Religious Sensibilities have no Place in Positions of Influence or Responsibility.

Savita Halappanavar, who may have died as a result of medical negligence

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


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About docconcoct

A wandering mind in a sea of noise. All photographs used on Hubris that are taken by me are copyrighted.

6 responses to “Religious Sensibilities have no Place in Positions of Influence or Responsibility.”

  1. petertferguson says :

    I am very curious to know what the reality of the situation was. From reading several reports, including those from “pro-lifers” it would have perfectly ethical and within guidelines to have performed the operation. Did the doctor not understand the legality of the situation and believed he could not perform the operation until the fetus was dead?

    Did he refuse to based on his own personal faith? Pro-lifers are saying that the “this is a Catholic country” comment is being sensationalised; while this may be the case to a certain extent, given the context and framing of the sentence, it clearly had something to with the decision making process, which you rightly point above, should never be the case.

    I hope the investigation doesn’t drag on too much and a report is produced while people still remember the incident. People’s fury is quite fleeting.

    • docconcoct says :

      I too would be interested to know what the level of legal understanding was. Having said that doctors take an oath to protect their patients and surely the people in question should have weighed the risks and realised the seriousness of the situation and done everything they could to save Savita.

      Regarding people saying that the ‘Catholic country’ statement is being blown out of proportion I ask them how exactly is it? Under what context was this relevant? Was the person in question having a theological political debate about the identity of Ireland? How in the name of common sense is the utterance about Ireland being a ‘Catholic country’ in any way related to the situation that Sivita was facing? For pro-lifers or anyone else claiming the reaction is out of proportion I’d bloody well say they’re being disingenuous.

      I do not get outraged to this degree often and certainly try to see things from every possible angle but I really cannot see any justifiable reason as to why this statement was uttered in this context or how it was relevant to the pleas of a very ill women to alleviate her suffering.

  2. finishedatlast says :

    The ‘It’s a Catholic country’ is not confirmed at this stage and frankly seems highly unlikely so one should be careful about framing an argument on it. This procedure happens to a regular degree in Ireland following the X Case 20 years ago. One possible theory is that the failure to act was due to the potential for litigation. The wider issue here, apart from the tragic and avoidable loss of life, is that in the 20 years since that passing of the X Case successive governments have proven unwilling to follow through and make concrete the law in these situations as it is politically unpopular. Again it is politicians more concerned with the length of their political career rather than serving the interests of their electorate

    • docconcoct says :

      You are quite right that it hasn’t been confirmed independently and despite it being widely reported there is no guarantee, but I do make it clear that I am making the argument above in the context of if the statement proves to be accurate. Having said that there has been no rush to refute the veracity of the claim made by Mr. Halappanavar either which would be odd if he were fabricating it since it is quite a serious claim. Regarding it being unlikely I’m not so sure about that. I’d never underestimate the capacity of a human being to be obnoxious and pious in any given situation.

      I agree with your analysis on the potential underlying problems which lead to this awful outcome and it is yet again a nasty, grubby reflection of our nation and its sickly state of affairs.

      EDIT: Another thought on the issue is that the staff member may have been attempting to explain the law (even though they were clearly incorrect) in the context of Ireland being a Catholic country but this still seems bizarre and at odds with logic. Not only were they incorrect in their assertion that it was illegal for them to perform a potentially life saving abortion but to state that Ireland is a Catholic nation as some kind of explanation for the law existing seems irrelevant and inappropriate in this situation. Granted if this were the case it would be marginally less offensive than it being used as some kind of justification for the decision as the case may also be.

  3. Roger says :

    She did not die as a result of medical negligence. The root of the problem is the grey area that is unknown by medical staff, and anyone for that matter, regarding the legalities of an abortion. A doctor is not going to perform a procedure that he may be liable for if not fully lawful, and the particular details are so vague that it is a risk.

    • docconcoct says :

      I find it hard to accept that a doctor would not recognise that a patient was at risk when she was dilated for 3 days and in agony while she slowly miscarried a non-viable foetus.

      What you’re suggesting is that a doctor would willingly risk a patient’s life in order to protect themselves from any liability, due to a grey area – that in this case doesn’t seem so grey.

      I would consider putting a patient’s well being at intentional risk to avoid liability as being negligent to a doctor’s responsibilities as a care giver.

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