THE MINISTER FOR HEALTH, James Reilly, has urged TDs to show caution and not to prejudge the findings of two investigations into the death of an Indian woman who died after being refused a termination procedure at a hospital in Galway last month.
Speaking in a Dáil debate on the death of Savita Halappanavar last month, which first came to light this morning, Reilly said TDs and governments had “many responsibilities, and one of them is not to prejudge a situation”.
“I am privy to certain facts but I’m not privileged to share them. And that is why I ask for time for an independent report on this to be done, so that we get the truth of what happened,” Reilly said.
- VIDEO: TDs debate the death of Savita Halappanavar (32 minutes)
Savita’s death had been raised after seven TDs – Patrick Nulty, Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Richard Boyd Barrett, Joe Higgins and Catherine Murphy - raised the issue as a Topical Issue in the Dáil, demanding a government commitment to legislate for abortion under the terms permitted by the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case.
“One of the Deputies across refers to the ‘he’ as the doctor and clinician involved. Is that Deputy sure it was a ‘he’, or was it a ‘she’?”
Reilly said the TDs had raised questions about the possibility of “a Catholic ethos that is preventing people, or inhibiting people, from carrying out proper medical treatment as defined by the Medical Council”.
The minister said he had “no evidence of that”, but did not wish to preclude the findings of the reports being compiled by either the HSE or University College Hospital in Galway, nor the report of a coroner which will be completed in due course.
As I’ve said, it’s a terrible tragedy for the family, but for the staff involved as well, this is an emotional time for them.
They’re entitled to due process. Some of the comments here would seek to deny them that, and I thin that’s unfair.
The minister commented, in his capacity as a GP, that it was often the case that where a miscarriage was inevitable, “the view of the medical expert is that to allow that to occur naturally is the safest option. There will come a point, and a time, where that is not the safest option and where intervention must take place.”
He stressed, however, that this was merely “a general comment” and did not relate to Halappanavar’s specific case.
The minister also read into the Dáil record the Medical Council’s professional guidelines for registered professional medical practitioners, which outline that, in some cases, “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.”
Savita could ‘most likely still be alive’ – Wallace
Earlier, Mick Wallace had said that Halappanavar would “most likely be still alive” if she had chosen to live in 44 of the 47 other European states where an abortion procedure would have been available to her – but that she had died because she had happened to live in Ireland.
“The failure to pass the Bill that we introduced last April to legislate for the X Case is damning,” Wallace said. “Would Savita be alive if we had done so?”
He later added that the provisions of the Medical Council’s guidelines did not adequately protect doctors from the legal provisions of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which remains in effect in Ireland, and which provides for life imprisonment for using drugs or instruments to procure an abortion, or to supply or procure such “poison or instruments”.
Daly said it appeared that “this beautiful woman is dead [...] as a result of political cowardice” to legislate for abortion under the terms of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the X Case, where it was found that the Constitution permits abortion in circumstances where the life of the mother is at risk.
Boyd Barrett claimed that “tragic and terrible circumstances have caught up with us and forced us to recognise that abysmal failure by government” to introduce such legislation.
Nulty sought a commitment “to Irish women, who are looking on with shock and absolute disdain at this Oireachtas” to provide for “protection of women throughout the duration of their pregnancy” and to ensure all necessary procedures were available to them as they were needed.
“You will be judged by how you act on this issue,” Nulty told the minister. “Whether you stand by, and fail to deal with this issue, or whether you have the courage to act on it.”
“If our bill had been presented, and accepted by this government, we could be moving to the state where this would not happen – where the doctors in that hospital would have been protected by legislation to be able to assist that woman in relation to her situation,” Joan Collins added.
Joe Higgins said reports of Savita’s treatment begged the question of whether a Catholic ethos existed in UCHG such that the appropriate guidelines and procedures were not followed in her case.
“What we can do is make sure that no other woman suffers the same fate,” concluded Catherine Murphy.