Following the tragic news today about the recent death of Savida Halappanavar, a native of India living with her husband here in Ireland, the media agency Catholic Comment, issued a statement clarifying that nothing in Catholic teaching on abortion stood in the way of giving Savida all and every treatment necessary to save her life. The statement said:
The death of Savida Halappanavar is a tragic loss and our sympathy goes to her husband and family. While we don’t know the full facts of the cause of death, it is clear that under current medical practice in Ireland, she should not have been denied treatment necessary to save her life. This is in line with ethical standards, including from a Catholic perspective. She should not have been told she could not receive necessary medical treatment because “this is a Catholic country.”
In 2000, Professor John Bonnar, then chairman of Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which represents 90%-95% of Ireland’s obstetricians and gynaecologists, explained the situation to the All Party Oireachtas Committee’s Fifth Report on Abortion as follows:
‘In current obstetrical practice rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention is required at a stage in pregnancy when there will be little or no prospect for the survival of the baby, due to extreme immaturity. In these exceptional situations failure to intervene may result in the death of both the mother and baby. We consider that there is a fundamental difference between abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of the baby, for example for social reasons, and the unavoidable death of the baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother.’
In other words, for the hospital to have induced labour with the intention of saving Savita would have been in accord both with Irish law, normal Irish medical practice, and with Catholic teaching. In a recent article in the Irish Times, Bishop John Fleming stated that “…if the life of the mother is threatened, by illness or some other medical condition, the care provided by medical professionals will make sure that she receives all the medical care needed.”
We hope that the investigations being carrying out will show if and why this did not happen in this case.