Monday 29 December 2014

Mary Kenny: I received exact same treatment as Savita when I had a miscarriage

Published 19/11/2012 | 17:00

More than 30 years ago, in 1976, I suffered a miscarriage, in Oxford, where I went for a meeting of the British-Irish Association. I was whisked into the John Radcliffe Hospital, which specialises in gynaecology and obstetrics.

It was obvious that a miscarriage was occurring – in the early weeks of a pregnancy – but for several days the hospital simply kept me in bed, monitoring my blood pressure and temperature. Apart from that, they did nothing.

Then, after about three days, they performed a 'D&C' procedure, which clears out the womb of any 'products of conception'. In effect, 'dilation and curettage' terminates anything that remains of a pregnancy.

The medical staff at Oxford's John Radcliffe seem to have followed a similar approach as did the doctors at Galway University Hospital, in the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who lost her life.

But until we know whether a medical termination of the pregnancy would have saved Savita's life, or halted the infection of septicaemia and E coli, I cannot see how we can judge those Galway doctors; or invite a global wave of condemnation of Irish medical practice, as has happened, in the worldwide media.

It may very well be that the Galway doctors were doing their best, and following standard clinical procedure in the case of miscarriage, which may be to allow nature to take its course before deciding to intervene. I do not know the answer to this, and neither does anyone else, until the evidence from the inquiry is made available.

The strong public reaction to Savita's death is understandable, and commendable – a young woman should not lose her life from a maternal death in this day and age.

If there is a lack of clarity about the law, which should direct a physician to do all he, or she, can to save the life of the presenting patient, then that legal loophole should be corrected. Politicians should not be cowardly about this, and neither should doctors and medical staff: they must perform their duty to the patient.

And I have sufficient confidence in the Irish democratic system to believe that Savita's death will be truthfully investigated and if, as her husband and family believe, it was caused by a failure to terminate the pregnancy medically, then, that will be addressed.

We should hold it as a principle that maternal deaths are not acceptable. (The X Case is more complex, because it introduces the suicide question, which is a very different matter.)

Yet I have been impressed with the general standard of discussion around Savita's tragic death. A debate on 'Tonight With Vincent Browne' last Wednesday, which was made available through the worldwide web, was a model of rationality and intelligent, well-informed discourse, with Browne pressing his guests robustly, but justifiably, and all participants speaking – from different viewpoints – with knowledge, patent truthfulness, no spinning, and respect for Savita's memory.

The print media in Ireland has also been excellent in the coverage of this case, allowing every point of view to be expressed, which is what a democracy means.

It has been an open debate, and that is exactly the way any democracy should proceed. Yes, different people have different 'agendas', but that is what it means to co-exist in a pluralist society.

Any society has to have a discussion with itself about what it believes in; what it thinks is important; what it thinks is right; where the compromises may be made; and what should be done in a legal and ethical context. In some other societies – and the UK comes to mind here – values tend to be set by a cultural elite who 'know better' than the common person.

The BBC's problems are to some degree rooted in this mandarin cast of mind. In politics, legislation is passed which does not always resonate with the values of most ordinary people – the British system abhors referenda partly to keep an elite in control. But in Ireland, the debate about values is out in the open, everyone has their say, and the standard of debate is, on the whole, serious and well-informed.

It is unfair that this aspect of Irish democracy is seldom reported in the global media, which has rushed to superficial judgment about pregnant women in Ireland dying for want of abortion legislation – almost never adding that maternal deaths in Ireland are remarkably low, and dramatically lower than in India, which is presently castigating Ireland for alleged brutality.

First things first: a young woman has died in a maternal death in an Irish hospital, and the primary fact to be established is whether her death could have been prevented. It is clear that most people feel upset about the case, and want to ensure no other reoccurs. And I hope that eventually Savita's family will come to see that Irish society does try to move forward by examining the facts and trying to do what is right, what is ethical and what is best medical practice.

Irish Independent

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