A frightening flight from truth and reason

In this morning’s array of reports and comments on the ongoing controversey about the sad death of Savita Halappanavar only one voice seemed to be crying out with any degree of sanity in the wilderness of misinformation spreading around the globe on the matter. That was Tim Stanley’s in his Daily Telegraph blog. Sitting on the fence on the question of abortion he wrote:

This post is neither for nor against legalised abortion – it’s simply about laying out the facts of a very tragic story.

On October 21, Savita Halappanavar visited Galway University Hospital, Ireland The 31-year-old dentist was 17 weeks pregnant and suffering terrible back pain. Savita was told that she was having a miscarriage, so she requested an abortion. The doctors denied her request because they said that they detected a foetal heartbeat and that Irish law ruled out a termination. Savita’s pain continued for three days and she eventually died of septicaemia.

Inevitably, this awful story has prompted demands for a rethink of Ireland’s abortion laws. That’s understandable and will almost certainly happen. Ireland has been liberalising for decades; Irishness and Catholic conservatism are no longer as synonymous as they once were. The European Court of Human Rights 2010 ruling on abortion gives Taoiseach Enda Kenny good legal grounds for a review of the law, and Kenny has branded himself as a critic of the privileged status of Catholicism in Ireland. Change will probably come.

But some would dispute whether or not Savita’s death is an appropriate catalyst for that change. In Ireland, it actually is legal to induce a birth when a mother’s life is at risk. Eilís Mulroy notes the following:

The decision to induce labour early would be fully in compliance with the law and the current guidelines set out for doctors by the Irish Medical Council. Those guidelines allow interventions to treat women where necessary, even if that treatment indirectly results in the death to the baby. If they aren’t being followed, laws about abortion won’t change that. The issue then becomes about medical protocols being followed in hospitals and not about the absence of legal abortion in Ireland.

Because Savita’s case is under investigation, Mulroy asks questions but, wisely, avoids inferring answers: why, in this instance, did the hospital not induce (as it could and should) and is its decision not to induce reflective of a wider institutional failure?

It is possible that new legislation is necessary to clarify the existing medical consensus. But it does not logically follow that Ireland needs a total rethink of its entire approach to abortion that brings it in line with Europe’s essentially pro-choice culture. Aside from the specific medical case for abortion in Savita’s situation, inducing labour to save her life would not necessarily have conflicted with Catholic moral teaching, either. In 1951, Pope Pius XII explicitly ruled that such a procedure “can be lawful.” If it is true, as the Halappanavar family claims, that the Galway doctors said they would not provide a termination because “this is a Catholic country”, then they got their theology unforgivably wrong.

Savita Halappanavar’s death demands investigation and answers. Aside from giving justice to her family, the implications of any investigation for the wider abortion debate are so wide-ranging that it is crucial that we get the facts unbiased and 100 per cent accurate. Alas, such objectivity is not always applied when it comes to media reporting of the Irish and/or Catholic approach to abortion. Indeed, much of it is misleading and unhelpful.

What is frightening about all this is the flight from reason and truth. Many of the facts surrounding the case are not at all clear but one is clear and that is that this is not about abortion at all. It is about medical practice in a particular Irish hospital and whether or not the medical team involved in this case did everything they could do to save this woman’s life which they were obliged to do by law and the ethics of their profession. Is no one interested in the truth anymore – either in Ireland and across the globe?

“Unseemly rush to judgment”

Whipped-up fury

The unseemly – to put it mildly – opportunism of the pro-choice campaigners in Ireland and further afield is deeply disturbing in both its callousness and deceitfulness with regard to the tragic death of the young Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, who died in a Galway hospital from the side-effects of a miscarriage earlier this month.

The pro-choice campaign – ably assisted by a swathe of national and international media, as pointed out by David Quinn in today’s Irish Independent – has not only rushed to judgemnt on what really happened in this case but has totally misrepresented the Irish law on abortion in dealing with the matter. They simply see this as a cause célèbre which they are going to make the most of to try to represent Irish law prohibiting abortion as a medieval and barbaric relic. Truth is once again being sacrificed on the altar of their relentless campaign to force the Irish Government to legislate for abortion.

The spin being put on the story from the time it first broke is that Savita Halappanavar died because she was denied an abortion. The truth is that this is not why she died.

As David Quinn points out:

We know this because if there was a need to end her pregnancy in order to save her life, then the hospital was free to do that. Nothing in law was preventing the hospital from doing so.

And to be absolutely clear, ending a woman’s pregnancy prematurely is not necessarily the same thing as abortion.

For example, inducing labour where it is necessary to save the life of the mother is not the same as abortion and Irish hospitals induce labour in these circumstances on a regular basis.

From the available facts, we know that Mrs Halappanavar was miscarrying and that she died within days of being admitted to hospital from septicemia and E Coli ESBL.

We do not know for certain whether ending the pregnancy upon her arrival in the hospital would have saved her life, but to repeat, if medical staff needed to do that they could have done it.

Therefore the ‘woman dies because she was denied abortion’ storyline is simply not true. The ‘woman dies because of Catholic opposition to abortion’ is also not true.

We simply do not know for certain at this stage whether Mrs Halappanavar would have died no matter what was done. This is what the investigation into her death will ascertain.

And we must also repeat for the umpteenth time that Ireland has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world. It is lower than the British rate where abortion is available on demand.

In addition, it is necessary to remind ourselves that sometimes women die because of botched abortions in legal settings. Indeed, last year a doctor – Phanuel Dartey – was struck off in Britain because he nearly killed an Irish woman while performing an abortion on her in a Marie Stopes Clinic in the UK.

This story received remarkably little publicity here in Ireland. RTE did not cover it at all, whereas it has given the Savita Halappanavar story wall-to-wall coverage. Why this discrepancy?

And by what journalistic calculus did RTE decide to give so little coverage to the revelation by this newspaper that some staff at pregnancy crisis agencies in Ireland are giving women dangerous and illegal advice? It would be good to know.

There has been a tremendous and unseemly rush to judgment in this case.

In the same paper an opinion piece by Eílís Mulroy, one of Ireland’s leading pro-life advocates, quotes the comments of  Professor John Bonnar, one of Ireland’s leading gynaecologists, to a parliamentary committee some years ago explaining  that “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.”

It is clear that currently accepted ethical standards of medical practice in Ireland, if applied to this case, could not have been the cause of this sad death.  Something else was wrong here and we will have to await the results of the investigations now being carried out to find what precisely that was.

Rushing to Judgement – Enright on the McCanns

So this is what a society without God is going to be like? We may have got a glimpse of it last in the newspaper coverage of Man Booker prize-winner Anne Enright’s  highly publicised judgements on the parents of Madeline McCann, in which she declared herself among the participants in that international sport – her term, – disliking the McCanns. It made grim reading and left one wondering how we got here. A family is in the throes of a tragedy – a child is lost. Yes, that is all we can be certain about just now. Everything else is surmise and suspicion. But what has happened now is that these parents who have suffered this loss are being set upon and every Tom, Dick and Harry is constructing scenarios of what happened without a thought given to the agony the parents are going through. Judges and juries are ten-a-penny and presumptions of innocence are worthless. That is surely a far remove from the Christian basis on which our rule of law was originally founded. This, inevitably, is what happens when God is jettisoned. But even more frightening was the ad hominemjudgement mooted by Anne Enright. She left aside the question of presumed innocence or guilt and just ploughed into the personalities of Kate and Gerry McCann in a manner which one could only say was deeply disturbing. Ms. Enright is a novelist and those who like her grim fiction are entitled to inflict her pain on themselves if that is what they want to do. Fiction is a great human device for exploring and helping us understand the human condition. In it we create situations and characters who mirror reality. Then we offer a kind of judgement, mete out justice and punishment or rewards appropriately. When a novelist, however, takes two living and anguished human beings and does the same to them it is a totally different matter and is specifically what God in the person of Jesus Christ asked us not to do to each other. Man’s necessary but often sad efforts to mete out justice to his fellow man is but a mere shadow of what the final judgement will be. A recent Daily Telegraph headline was a stark reminder of theis: “Over 30 years after an innocent man was wrongly jailed for killing 11-year-old Lesley, ‘the real abductor’ faces court”. The chilling realisation which came while reading this Anne Enright’s exercise in semi-creative writing was that this is the product of a vision in which no other judgement but ours matters. God is nowhere. This, one thought, is what the world will be like if Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and Christopher Hitchens – and all the other high-priests of atheism have their way.