Yesterday evening I attended a talk, jointly hosted by the Humanist Atheist Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway and Atheist Ireland, from the fairly well known Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku. Mr Edamaruku is an academic and is the president of the unfortunately named Indian Rationalist Association (I.R.A). However, levity aside, Mr Edamaruku faces the unwelcome prospect of persecution in his home country of India. In spite of this, he spoke calmly and deliberately of his predicament.
He is currently in exile for his “provocation” of the Catholic church in Bombay, whereby through the act of explaining a so-called miracle involving sub-standard plumbing and a statue of Jesus, he incurred the wrath of a number of high-ranking bishops, not least “His Eminence” Oswald Gracias . As a consequence, the church has contrived to have Mr Edamaruku imprisoned for his contravention of laws regarding blasphemy – laws which, no less, date back to the 19th century. The very real threat of three years in prison – and worse – forced Sanal to flee his native country and he has sought refuge in Europe. He was abruptly cut off, indefinitely, from those dearest to him, while attending to the business of a lecture trail overseas. Nevertheless, despite the potential dangers he faces, he has vowed to return to India, saying, rather confidently, that he is on a “mission” against the prevalence of such archaic laws and other such superstitious practices. “The problem we have in India is that we have the 14th and 21st century coexisting,” he said.
His “mission” is what brought him to Ireland. While seeking support against ludicrous legislation in his own case, Edamaruku has simulataneously called on the Irish people to rid themselves of their own law against blasphemy, which prohibits the utterance or publication of “grossly abusive or insulting [material] in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, which causes “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. As Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland noted, in closing, at the event, such a law strongly appears to “incentivize outrage”. Furthermore, Mr Edamaruku stressed that the Irish law against blasphemy was increasingly being used as a precedent on which to lay the foundation of an argument for a much more far-reaching law against blasphemy. Such a prospect is simply terrifying.
If the people of Ireland truly value human rights and equality, then it is imperative that they resolutely reject their most stringent and archaic laws, and lend their support to the plight of those who, like Sanal Edamaruku, are suffering their outrageous consequence.
Yesterday when I first heard of the events surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar from multiple news outlets I quickly became emotional by what I was hearing from the trickle of information and innuendo that was being put forward. When I read about the alleged statement about Ireland being a ‘Catholic country’ I lost objectivity and I became enraged and this ultimately culminated in what can only be described as a reactionary piece of writing by myself. This may have been largely due to having heard people in the past proclaim Ireland in such a fashion – under different circumstances – and the statement being given a level of significance in the media that it likely didn’t deserve, but that is no excuse. I should have known better. I should have taken a long moment and thought it through. I didn’t. Instead I reacted without knowing nearly enough about the situation at hand.
Having had 24 hours to simmer down, a literal night of tossing and turning in my sleep, and having discussed further the incident with posters here, I’ll attempt to rein in my emotions and approach the issue again.
While I framed my last post using the caveat of ‘the statement, if accurate,’ I didn’t go to enough lengths to highlight that my outrage was only valid if said statement was accurate AND the context in which it was said was as it appeared. Through discussion with finishedatlast and other posters it occurred to me that while the utterance seems totally bizarre and inappropriate in the situation described it may have been an attempt by the member of staff to explain away the lack of a legislation which would make it clear when an abortion was allowed. That the reason for no legislation was because the people of Ireland (the majority of whom are indeed Catholic), despite 20 years having lapsed since the X Case and the constitutional changes surrounding it, have not held their elected TDs accountable for not legislating the changes in question. This may be the more likely context of the quote, although obviously by stating that Ireland is Catholic is hardly a sufficient and full address of the issues underlying our lack of clear legal rights regarding abortion.
As it stands we are awaiting official findings to ascertain exactly what happened in this tragic case. It may well be that Savita could have survived had she had an abortion when she initially requested one, although this is working under the assumption that what proved fatal to her was as a result of a reported 3 day miscarry and that she did not have septicaemia before it was medically determined that her foetus was not viable. We just don’t have enough information to draw any firm conclusions as of yet.
I stand by the assertion that anyone in a position of power or influence must not allow their religious beliefs to influence decision making and should be removed if they do. However, clearly that point may not be relevant to the tragedy at hand and should not be the focus of discussion.
Our focus should be on the loss of life which may have been avoidable. The focus should be on the cowardly TDs and their lack of backbone in successive governments to legislate for the High Court ruling that may have saved Savita’s life. If it had been legislated for and a law existed in black and white there is a good chance this discussion would not be happening in the emotive manner it is. That’s not to say that Savita would still be alive but there would be little speculation surrounding the reasons why an abortion was refused if indeed it would have been at all.
I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt of context regarding the ‘Catholic country” statement and will wait official findings instead of allowing emotions to better me again. However, I do firmly believe that if Savita did indeed request an abortion for a foetus that was not viable and she was indeed suffering in great pain that there should have been no question about what the course of action should have been. People will be quick to jump to the defence of medical staff who were unsure of the law and may have been protecting themselves from liability but it must also be remembered that a medical doctor’s first priority is the well being of their patient and if it turns out an abortion could have saved Savita’s life then there is no excuse that should have prevented it happening.
That all said, until we have the results of the various inquires no one can or should be held accountable, or shoulder the blame, for this sad loss of life. In the coming weeks I hope the events will become clearer. For now the only people we can look to with any real sense of outrage is the government for allowing an environment to exist where such a discussion is even possible.
Today I learned from a bewildered English colleague that Savita Halappanavar, a dentist based in County Galway in the Republic of Ireland, died in hospital from septicaemia largely due to the draconian anti-abortion laws of Ireland.
It seems that Mrs Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was miscarrying. Mr Halappanavar has stated that his wife accepted the sad loss and requested that labour be induced. Why? Because Savita, a 31-year-old woman, was in agonising pain and her foetus was not going to survive either way. Upon making this request she was met with the response that, as Mr. Halappanavar told reporters, she “could not have an abortion because Ireland was a Catholic country and the foetus was still alive”.
Let’s consider that response. She was not denied a potentially life saving abortion because legal guidelines prevented it (which is not the case by the way), but because Ireland is a “Catholic country”! This is a fucking outrage! The statement, if accurate, is such an odd way of framing the issue it comes across as borderline racist. Did the person take a look at Mr Halappanavar and his wife and decide that they were not Catholic, were not ‘local’ and that they must understand their place in the ‘Catholic’ country that is Ireland? Where the tenuous signs of life of a dying foetus are more important than a fully realised human life in the form of Savita, who was in actual identifiable pain, who had an actual conscience, an actual personality and actual loving relationships with other living people? What exactly do the beliefs of a person about what kind of country Ireland is have anything to do with informing a medical decision? I can’t wrap my mind around this. Something is very wrong with this picture.
I am sick and tired of religion being used to inform medical decisions, be it female circumcision in some parts of the world or indeed male. That religious beliefs appear to have influenced the decision making process in this instance – which ultimately led to the death of Savita – is equally as abhorrent as the previous religiously informed ‘medical’ decisions noted.
I’m going to be frank about this. These people need to be removed from any position of influence in society. There is no place in any workplace for someone who allows their personal beliefs about a deity to influence their professional decisions. Outside of a church or related venture I’d like to hear of an example where someone thinks this is not the case. Many jobs in organisations insist that employees sign non-disclosure contracts so that inside information not be shared or revealed. Now, even if an employee does not agree with some things that may be going on they are legally bound to abide by this contract. Do we need an equivalent for religious beliefs? Do we really need to start asking medical staff to sign a legally binding contract stating that their personal, religious, beliefs be put aside in favour of following legal and medical practice? While there is a risk that someone is delusional enough to deny a lifesaving abortion and use religion as an excuse I think we do need such legal assurances. If someone was legally obligated to follow accepted medical and legal procedure or face retribution it may prevent a repeat of what happened in Galway University Hospital. If someone refused to sign this contract – which, let’s face it is doing nothing but instruct them to do their job properly – then they simply should not be employable.
I will repeat myself. There is NO place for people in any position of influence or power who allow religious views to dictate important, potentially life saving decisions. This is a dark day for Ireland. How someone can stand there and proclaim Ireland a ‘Catholic country’ after all the pain and suffering the church has caused this small island sickens me. So continues the destructive influence of religion. May it end soon as I for one am sick to the back teeth of hearing about it. May Savita rest in peace and I dearly hope her husband Praveen finds some justice in all of this. Shame on you HSE. Shame on you.
EDIT: See follow-up