The media framed the story surrounding the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar as a death caused by the absence of legal abortion. The truth is that nothing in ethics or law prevents doctors in Ireland from intervening in such a situation, to induce delivery in order to complete a miscarriage.
It is clear from the recommendations of the Coroner’s Inquest that Savita’s tragic death is not related to the 8th amendment. The exhaustive investigation established that the actual cause of her death was an infection with a virulent anti-biotic resistant strain of E Coli compounded by a series of systems failures. This fact delayed the realisation by the medical team of the gravity of the risk to her life, and the timely implementation of the appropriate responses to it. The report can be found here: report (pdf).
It is no exaggeration to say that RTE followed the line taken by the Irish Times, in effect channelling the public distress and concern at the death of Savita Halappanavar so that it reinforced the Government’s insistence that legislation for abortion in line with the X Case ruling was necessary, by supporting the opinion that had such legislation been in place she would not have died. That view was not supported by the evidence uncovered at the inquest.
RTE admitted later that there had been “many missed opportunities, which if acted on, might have changed the outcome for her”. An excellent letter from a group of 11 doctors was published in The Irish Times. As they concluded, “it is important that all obstetrical units in Ireland reflect on the findings of the events in Galway and learn how to improve care for pregnant women. To reduce it to a polemical argument about abortion may lead to more – not fewer – deaths in the future.”
It is regrettable that the tragic death of Savita has been used by some to push for abortion. What should be a priority for everyone is to ensure that the guidelines proposed by the HSE on the management of sepsis be fully implemented across the country to avoid tragedies like Savita in the future.