Angry for the cruel loss of Savita

Those who know me know that it is not often that I am left speechless - but I was this week, for a short while anyway, as I read the story of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year-old woman who died after she was refused a medical termination on the grounds that she was being treated in a Catholic country.

For those pro-lifers who immediately feel their heckles rise at the mention of a termination, let me put this context. Savita attended hospital with back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant. She wanted her baby. However, she was told that her cervix was fully dilated, her amniotic fluids were leaking and there was no chance at all that her baby would survive.

However, at that stage there was still a foetal heartbeat - so Savita was left in severe pain, essentially labour pain as her cervix was dilated. After one day of this pain she asked for a medical termination. She knew there was no hope for her pregnancy and, as any person would, she wanted her pain to go and for the inevitable to happen without further undue distress.

I can only imagine the emotional agony of what she was going through - never mind the physical pain. Knowing that her baby could not be saved and yet being forced to try and hold on to something that was going to be torn from her anyway.

She was told however she could not have a termination. She was in a Catholic country and there was a foetal heartbeat. The baby, although it would not and could not survive, was at that moment still alive.

Savita was left in emotional and physical pain for a further two and a half days. On day three of her ordeal she developed shivers and shakes. She started vomiting.

She was so ill that she collapsed in the toilets of the hospital where she was being treated. She was showing clear signs that she was developing an infection - possibly due to her cervix being open for so long. A woman in full term labour would not be left in that condition for three and a half days, measures would have been taken to prevent infection, to deliver the baby and to protect the mother long before then.

When the baby’s heartbeat finally stopped, Savita was taken to theatre where her dead foetus was removed from her womb. She spoke to her husband shortly after that procedure - on her way to the High Dependency Unit as she was very ill. That was the last time he spoke with his beautiful wife.

Infection, septicaemia - which is poisoning of the blood - set in. Her organs failed one by one and, a week after she was admitted to hospital, she died.

In the strongest and simplest of terms, her death was preventable. It was unnecessary and it was cruel. She did not need to die. The death of her baby was, tragically, not preventable - but Savita did not have to follow her baby into the grave.

The biggest shock of all is that this happened on our doorstep. Savita lived and worked in Galway. Her care was provided by the University Hospital Galway.

She was refused her medical termination on the grounds that there was still a foetal heartbeat and that termination remains illegal in Ireland. The law allowed her to die. Dare I say the law, in its archaic loyalty to the Catholic Church and its supposedly pro-life agenda, sentenced Savita Halappanavar to death.

The tragedy of the whole situation is beyond comprehension.

A young woman has been robbed of her life. Her family robbed of their daughter, their sister. Her husband robbed of his wife - while also trying to come to terms with the loss of the baby they had planned together.

I’m sure reviews of her care are being carried out. I’m sure there will be investigations upon investigations. I’m sure that fingers of blame will be pointed in a number of directions.

But respectfully I suggest that even without being a medical professional, it is cruel to leave a woman in excrutiating pain for days waiting for the death of her baby. The infection risks to an open cervix are well documented.

Equally respectfully I suggest that if a farm animal were in this pain, for three and a half days, measures would have been taken to ease that suffering and to come to the best outcome possible.

The best outcome possible in Savita’s case was that she would survive, come to terms with her grief and perhaps go on to have much wanted children in the future. She never got that chance.

Her husband has spoken out, but he says he is not angry.

“What is the use in being angry? I’ve lost her,” he said.

“I am talking about this because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else. It’s very hard. It has been a terrible few weeks, very hard to understand how this can happen in the 21st century, very hard to explain to her family.”

He is more generous in his thoughts than I am. Because I am angry for Savita and for every woman who is told her life comes second to that of the baby she is carrying.