Skip to main content

Savita Halappanavar

Today is Friday, the day I write my LBC post.  The topic is pleasure.  I'm sorry, but I'm not writing on that topic.  Today pleasure couldn't be further from my mind.  I've been crying for the last two days since the news broke.

Out here in India, there is disturbing news from Ireland.  My Ireland.  Savita Halappanavar, a young Indian woman living in Ireland was, it is reported, was refused a life saving abortion.  She consequently died.  On the news, I'm seeing outrage.  'Ireland should be forced to change it's abortion laws', the headlines are screaming.  'The Irish Killed My Daughter To Save A 3 Month Fetus'.  Beautiful Savita has now become the martyr of the pro-choice movement.  And Ireland is seen as some backward place which is full of religious maniacs who need to have sense imposed upon them.

I'm only too aware of the abortion debate in Ireland.  I was there some twenty years ago when the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign was going on.  I'm well aware of the emotional tactics used by both the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life sides.  An interview with an eminent Indian doctor (the name escapes me) living in Galway appears in the Times of India today, deploring how the Irish 'allow disabled children to be born' by not having abortions.  I wanted to scream.  Well Doctor Sahib, how very enlightened.  You, a doctor, believe that a person should be killed because they are disabled?  You think that because a person has disabilities that he or she  has no right to live?  Would you be offended that a person who cannot walk has the right to hold a government job and own their own house and even get married?  Or get an education?  Oh, dear, the Irish are so backward!  We must do something about this, fast!

I'm an Irish citizen living in India.  I have mixed British and Irish heritage and a mixed religious background too.  I'm neither proud nor ashamed  of being either.  I just accept what I am and get on with it. 

It's amazing how everyone respects doctors in some ways.  Anything a doctor says tends to get the same respect that scripture does.  If a doctor expresses an opinion on ethics and morals, people tend to give a lot more weight than they would if someone like me  ('just a housewife' I was called recently, well I've been called worse) expressed an opinion.

At the same time, it's amazing how many people, without medical qualifications, tend to think that they are qualified to give their opinion on medical matters about which they know nothing.  I remember how seventeen years ago in India, my son was born with pneumonia after a difficult, premature delivery.  A senior relative on the Indian side of the family made a remark, with great authority, that if this child had been born by caeserean section, he wouldn't have had pneumonia.  I saw red.  I had done my reading on the subject and as far as I could ascertain, as per the medical knowledge at the time, there was no real difference in the incidence of post natal pneumonia in children born by normal vaginal delivery or by caeserean.  That person, bless them, wanted to sound important, but I, full of post partum emotions, felt cheated.  One of the things which had given me comfort during my son's illness was the fact that I had been able to have a normal delivery.  Not that I look down on people who have caeserean operations, but one of my dreams for my baby had been to have a normal delivery and I felt great satisfaction that I'd been able to do that.  And a person who knew just nothing about these matters was speaking like an expert.

By the same token, thousands of people are saying that Savita could have been saved if she had an abortion.  The investigation into the death has not been completed.  How does anyone  know she could have been saved if her foetus had been removed when she requested?  It was removed two days after she asked, but she died anyway.  Very tragic and very sad.  All I have to say about the matter was that if the doctors knew that the pregnancy was not sustainable, then they certainly wouldn't have violated the foetus's right to life by removing it.  But I'm not a doctor and I wasn't there.  And I don't believe I'd be in a position to comment until the results of the investigation come out.  That could take just months.  It may very well be that in the absence of proper guidelines about what to do in the rarest of rare cases, doctors may be afraid to perform life saving surgery on women in this situation because of the fear of being accused of malpractise.  If that's the case, that's very negligent on the part of the competent authorities.  Constitutional laws need constitutional lawyers to interpret them and I wonder does any hospital in Ireland have a panel of constitutional lawyers who can be consulted in emergency cases like this?  Proper guidance and support for medical staff is needed, if it's not in place already.

Of course Savita's parents are hurting.  As is her husband.  As far as I am concerned, they can say more or less anything about the backwardness of the Irish if it makes them feel better.  Anger is very much a part of the bereavement process and having a focus for that anger is important.  I don't mind what they say about Ireland as they come to terms with their grief.  Grief needs time to heal and come to terms with what happened.  And the Irish people I've seen and read are hanging their heads in shame. 

We're fortunate to live in an age where neonatal and maternal deaths are fewer than ever.  But the fact is, they still happen and when they do, it is shocking.  We wonder what the reason could be.  But sometimes, stuff just happens.  Someone close to me gave birth to a child a few years ago and the child died within hours of delivery.  Nothing during the pregnancy gave any indication that anything was wrong.  That child was delivered in a state of the art European hospital with excellent staff and all the latest equipment.  Sometimes, with the best will in the world, things go wrong.  The same thing happened recently in Ireland to a family friend.  When the door between life and death opens up, we really don't know how things can go.  Of course we can be glad that maternal deaths are rarer than ever, but that's no comfort if you just lost your wife in that very circumstance.

Here in India, Savita's country, where I live, abortion is so available that people take it for granted.  Women still die here in childbirth.  People shrug here and say how sad it is.  Then they carry on.  No hysteria here, not for this matter anyway. I've also noticed that here abortion is very often not about a woman's right to choose, but her husband's right to choose.  Or her mother in law's.

Before I finish I'd just like to say that I'm no misogynist religious fanatic.  I'm no fan of organized religion.  Not anymore.  I've gone through four pregnancies, two of them high risk.  I believe that in a pregnancy, both the mother and child are equally important.  I would just rather know all the facts about Savita's case before making judgments.

When my eldest child was in hospital as a newborn, a woman who we met in the hospital told me and my husband an interesting story.  Apparently two years previously, her sister had come in to the hospital with premature labour pains.  On finding no response from the baby, the doctors removed it, told the family that the child was dead and the family went into deep grief.  Less than an hour later, the doctor came back and told them that by some miracle, the baby was now showing signs of life.  It was a son.  Did the family want the hospital to give this baby treatment?  Did they what?  Of course they did.  So the doctors treated the baby and it survived.  All rejoiced to have a son in the family. 

Before the family left the hospital, they were approached by an ayah (nurse's aide) asking them for shagun (a tip).  She explained to them that she'd been throwing soiled dressings in the  bin when she noticed a chirping sound.  On investigation, she found a newborn baby in the bin along with bloody dressings and used syringes.  She'd picked up the baby and ran to find the doctor who, remembering whose baby it was, decided to approach the family.  Happily, the family were ready to accept it.

This story had a happy ending, but it horrified and shocked me. I don't know who that family is or where they live in my city, but I do know that it's true.   Imagine what could have happened if the child hadn't been found on time?

All I know is that I never wanted to live in a society where human life was so cheap that it could be discarded and thrown in a bin.


  1. I don't understand why the EU still retains membership for Ireland! the EU has no qualms about imposing sanctions and all sorts of regulations for non-white nations when it comes to being civilized but here is a white country that denies abortion to a woman based on some medieval law.

  2. I'm not sure what you mean by a white nation. Ireland is multi-racial nowadays.

    Medieval law went out with the feudal system. The Pro Life Amendment was voted into the Irish Constitution over two decades ago because many citizens were appalled at the idea that Ireland would eventually have abortion on demand. There are many people who believe abortion is not necessarily the right solution for unwanted pregnancy. I'm sure the people who voted for the amendment never thought it could be used to deny life saving treatment to a dying woman.

  3. I agree that we really need to learn all of the facts in the case. But I do believe that the health of the mother should be taken in to account in any pregnancy.

  4. 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.

    An open uterus for three days was asking for infection to set in.

  5. You say that "abortion is very often not about a woman's right to choose, but her husband's right to choose. Or her mother in law's."

    The Pro choice movement was formed to give women the right to make the choices that THEY want and not have to kowtow to family, church or state.

    Elly made that very point when she spoke at the rally outside the Dail on Wednesday. You can watch it here:

  6. @Delirious: Yes, Delores, so do I. Absolutely!

  7. @Grannymar- Thank you for your comments. I know you've taken a personal interest in the case. I'm going to answer your comments in a post.

  8. From your post it seems that you are justifying the fact that two wrongs make one right !.If something wrong is happening in India does it mean that it should happen in other lands too ,espescially in so called developed countries ?
    A wrong act is always wrong.There can be no other reasoning or justification for it,simple.What happened to Savita is really sad and unfortuenate and i wish that it should never ever happen to any other on this planet,irrespective of caste,creed or color.
    Yes one more thing i wonder how you are still living in the same society where children are been thrown in dust bins and how you as an Irish lady have made efforts to change such things other then writing about it !!!

  9. @Indu Jalali -My point was not to say that two wrongs make a right - it was to show that bad stuff happens everywhere. I told that story more in sorrow than in anger. I'd just read an Irish woman in the Hindustan Times (in an article which originally appeared in the UK Paper The Guardian) who was literally pouring the blame for Savita's unfortunate death on herself because she wasn't working harder to make abortion legal in Ireland. Most people are condemning Ireland on the premise that Savita's life could have been saved by an abortion. The truth is, it is not yet clear whether in fact an abortion could have saved her. That's the premise I'm writing from.

    Most Indian people I know would be horrified at the thought of infants being thrown in a dustbin. They're hardly to be blamed for the fact that it happens. And those of us who preferred to keep abortion on demand out of Ireland think this way because we value human life. If that surgery could have saved Savita's life, I'd be all for it. The fact that it was withheld for two days and why it was withheld needs to be investigated. The people who brand the hospital medical staff as murderers have to hold their fire.

    As an outsider in Indian society, do you think people would resent it if I tried to change things? No one likes the idea of foreigners coming in and trying to adjust things to their taste, neither in India nor anywhere else in the world. And Indu, I know my place.

    Writing can be good because it raises peoples' awareness. It would be better coming from a native of the country though, not from a foreigner.

  10. Well Mother Teressa was a foreigner and yet we Indians loved n liked her because of what she brought with herself !!!.
    Well i am a writer too and hence know what writing does but writing without knowing facts n figures can be fatal and trigger negative emotions and acts.
    I can see how fiercely you are defending and justifying something wrong that has happened in your country and propagating ills of my country while sitting and enjoying life there and yet you have greviences against us.......

  11. Indu, if you are implying for one moment that I would defend the denial of life saving surgery to a young woman in the name of religious fundamentalism, then you don't get me at all. I am simply saying that until the facts - the true facts - of the case are established, there is no point in blackening my country's name. I think that in my shoes, you would do exactly the same. My touching on the fact that India is not perfect was simply to show that bad things happen everywhere.

    I don't have 'grievances' against India. I love this country and have lived here for eighteen years.

  12. Good now that we are on the same platform,i can carry this coversation further.A wrong act ia always wrong and nothing on Earth can justify it.Secondly if something like this happens to a foreigner (God forbid ) in my country India ,i would raise my voice against it and seek justice.The medical reports of Savita clearly shows that she died of Septicemia which happened because of a dead foetus in her womb.Had she received timely help from Doctors maybe she would have been alive.
    Let us not be insensitive and belittle her soul and parents who will have to live with this dark reality till they are alive.
    I thank all those Irish people who have come forward and are seeking justice for her in their country.Abortion law is something serious to ponder about in Ireland and i hope Savitas death does not get wasted and it becomes a torch bearer for all the people who are suffering wihout being guilty !!!

  13. Indu, I am well aware of the difference between right and wrong. If justice is to be done then a proper independent enquiry has to be carried out so that the culpability may be known. Of course I'm moved by this tragic death and feel for the family of the young woman. But this is not a simple case. Far from it. There are layers of complications.

    Bacterial infection. Caused by a dead foetus, everyone says. But how can people be certain that the foetus caused the infection when the dead foetus was removed almost immediately? Can a living foetus poison it's mother? I wouldn't presume to know such a thing.

    I do know that bacterial and fungal infections can be factors which can hasten the onset of miscarriage and premature labour. And what if there were medical conditions present about which nothing was yet known? The patient had no medical history of pregnancy as it was her first. That's why there needs to be a proper enquiry. Perhaps saving the patient was not, after all, in the hands of the medics who handled this case. Who knows? Yet?

    I deeply resent being accused of defending wrongdoing. I just want that every side of the story should be heard because innocent people being accused of apathy and malpractice is also a tragedy. This is what justice is all about.

    And like I say, bad stuff happens everywhere, Ireland, India, the UK, the USA, wherever.

    I'm 'sitting and enjoying life' in India while cribbing about the place, you say? Well, the cribbing came from deep hurt at unjustified criticism, that's for sure. And I'm no lady of leisure living a luxurious life, I can assure you.
    While I'm not exactly living barefoot in a village, with only a handpump to get water, I don't enjoy servants and chauffeur driven cars. I have to lump it on public transport. I don't have an air conditioner. Unlike many Irish women of my generation, I actually know the pains of childbirth having had no access to an epidural delivery. I'm not complaining about it either, lest you misunderstand me. I'm not a materialistic person. Never have been.

    BTW my name is Maria, not Sonia.

  14. I don't see anywhere in my post referring you as Sonia or even a Maria .

  15. The last comment has been posted as Anonymous accidently but it is from me only :Indu

  16. Indu, I received your anonymous comment in my email but it's not appearing on the post.

    Indu! How many times will we go around the mulberry bush? How many times do I have to repeat that yes, I love India and no, I didn't mean to cast aspersions on it when I said something unflattering things. I was simply trying to say that bad things happen everywhere. No, I'm not defending the fact that a dying woman was refused life saving surgery but lets at least ascertain that she was before we get into lynch mode here.

    Indu, you know something? It seems to me that you were educated by nuns. Catholic nuns. You are literally trying to wear me down and make me admit how bad and wrong I've been. Indu, I know what I meant even if you don't. I am quite satisfied that I want justice, not just for Savita but for every person involved in this sad and tragic affair. I am not in denial. I know Ireland has many faults. But at least ascertain where the real fault lies, before you throw stones.

    It seems to me that you know very little about Ireland, because if you did, you would know that the matter of abortion plays just about the same role in politics in Ireland as the reservations issue does in India.

    What we are witnessing in Ireland is actually a political game of chess, with a tragically bereaved young man being used as a pawn, in the delusional belief that he's fighting for social justice.

    I'm very, very sorry that I've hurt you, Indu, but I've already explained my position clearly about it. Yes, when one is an exile and one looks at one's own country and sees a foreign 'upstart' living in one's own country, it's hard not to feel indignant when one hears the foreigner criticizing that country and saying unflattering things. I know that too well, because Indu, it's happened to me too. I could even tell you stories about it, but I wouldn't want to bore you to death.

    Why don't we just take it that neither of us wanted to hurt the other, it's just a thing that happens sometimes. Why don't we just shake virtual hands and try to leave it at that? You can take it that I'm not some smug memsahib type lording it over the locals. I'm a housewife who does a bit of writing and I like to express my ideas. I'm sure you and I would get along very well if we met and probably would find that we have far more in common than we seem to have in this situation.

    Peace, Indu. If you wish to communicate further, through another medium, I will be happy to do so. I seem to have found you on Twitter, although I'm not sure that Indu is you. I've found a blog which bears your name, but I'm not sure that's you either. Anyway, I bear you no ill will. I also wish and hope that the Savita case will be satisfactorily resolved although I know that nothing can bring that young woman back. I just wish (how many times have I said this?) that all the facts about the case should come to light.

    If you are indeed who I think you are, you have done some excellent work in your life. I wish that you should continue to do so.

  17. Thanks Maria yes it is indeed me and would definetly like to make a truce.I m the last person in this world to hold a grudge against another person unless and untill me or my family are not getting affected in any which way.
    My view point is that a wrong thing is always wrong and nothing on Earth can justify it.
    To err is human ,so no one is perfect.Let us hope and pray that truth prevails always and wrongs are eradicated from our socities.
    I wish you good luck and hope we meet one day !!!

  18. Indu, that would be great. I look forward to that day.


Post a comment

Thanks for visiting me. Please let me know you were here

Popular posts from this blog


Many years ago, when I lived in Dublin, I met someone nice and started dating. I wasn't serious, I just thought we could have nice interesting discussions about India, which I found absolutely fascinating, as I was working in the Embassy of India back then. I had no intention of getting attached with a foreigner, with all the attendant cultural problems. I was happy living in Ireland and the idea of marriage couldn't have been further from my mind. We both thought we could just keep things in control. One day, after a lot of emotional turmoil and denial, it hit us both that we were in love. Truly. Madly. Irrevocably. To the point where we couldn't live without each other. I'd known about the Indian system of arranged marriages and when it occurred to me that he would probably be married off by his family as soon as he returned to India, I felt physically ill at the thought. We are both tenacious and patient people. We realised that bringing our two worlds together

The Tale of One Kitty

The cat..... Those who know me already might say that they didn't know I had a cat.  I didn't, you know! Our dog, Duggu is such a handful, I didn't think we could take on another pet. But a few months ago, a beautiful cat (whom we eventually named Puggle)  arrived. She's not really ours..... Nope! She's someone else's cat who just went on what the Aussies might call a walkabout. My younger daughter Riya found her on the roof of our house, a pretty calico (three-coloured) cat. Riya was instantly smitten. Some milk was fed to the little creature and the deal was sealed. Puggle has been a regular visitor to our house ever since. And two days after she arrived, in mid-May, she gave birth to four kittens. We'd had no idea the kitty was enceinte. So what did we do? What can you do? If a single mom landed on your doorstep and gave birth in your house, what would you do? Try to help, obviously. As the cat bore no identification and had been roaming the colony unst

A Blogging Guru

This is what a guru looks like - well something like it! Back to blogging I'm back at my blogging again. Three blogs at the moment. Not bad really, is it? My favourite blogging adventure was my original expat blog, which, unfortunately, I had to close once I was no longer able to blog anonymously. Because it was what some of our US based friends might call 'way TMI.  This is my general blog, MBB is my book blog and My East/West Life is my current attempt at blogging about life in India for an Irish wife. Then there's the experimental writing blog on Wordpress....and you know, can you believe I've been blogging for ten years now? Yes, that's right. But I've taken a looooong hiatus from blogging recently owing to the loss of a beloved family member. And I've stood back from the blogging a little. And then I came back. And amazingly, I've discovered stuff I never knew before. New discoveries I discovered that owing to Adsense ads, I've