Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Woman dies after hospital refuses abortion

Savita Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia

Health chiefs have launched investigations following the death of a woman in an Irish hospital after she was refused an abortion.

Savita Halappanavar, a dentist aged 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia.

The woman's husband Praveen Halappanavar, 34, claimed she had complained of being in agonising pain while in Galway University Hospital.

He has said that doctors refused to carry out a medical termination because the foetus's heartbeat was present.

Mr Halappanavar has claimed that following several requests by his late wife for a termination, they were told: "This is a Catholic country."

The woman's death is expected to spark a backlash against the Irish Government for failing to reform health laws to allow abortion if the life of the mother is in danger.

Mrs Halappanavar, understood to be from India but who had been living in Ireland, died after developing septicaemia - an infection in the blood - on October 28.

A protest has been planned for the front of the Dail parliament this evening.

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.

Ms Daly said: "A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life.

"This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus - the woman was having a miscarriage - was given priority over the woman's life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicaemia and died."

Investigations into Mrs Halappanavar's death have been launched by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group and the state's health officials.

Ms Daly and Ms Collins said their proposals would have ensured there was no equivocation over whether an abortion should have been performed.

It is expected the hospital's investigation will be complete within three months.

Mrs Halappanavar's family will be interviewed as part of the review.

A spokesman for the hospital said: "Firstly, the Galway Roscommon University Hospitals Group wishes to extend its sympathy to the husband, family and friends of Ms Halappanavar."

The Galway hospital said medics have carried out all standard practices in notifying the death to the coroner, informing the Health Service Executive and completing a maternal death notification.

"It is standard practice to review unexpected deaths in line with the HSE's national incident management policy," it said.

"The family of the deceased is consulted on the terms of reference, interviewed by the review team and given a copy of the final report."

The spokesman added that the hospital was waiting to consult Mrs Halappanavar's family on the terms of reference before beginning the review.

In a statement, the Department of Health offered condolences to the family.

"The department and the ministers extend their sympathies to the family of the patient on their loss," it said.

"There are currently two investigations under way and the department is awaiting the completion of these investigations before commenting further."

Pressure has been heaped on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to legislate for abortion following Mrs Halappavanar's death.

But Mr Kenny would give no indication as to whether he would introduce laws allowing women to have a termination in certain life-threatening circumstances.

He also dismissed calls for the Government to hold its own external inquiry into Mrs Halappanavar's death.

"It would be very appropriate that we don't rule anything out here, but there are two reports and investigations going on at the moment," said Mr Kenny.

He said the Government would wait until Health Minister James Reilly received the reports from the hospital and HSE inquiries before deciding the best course of action.

"I don't think we should say anything about this until we are in possession of all the facts," he added.

The Taoiseach also extended his deepest sympathy to Mrs Halappanavar's family, including her husband Praveen, who was with his wife as she suffered agonising pain at the hospital.

"A child has been lost, a mother has died and a husband is bereaved," said Mr Kenny.

"That is a tragedy."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams asked Mr Kenny when he intended to legislate for abortion, while Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin called for an external inquiry to be carried out by Government.

Both opposition TDs were joined by Independent TD Shane Ross in expressing their sadness at Mrs Halappanavar's death.

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