of a baby in such circumstances does not constitute abortion as commonly understood. To explain this important distinction the example of treatment in pre-eclampsia is worth noting. In situations where pre-eclampsia becomes life threatening the baby is removed from the womb. Everything is done to save the baby and since pre-eclampsia usually occurs late in pregnancy such medical treatment normally results in a positive outcome for mother and baby. With abortion the intention is to kill the baby.

While this concept of double-effect may be difficult to communicate, especially if the atmosphere is fraught with argument, it is incumbent on all to distinguish between necessary medical treatment, which may result in the death of the baby, and procedures or treatments whose only purpose is to ensure the death of a baby. Failure to distinguish between these two radically different concepts causes unnecessary division, confusion and concern.

Miscarriage has never formed part of the abortion discussion and this case should not be manipulated to frame any argument for abortion. Miscarriage is a common and very sad event, and is managed by doctors as a routine part of their obstetric practice. It should not result in the mother’s death. Death as a result of infection during miscarriage is rare. It is misleading to suggest that Ireland’s law on abortion is in any way responsible for Dr Halappanavar’s death. Ireland’s laws and current medical ethics are framed to protect both mother and child.

We trust that the investigations will provide a full explanation, and that if Dr Halappanavar did not receive the treatment she was entitled to expect, that appropriate measures will be taken.

Our deepest sympathies and prayers go to Mr Praveen Halappanavar and to Dr Halappanavar’s parents in India on the tragic death of Dr Halappanavar and her baby.