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Savita Halappanavar II

A few years ago, a relative of mine discovered that she was pregnant.  She was forty years old with a nine year old son.  She decided to get her pregnancy terminated.  She went to see her doctor and asked for a letter to recommend a termination.  She was too old, she said.  She'd moved on, she wasn't interested in rearing an infant.  Her nine year old son would be neglected, she felt.  Her life would be turned upside down.  The doctor heard her out, then spoke.

"Why do you want to go against God?"  she said.  The patient was astonished.  What did the doctor mean?

"You have only one child, already grown.  There is no reason why you cannot look after another.  Moreover, your age is forty, but your health is fine.  I will not recommend a termination," came the reply.

The patient decided to go with the doctor's advice.  She has never, to my knowledge, regretted it.  This, my friends, was not in "Catholic" Ireland.  This was in India.  Secular India, where the abortion laws are very much in place.  If a doctor in Ireland spoke to a patient like that in the Ireland of  today, he or she would probably be vilified from every possible side.

A couple of years ago, Chunni, a poor woman who used to come to my house to work, found out that she was pregnant, with her seventh child.  Financially, she couldn't think of going through with the pregnancy, she was already hard pressed looking after six.  However, help was at hand.  As well as working in my house, Chunni was also working in the house of a gynaecologist who was ready to give her an abortion.  Chunni informed us that she wouldn't be coming to work for a couple of days as she was going to get her pregnancy aborted.

She was back at work the next day.

"Chunni, back already?  Didn't you have the surgery?" I asked her.   She shook her head.

"The doctor wouldn't do it," she replied.  "I have high blood pressure.  She said she couldn't take the responsibility."

It was as simple as that.

Now, I don't know a lot about medicine or surgery, but I do know that medical termination of pregnancy is not a walk in the park.  It is a medical procedure and for it to be safe, certain factors have to be present.  As a lay person, I wouldn't have much knowledge of what they are.  These matters are best known to the doctors.

I remember going to a doctor here for treatment of an abscess. 

"Can it be lanced and drained?"  I asked.  My family doctor had told me that it might be.  The doctor fixed me with a cold glare.

"I will decide about lancing and draining," he said.  He made the position crystal clear.  He was the doctor.  I was the patient.  He would make the decision about treatment.  If you submit to a doctor for treatment, you accept what he or she prescribes.

The Pro-Choice Movement in Ireland has taken Savita Halappanavar's cause to it's heart.  But Savita was not, in the strict sense of the term, looking to exercise her right to choose whether and when to become a mother.  She was miscarrying and needed emergency surgery.  People are crying themselves hoarse saying that she was denied life saving surgery because of "medieval, Catholic laws".

So was she actually denied life saving surgery because of  a  law?

Only a proper inquiry will be able to confirm this.  I believe several inquiries are being initiated as I write.  I await their result with great interest.

And even if it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that this unfortunate young woman was denied life saving surgery, it may have been the helplessness of the doctors to act and not lack of compassion that is responsible for this tragic loss of life.  The Irish Constitution provides for the right to life of the unborn, but if there is an absence of procedure in place for the rarest of rare cases, then that is an oversight of legislation, which I am sure no one could have foreseen.   It is a fact that the Pro Life Amendment has been in place for more than two decades and this, to my knowledge, is the first time that a situation like this has arisen.  So 'rare' certainly applies in this case.

A commenter to my previous blog post had this to say:

"Leaving the 'Pro Life' and the 'Pro Choice' movements to one side for the moment, the question I would like an answer too is: If instead of a young visitor to our shores, the patient was THE WIFE, SISTER OR DAUGHTER of the Consultant, that is of course if it was a Consultant and not an SHO who make the decision: Would she have been left in extreme pain with an open uterus for three days? I doubt it."

I don't think that it's medical practice for doctors and surgeons to operate and treat their own family members because of emotional involvement, although they may prescribe medicines in an emergency.  That's an interesting point that has been made, but I'd like to point out that to the best of my knowledge, Savita was not a visitor, but a resident of Ireland, as I'm a resident of India.  It hurts me to have to say this but it looks very much to me as if  the commenter was  accusing the staff of the hospital of racism and partiality.  I know the commenter is a very caring and compassionate human being, but until the truth of the matter has been properly examined, I think that it would be better to refrain from making what amounts to very serious and even slanderous accusations.  Emotion is running high and I would respectfully ask that if an Irish woman, instead of an Indian woman had died, would this question even be asked?  Moreover, this comment presumes that it was in the medical staff's hands to help Savita and they just wouldn't do it.  Again, we're getting into the area of slander.  Doesn't anybody understand the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'?  Let the culpability of the hospital staff be proven, then let the correct measures be taken.

Much is being made of the fact that in the course of the tragic few days, Praveen was given the reason "this is a Catholic country" when he and Savita were begging for her to be given an abortion.  This remark has been the cause of outrage.  But what really happened?  Were these words 'this is a Catholic country' actually spoken?  Have these words, in fact, been twisted out of  context?  Who actually spoke them?

Was this the scenario?

PRAVEEN (begging):  See, my wife is dying.  Please save her.  Why can't you give her an abortion?

DOCTOR (harshly):  This is a Catholic country.  

Or was it like this?

PRAVEEN (shocked):  What?  You mean to tell me that in this day and age you don't do abortion in Ireland?  That's unbelievable?  Why is this?

DOCTOR (helplessly):  This is a Catholic country.....

The truth is, how words are interpreted depends very much on context in which they are spoken.  As of now, Praveen, raw from grief and loss, has been telling his story.  I haven't heard the other side yet and I suspect that no one will know what it is until the proper investigations have taken place.

Finally, from what I've read in the papers, it seems that self-flagellation and guilt is alive and well and living in Ireland.  Emer O'Toole's article 'Medieval and Barbaric', which originally appeared in 'The Guardian', appeared in Hindustan Times today.  In this article she publicly apologized to Savita's family, saying that she was 'ashamed, culpable and sorry'.  Having visited Ireland this year, I know that the Catholic church influence in Ireland is long gone, but I fail to understand how Ms. O'Toole, a former Catholic,  could be experiencing such guilt.  The joke that the Catholic feels guilty ever since Sister Imelda told them in First Class that they were responsible for the sins of the entire universe is beginning to sound eerily true.

Relax Emer.  You didn't kill Savita.  Savita died tragically early in an Irish hospital owing to a pregnancy complication.  It is yet to be established whether she was denied potentially life saving treatment because of inept Irish laws.  We are all sorry about it, but in the last analysis, I can safely say that no one would have ever meant for this tragedy to happen.  If there is anything that can be learnt from the situation, then hopefully it will be. 

It's good that the Irish people have taken Praveen to their hearts.  No doubt, every investigation will be carried out and no stone will be left unturned to find out the truth.  I wish that every person who suffers as he has will get the same compassion.


  1. A death sentence remains a death sentence no matter if it is delivered harshly or helplessly.It eventually takes a life-as it did in poor savita's case.

  2. With all due respect, it is not yet proven whether Savita's life could have been saved by a withheld abortion. I respectfully appeal to my Indian friends to refrain from making judgments until the verdict is given.

    I have seen my country and people vilified and branded as murderers. I'm very emotional about this. We are not murderers and religious fanatics in Ireland. We care about human life.

  3. Maria, your first example of a forty year old asking for an abortion is a different case entirely. From what you say the woman changed her mind, her health was not at risk. If she didn't want more children, she should not have had sex without protection. Goodness knows there are more options available these days to prevent pregnancy.

    In my comment that you quote above, I asked a question. I realise that Consultants and doctors do not operate and treat their own family members, but their wishes would certainly be taken into consideration.

    Now as per your request on facebook, I will say no more.

  4. Grannymar, my point in the example you mention was to show that the doctor in India could talk about God's will without fear of ending up being taken to task in public - something which is now unthinkable in Ireland. I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I wasn't in any way comparing the case of the forty year old woman with the case of Dr. Savita. I would hate to be a doctor now in Ireland now, given the current atmosphere of hysteria and hatred that I see in the media.

    The request on FB is because I have a huge Indian group of friends and family who are naturally asking me what's happening and why. I don't think it could possibly be unreasonable to ask them to refrain from jumping to conclusions until a properly instituted inquiry has taken place and a verdict given. I am here in India and you can imagine what it's like for me and my kids to see our country's name being disrespectfully used. Words like 'murder' should not be thrown around carelessly.

    You'd have to be in my position to understand where I'm at. As you know, we're all entitled to our opinion.

  5. This is what I've said on Facebook and this is my final comment on this matter.

    I am hurt and shocked beyond belief to see my country vilified internationally and my people branded as murderers. God knows, Ireland has its faults, but I refuse to accept these insults. I am as sorry about the death of Savita Halappanavar as anyone could be, but I am certain that the woman's death was a tragic anomaly and will not accept that she was 'murdered' by the Irish government, nor the Irish people. I've written two blog posts on and will not be commenting further on the matter. I would respectfully ask my friends, especially my Indian friends and family members, to refrain, from making judgments on this case until the verdict is delivered. I am sure that the truth will come out in time.


  6. Hi,
    Psychologists will say-- If someone starts telling you what country you're in , or telling you screamingly obvious facts about that country, ( Ireland is a Catholic country etc ) it's time to look to start worrying, and buzz off from there--- EL PRONTO--
    -- for they now intend to teach you a lesson you will never ever forget.
    If you make the mistake of looking them in the eye , tellin' you are NOT Catholic or Irish , but a Hindu Indian --
    -- then only God save you from Catholic vindictiveness, we in India are too familiar with this during our 400 years of slavery, to white Catholics.
    Wise men will tell you that people simply do not bring up the country they are in , in a context just like that unless they are being racist.
    Wisdom dictates -- Savita’s tearful termination pleas were taken less seriously because they were perceived as the pleas of an unchurched , uncouth , pagan foreigner who should have some more respect for Irish Catholic beliefs and values.
    Which Indian doctor will tell a Catholic white woman that you are in HINDU INDIA now?
    Capt Ajit Vadakayil

  7. I was also wondering about the "it's a Catholic country" statement. It could - and I hope was - a rueful regretful statement.
    As for Catholic church influence - yes waning - but still strong. And harder to moderate in institutions like hospital boards.
    Let's assume there was a foetal heartbeat - so we have a situation where someone is at extreme risk of death - mother or foetus. It's an appalling choice - but a choice nonetheless. The woman involved will have her own views - I'd go for saving her life every time.
    I wonder whether this really was a problem with the laws of the Irish Republic - or a wrong interpretation? Having said that, the law does need to be updated.

    As for doctors wanting patients to be mere passive participants in their treatment. I think that's rubbish. A good doctor - a real healer - will want to listen carefully and then explain to and convince the patient of the course of treatment he or she recommends. far more decent. Far more humane. Far more likely to be effective.

    The one heartening aspect of this tragedy is the burden of shame voluntarily shared by many Irish people -- the way men and women have risen up to state that it is an intolerable situation.

    I remember voting to change the consitution to permit divorce in Ireland. My constituency was the only one - the only one in the 26 counties - to vote yes. Time passes. Attitudes change. A subsequent referendum got it through. Evidentally we still have a way to go.

  8. @Capt Ajit Vadakayi - Okay, I said I was finished commenting - but in reply to your comment...

    This has been said to me many times, but maybe not 'Hindu India' - which is secular after all, but as in 'you are in Hindustan now' Not only by doctors either. That happens all the time.

    Captain Sahib, like yours, my country has been invaded by foreigners many times. The race which did the invading is immaterial, black, white or otherwise.. I've gotten over it and moved on. So should you.

    You seem to see this as the white westerner looking down on the unchurched pagan. I've never seen it that way. I would say that the Irish are one of the least prejudiced races in the world. Perhaps I'm wrong?

    I said it before and I'll say it again. Wait for the result of the investigation. Then say whatever you want.

  9. @Blackwatertown - Thank you Paul for at least listening to what I was saying. I've spent a lot of time and energy writing about this matter and regretfully, a lot of my points seem to go right over readers' heads. Are my concepts so nebulous? I was beginning to feel alone in the world. As in 'am I crazy? Is it just me? 'This is a Catholic country' - it's like 'the carriage is waiting outside' - it's not what was said, it's way it was said, how it was meant, which syllable was emphasized. And people are going just crazy over the fact that that was said. But how was it said? In what context?

    Just for clarification, I didn't mean that patients should be mere, passive participants in their treatment, of course there should be interaction between doctor and patient. What I meant was, the doctor is the expert, s/he decides the course of treatment, not the patient. How does Mr. Halappanavar, the world and it's mother know that abortion was a safe and helpful treatment at that point in time? She was miscarrying, for fxxx sake, was surgery a safe option? Only a medic would know that, in my opinion.

    The bottom line is that was she, Dr. Savita, or was she not, denied life saving, interventional surgery for the sake of an anomaly of law? And if so, why? The world doesn't just want to know. It needs to know. Because I have seen people who I thought were rational, logical human beings accuse the medical staff who treated this woman of racism, partiality and religious bigotry and actually terming her unfortunate death as 'murder'. Without knowing the true facts. 'Murder' is premeditated killing. And whatever may be the unfortunate circumstances of this young woman's death, it needs to be investigated and made public before the madness really gets out of hand.

  10. Maria, what I don't understand in this whole discussion is the term 'abortion'. Clearly - for some - a term loaded with ethical and moral implications.

    From a clinical point of view there was no need for an 'abortion'. The foetus was not viable, it was dying. The woman was 'miscarrying'. Simple. It should have been removed like your boil or an appendix about to burst.

    I can't help feeling that your feelings are running high because of your beloved home country Ireland being implicated in what at best can be called 'gross medical negligence'. As far as I remember doctors swear the Hippocratic Oath. Religion doesn't come into it. Neither does race or any other consideration. Let's remember, once more, the foetus was NOT viable. It was a health hazard to his mother. There is not a doctor in the world who wouldn't save the mother's life over a half dead corpse. In as much as that I do agree with you that the circumstances are so outrageous that an inquiry might shed an - as yet dim - light on what happened. One might, of course, also ask why husband/family didn't ship her over to, say, England.

    Your belief in doctors and their competence is tragically naive. As any doctor will tell you. Doctors are not gods with magic wands. They are human beings with some knowledge of their chosen speciality. And I do agree with Paul that the doctor/patient relationship is NOT a one way street. It's collaboration. Remember "consent forms" to be signed (by the patient)?

    You love your country of origin, Maria, that shines through, and you are allergic to the fact that Ireland's Catholicism is cited. Facts are facts, Maria.

    Let me ask you another question, Maria: Say, Savita had had children BEFORE this NON-viable dying foetus was slowly poisoning her body by non-intervention: How would Irish legislation justify depriving those ALIVE of their mother?

    To summarize: I feel your passion. However, I do fear that you are muddling issues which have nothing to do with each other.


  11. Ursula, we're mostly on the same page. I don't think that giving life saving surgery to Savita would have been abortion in the true sense either. That's why I can't understand the ROI's ban on abortion being cited as the reason she didn't get proper treatment. That's why an investigation is needed, to clarify everything.

    Ursula,please! I don't think doctors are God. Life and death is not always in their hands, I know that. I already clarified that issue with Paul. What I was trying to say, albeit clumsily, was that the doctor decides on the treatment, not the patient. I mean, if I've got a boil and I want it lanced and drained, the doctor may decide to use another treatment. If I don't like it, I can change my doctor. Of course, I do realize that poor Savita didn't have the time for that lest anyone else decide to get at me for saying this.

    You say I'm tragically naive and emotional. Yes, Ursula, homesickness is a dreadful thing to suffer from. Now I know that Ireland is not perfect and there are things about the place that make me go crazy sometimes. But it's my country and I'm horrified to hear the things people are saying about it. No matter what side of the pro choice fence Irish people are on, they basically care about humanity even if they have different ways of going about it.

    This woman's death is a tragedy. But the blame game going on is hurtful to me in the extreme. I didn't kill that woman nor would I have wished such a thing on anyone. I know how dangerous pregnancy can be, I've been there too. But it would be far better if certain people waited for the proper enquiries to take place before flinging their accusations around and branding people, who could be quite innocent, as murderers.

  12. Yes, it's your country. And all the Irish I have ever met, have worked with, indeed correspond with like yourself, are great people. Fun even when gloomy, with hearts so big they'll clasp you to their bosom within an inch of your lung capacity.

    But, and this is a big but in my book, and goes for EVERY nationality in the world: Among the many good and great, kind and considerate, reasonable and rational, you will find the blind, the bigoted, the fundamentalists. Those so inflexible there is no give with regards to any individual's situation.

    I have a lot of doubts about this 'case'.

    First of all, and you are right: Doctors have powers. They could have knocked the woman out with an anaesthetic, operate and none of the world would have been any wiser. That's the part I don't like. That's where I smell a mega rat in the narrative. Nothing to do with Ireland. Or Catholicism. Something in this story does not add up.


  13. Yes, Ursula, there is extremely strange about it. And that's what a lot of people back home are saying too. That's why we need a proper enquiry, preferably as soon as possible.

  14. Hi Maria

    I admire your courage in defending your country. Please see this latest article by Ethal Rohan in NY Times:

    Ethal was a abuse victim. Her mother went through the same traumatic experience that Savita went through and fortunately survived, but not before waiting 3 days for the doctor to determine that there was no fetal hearbeat.

    I think the anger in India is directed at the antiquated laws in Ireland which forbids abortion for rape/abuse victims. I don't think it is directed at the Irish people. take care.

  15. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for your kind words. They do mean a lot.

    I seem to have annoyed some people who think I'm defending the indefensible. The truth is I've never really fitted in with either side of any argument. I always have this weird POV which which falls between the two sides and doesn't belong in either camp. I'm horrified over what happened to Savita, but I don't think the situation is all black and white. I think that there may have been factors in play that no one yet knows about. That's why an investigation is required.

    Arguments to do with sex, reproduction and morality cause so much controversy in Ireland because we are hurt and damaged people and these topics are painful for us.

    That link was interesting. Ethel's story is truly horrific.She's very brave to share it. When I read stories like this, I wonder about parents who would give a family friend such undisturbed access to their kids. I practically never let my kids out of my sight. I'm not trying to judge them, but to understand There was such ignorance in Ireland in the past.

    Right after the birth of my last child, I suffered from a horrible bacterial infection which literally scarred my body. I never knew till now that I could have died from it. My husband cared for me at that time and for hour children too. It's scary to even think about it.

  16. The only one you have to please is you, Maria. If you are comfortable in the stand you have taken, so be it.
    Blessings to you ~ Maxi

  17. Maxi - thanks for your kind words.

    I suppose I'm scared of people thinking I'm defending something indefensible - sometimes people are so fixed in their views that they don't seem to get what I'm trying to say.


  18. Hello again - I couldn't see the updated comments for a while - so I'm only responding here now.

    @ Ursula on feeling uncomfortable about home country being implicated in shameful behavious. There may be some truth in that. I feel it myself. Not denial that the home country may be doing wrong, but added crossness/shame/uncomfortableness that it's us, that "we" are being the bad guys.

    But if we are, then let's challenge it. Like many/most/all countries, Ireland has been guilty of institutional injustice in the past. A sign of a decent society is its willingness and ability to address its own faults. So I agree with the need for a full investigation into what happened.

    And I completely take your point Maria re the two-way communication between medic and patient.

    I'm not so sure about Ajit's take on the matter. I can't rule it out - but I haven't seen any evidence to back up the conclusions to which he is jumping.


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