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Pregnant woman died after hospital denied abortion


Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar

Galway University Hospital where the woman died

Galway University Hospital where the woman died


A PREGNANT woman died in hospital following a miscarriage after her family requested an abortion to try to save her life.

Three separate investigations are under way into the death which happened in Galway University Hospital.

The 31-year-old married woman, Savita Halappanavar, is understood to have died from blood poisoning.

Mrs Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks' pregnant, lived in Roscam in Galway city with her husband, 34-year-old Praveen, an engineer with Boston Scientific.

The case immediately re-opened the debate over the right to an abortion where the life of the mother is in danger.

Local Labour TD Derek Nolan said he was “very concerned” by reports the family was told an abortion would not be allowed because Ireland was a “Catholic country”.

“We are going to have to have answers very quickly,” he said.

“That the religious ethos of the State should interfere is seriously damaging,” he added.

A protest has been planned for the front of the Dail parliament this evening after left-wing TDs Clare Daly and Joan Collins described the woman's death as an outrage.

They criticised the Government for failing to adopt their X Case Bill earlier this year, which would have introduced new laws to allow an abortion in specific life-threatening circumstances.

Mrs Halappanavar was admitted to the hospital suffering foetal distress three weeks ago.

Her family pleaded for a termination to be carried out, saying the foetus was not viable.

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The operation was denied but she later underwent surgery to remove the remains of the foetus.

The woman subsequently developed septicaemia, where bacteria gets into the blood stream. The infection proved to be fatal.

Mrs Halappanavar died suddenly at 1.10am on October 28 – a week after being admitted to hospital with back pain.

Her distraught family is understood to be taking legal action against the hospital, claiming the foetus should have been removed earlier.

The three investigations are being carried out by the coroner in Galway, the local hospital’s risk review group and the HSE’s National Incident Management Team.

Mrs Halappanavar showed up at Galway University Hospital last month complaining of back pain.

She was found to be miscarrying. But her husband said she asked hospital officials several times over three days for a medical termination but the hospital refused because there was a foetal heartbeat still present and sources say he was told “this is a Catholic country”.

After lying in repose in Galway and being removed in Monaghan, her body was returned to her native country and her cremation will take place at her hometown of Belgaum, India.

Last night, the Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group said it wished to extend its sympathy to the family and friends of Ms Halappanavar.

A spokesman said the hospital cannot discuss the details of an individual patient with the media.

In general, sudden deaths in hospital are reported to the coroner.

“Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group (GRUHG) co-operates fully with coroners’ inquests. In general, in the case of a maternal death, a number of procedures are followed, including a risk review of the case and the completion of a maternal death notification form.

“External experts are involved in the review and the family of the deceased are consulted on the terms of reference, are interviewed by the review team and given a copy of the final report,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Last night, the HSE said it had guidelines in this area.

“All HSE staff and hospitals are required to comply with the law which is very specific in relation to these circumstances.

“All staff are required to comply with the professional guidelines of the Irish Medical Council.”

The death of the Indian woman who has had residency here for a considerable length of time comes as the Government awaits the report of an expert group on abortion.

The Department of Health says the legal position in relation to abortion in Ireland is set out in the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

This “provides that it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland if it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by a termination of the pregnancy”.

The Medical Council’s guide to professional ethics says “abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother.”

It adds: “Under current legal precedent, this exception includes where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide.”

It tells doctors they “should undertake a full assessment of any such risk in light of the clinical research on this issue”.

It also adds “rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the |baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving.

“In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”

This incident comes a month after two mothers died in childbirth in the Coombe women’s hospital in Dublin within 48 hours of each other.

In both cases, the deaths occurred shortly after the women had their children delivered by caesarean section.

Maternal death is extremely rare in Ireland and other developed countries.

Before the incident, the Coombe had recorded five maternal deaths in the previous 11 years.

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