Saturday 16 December 2017

Eilis O'Hanlon: Would law save another Savita is crucial question

Ministers don't want to entertain any doubts as to whether the bill helps or hinders doctors, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

CONCERN: Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, left, and Dr Philip Crowley, national director for quality and patient safety, at the publication of the HSE report.
CONCERN: Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, left, and Dr Philip Crowley, national director for quality and patient safety, at the publication of the HSE report.

Eilis O'Hanlon

It is one of the curiosities of the current row over abortion that it was sparked originally by the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital last October, and yet the young Indian dentist has been effectively forgotten in the aftermath, so much so that the publication of the HSE report into her death last week came as surprise to her widower, Praveen, whose solicitor only received a copy by email the night before it was released.

Equally curious is that the Government's response to the outcry following Savita's death has led to a bill which might not actually address any of the lessons which were meant to have been learned. Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, who chaired the HSE commission, was quite clear on Wednesday's Six One News that his aim all along had been to ensure that what Savita suffered "doesn't happen in any other hospital or to any other woman". This was Praveen's main concern as well.

Asked whether he was satisfied, therefore, with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, also published last week, Professor Arulkumaran welcomed legislation as a "step forward", but expressed concern with the provision that two doctors would be needed to determine if a mother's physical health was sufficiently endangered to allow a termination to take place. As he explained, complications can develop so quickly that any delay in treatment may prove fatal, as happened to Savita. Once a medical emergency is under way, a single doctor can order a termination – and his own opinion is that "if it was my case, I would have terminated the pregnancy" – but by that point it may be too late.

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