Savita tragedy: ‘Mother and baby have equal right to life’ - Mgr. Martin

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Derry’s Diocesan Administrator Monsignor Eamon Martin has responded to widespread criticism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion following the recent death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway.

Mrs Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian-born dentist living in Galway, died of septicaemia, five days after suffering a miscarriage.

Her husband believes she would still be alive if she had been granted an abortion a week earlier, when she was told her baby was dying.

In his statement today to the Derry Journal, Mgr. Martin - who described Mrs. Halappanavar’s death as a “devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family” - drew attention to the “equal right” to life of a mother and her unborn child.

Echoing the words of the Irish Bishops earlier this week in reaffirming some aspects of Catholic moral teaching, Mgr. Martin said: “The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby share an equal right to life. Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

“Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.

“Some would claim that the unborn baby is less human or less deserving of life. Advances in genetics and technology make it clear that at fertilisation a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence. From that moment onwards each of us did not grow and develop into a human being, but grew and developed as a human being.”

Mgr. Martin revealed that, since Mrs. Halappanavar’s death, “many people have been asking me to explain the Church’s position.”

He said the anguish and sorrow of her family had “struck a chord with the people of Ireland.”

“On behalf of the people and priests of the Diocese of Derry, I express my sympathy to the family of Mrs Halappanavar and to all those affected by these tragic events. The tragedy had caught the attention of the nation and many people have been asking searching ethical questions in an attempt to fully understand the issues involved.”

Monsignor Martin added that the Catholic Church was not the only voice which advocated the importance of respecting all human life.

He said: ‘With many other religious and ethical traditions, we believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice. This helps to ensure that women and babies receive the highest standard of care and protection during pregnancy. Indeed, international statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth. This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland.”