Top medic calls for abortion guidance

Published Friday, 16 November 2012
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A leading Irish obstetrician has called for clear guidance on pregnancy intervention following the death of a young woman who was refused an abortion during miscarriage.

Top medic calls for abortion guidance
Savita Halappanavar, who died after being refused an abortion. (© The Irish Times)

Savita Halappanavar died on 28 October in Galway University Hospital after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia during the 17th week of pregnancy.

She was a 31-year-old dentist, originally from India and married to Praveen, her husband of four years.

Professor Fionnuala McAuliffe, a consultant obstetrician at Dublin's National Maternity hospital, told UTV:"Where we are at the moment is that if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, intervention in pregnancy is permissible.

"Now however there is no legislation to guide us as to what constitutes a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.

"Sometimes this situation is relatively straight forward - the mother is very unwell, she has high blood pressure, it is uncontrollable. We are concerned that she will have a stroke - or even die - in the coming hours or days."

She explained that those situations are "easy to act upon."

"We intervene in pregnancy or terminate the pregnancy.

"However, where we would welcome some guidance is when the risk to the life of the mother is less immediate and less dramatic.

"This is a grey area for us," she added.

Prof McAuliffe said medical and maternity care in Ireland was of a very high standard.

"What we need is a clear definition of what a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother is," she said.

The Dublin senior medic added that legislation on this would allow for guidelines to be developed to act in the mother's interest and in a more standardised way.

Meanwhile, Ireland's ambassador to India is attempting to ease concerns in the country over the death.

Feilim McLaughlin is briefing government and opposition figures in New Delhi as two investigations get under way into Mrs Halappanavar's death.

Officials in diplomatic circles in Dublin said meetings were planned with politicians of all creeds in an effort to indicate the exact position on abortion in Ireland "in light of strong headlines".

Mrs Halappanavar's husband Praveen has claimed that doctors refused several requests for a medical termination because the foetus' heartbeat was present.

He also alleged the couple were told: "This is a Catholic country."

In Dublin, Indian ambassador Debashish Chakravarti was brought in on Thursday to meet officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"There have been contacts with Indian authorities," a foreign affairs spokesman said.

Junior minister Brian Hayes said he accepted that Ireland has suffered reputational damage as a result of the death.

Two inquiries into the death are under way - one by the Galway-Roscommon University Hospitals Group, due to report in three months, and a second Health Service Executive (HSE) investigation involving an independent expert in obstetrics and gynaecology from Northern Ireland.

A coroner's report will also be handed over to government.

Dr James Reilly, health minister, said the reviews will stand up to international scrutiny.

"I want to take the opportunity again to extend my sympathy to the family of Savita and I know this is an extremely difficult and traumatic time for them, and I don't want to see either of the investigations delay one minute longer than they have to and leave this family in doubt as to what really happened," he said.

"I think we'd all agree they are entitled to know as quickly as possible what the facts of the situation were."

It is understood Indian officials will wait to see if Praveen Halappanavar returns to Ireland before taking any further action.

A pro-choice demonstration took place in Derry city centre on Friday at lunchtime.

The current coalition government is the seventh to face the contentious issue of abortion and to date none have legislated for it.

Dr Reilly added: "What I want out of this is clarity for the medical profession, as to what actions they can take that are within the law in the best interest of patients."

© UTV News
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