“31 year old Indian woman dentist Savita died in Ireland (of incomplete abortion, Septicaemia) because the doctors refused to terminate her 17 weeks pregnancy.”
This young lady died because she happened to be in a land where people, even in this 21st century, live in the Stone Age. Where the age-old religious dogma of Catholics considers abortion a “Sin” and the archaic law continues to hold it as illegal. Where the doctors condemn a woman to (avoidable) death because it is a “Catholic country” where abortion is illegal.
The news is fast spreading and must be shocking to the entire right thinking world, except, may be a stone-age civilization called Ireland, located somewhere in Europe.
I am not an expert on Ethics in Christianity, but the general position of Catholics on abortion is as follows.
Catholics believe that:
# Life of every individual is created in the image and likeness of God and is therefore sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death.
# The state exists for the individual and not the individual for the state. Decisions of the state must safeguard the interests of the individuals. All medical decisions, therefore, should be guided by the best interests of the individual patient and not the interests of his/her relatives or the society at large.
# Patient’s autonomy of decision-making must be respected. However, patient’s autonomy cannot supersede the conscience of the physician. The physician must be free to refuse to participate in any procedure that he may consider immoral, and free to refuse to refer to other providers who might be willing to perform such immoral/unethical procedures.
# Abortion is a crime and no Catholic physician should conduct or assist or cooperate formally or materially, in any manner in carrying out an abortion. A young life, which could have been saved (by timely action), has been extinguished by the criminal act (of omission) on the part of doctors. This incident, horrible as it is, cannot be allowed to pass just as an isolated case of death of an unfortunate woman. It must be investigated and analysed to reach a logical conclusion as to ‘how’ and ‘why’ it happened so that such an incident does not occur again on planet earth.
The Ethical/Legal Background:
Catholics believe that abortion is a crime and no Catholic physician should conduct or assist or cooperate formally or materially, in any manner in carrying out an abortion.
Ireland is a country predominantly Catholic.
Ireland’s constitution officially bans abortion. One of Ireland’s best-known abortionists, Mamie Cadden, was famously sentenced to death by hanging in 1957 when one of her patients died.
In 1983, the Constitution of Ireland was amended to add the Eighth Amendment, which asserted that the unborn had an explicit right to life from the time of conception.
A 1992 Supreme Court ruling required that the procedure should be legalized for situations when the woman’s life is at risk from continued pregnancy. In 20 years, the Govt did not have the time or the “will” to amend the law. As of now, therefore, abortion continues to be illegal and a punishable offence in Ireland.
Five national referendums have been held on the issue of abortion during the last 30 years.
An estimated 4,000 Irish women travel next door to England every year, where abortion has been legal on demand since 1967.
European Charter of Patients Rights for Ireland has fourteen Rights of Patients out of which 9th is the “Right to Safety” of patient.
In the Declaration of Geneva (Oath for the doctors), every doctor is expected to affirm that — “Health of my patient will be my first consideration.”
Catholics proscribe abortion as it is considered a sin to take anyone’s life, even that of an embryo or the foetus not yet viable. But does the religion or the law permit the doctors to watch (as silent spectators) a young woman dying before their very eyes just because of the irrational religious ethics or an illogical archaic legislation?
If Catholics believe that life of every individual is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death, why don’t they apply the same tenet to the life of the mother who is already a full grown adult individual and is in danger of dying. Why do they apply it only to the life (?) of only the embryo or the foetus, which is not even born yet?
In most major religions (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism. Zoroastrianism, Sikhism) abortion is permitted if continuation of pregnancy threatens the life of the mother). Protestant Christians have a diverse view. Some permit it others don’t. Jainism does not approve of abortion but there are no unambiguous views about specific situations where mother’s life may be under threat because of pregnancy. Catholics, however, hold abortion as an act of unspeakable crime.
The 8th amendment gives legitimacy to the rights of the unborn to life from the time of conception and ignores the rights of the pregnant woman to life. It is rather strange and illogical that any religious philosophy / legal provision should attach more value to an unborn embryo or a foetus than the life of the mother, especially when it is clear that if the mother does not survive, there is no chance of the foetus surviving. It is virtually condemning both the lives to death.
As far as legislations are concerned, people of every country have the right to enact whatever laws they consider suitable to their ethos, values and life philosophy. But in the present day, no country can afford to have legislations blatantly in violation of human rights and modern scientific logic.
It is also a matter of rights of women. It is strange that UNO (United Nations Organization) and other international organisations go on harping about the violations of human rights in Kashmir but fail to notice and object to women being treated as expendable in Ireland. It is strange and ironical that the law of Ireland cares more for the heartbeat of a 17 weeks old unborn foetus more than the life of 31 year old mother of the foetus. I also wonder why the women of Ireland are taking it so quietly!
It is unthinkable that the medical community in Ireland is totally oblivious of the possibility of such situations occurring. Pregnancy can pose a serious threat to the mother’s life in many situations such as eclampsia, ectopic pregnancy, incomplete abortion / septicaemia, severe uterine bleeding or severe cardiac pathology rendering the mother unfit to undergo pregnancy. I shudder to even think the fate of all those women in Ireland.
Another important aspect is that in critical situations where the treating doctors are aware of their incompetence/inability (because of religious/legal or any other reason) to provide the requisite life saving treatment, they are expected to honestly advise the patient/attendant to take the patient to the centre where such treatment would be available. If the doctors, in this case knowingly omitted this duty of theirs, then they are criminally liable for gross negligence.
If the cause of Savita’s death, as mentioned in the newspapers, is true, then it poses a serious question about the sanity and professional integrity of the medical professionals in that country. Firstly, they fail to see the merit of the medical ethics and practices in the rest of the world and allow themselves to be misguided by the clergy. Secondly, by failing to object to such irrational legislations, they become willing collaborators in the commission of crimes. And thirdly, they are guilty of criminal negligence in not informing/misinforming the patient (about the imminent danger to the life of the patient) and failing to advise the patient to go to the right hospital where treatment of her problem would be available.
The clergy, the law makers, the government, the judiciary and the medical professionals of Ireland – all have blood on their hands. They should come clean and do some cleansing by immediate review of the legislation so that another Savita does not have to lose her life due to their callousness. The nation of Ireland owes an apology to the women of the world for such an atrocity.
Dr S K Joshi
MBBS, MHA, DNB, QMAHO, MAHA, MIPHA
Hospital Administrator, Consultant Hospital Administration,
Visiting Faculty for PG Courses in Hospital / Health Management
Author: “Quality Management in Hospitals”,
“Law and The Practice of Medicine”,
“Safety Management in Hospitals”