Call for lifesaving legislation following tragic death of Westport dentist

Two Castlebar town councillors have called for the introduction of legislation following the death of a Westport dentist at University Hospital Galway on October 28.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, was reported to be 17 weeks pregnant when she died of blood poisoning.

Two investigations are now taking place and there have been calls locally and nationally for the expert group report to be published and fully debated immediately in the Oireachtas in a bid to bring forward legislation for the X case.

The deceased trained as a dentist in India and lived with her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, an engineer at Boston Scientific, in Roscam, Galway. She came to Ireland four years ago and worked in Westport.

She presented at the hospital with back pain on October 21, was found to be miscarrying and died of blood poisoning a week later.

Her husband is reported as saying that she requested a medical termination on several occasions over a three-day period. She had been told she was miscarrying and had spent one day in severe pain. He is quoted as saying that this was refused because there was still a foetal heartbeat and he was told it was the law, this was a Catholic country.

Reports indicate that she spent a further two and a half days in “agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was removed and Ms Halappanavar was taken to UHG’s high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit. She died there of septicaemia on October 28. The results of a post mortem revealed she died of septicaemia “documented ante-mortem” and E coli ESBL.

Labour councillor Harry Barrett has described the news of Ms Halappanavar’s death as “harrowing and horrendous”. While he has welcomed the fact an investigation has been launched he says it proves that our laws need to be updated in line with the 1992 referendum.

“As the only councillor in County Mayo who recently stood alone against a motion by Cllr Frank Durcan, that set its face against the Government writing such legislation; I am calling for action,” said Cllr Barrett.

“I can see no reason why Minister (James ) Reilly cannot bring the report of the expert group to Cabinet when it meets next Tuesday morning. To delay any further would be an insult to the life of the woman who died tragically at the end of last month. We as a society have been putting this off for 20 years and it is now high time for TDs to summon the courage to deal with it.

“We have seen, tragically, and as I explained in my speech recently, that even when there is a real and substantive risk to the life of the mother, and there is no hope of the foetus surviving, doctors are unwilling to proceed with a medical termination. And, as I said then, if it were my wife or daughter, I would want her to have the choice.

“If ever there was a case that shows Ireland's inability to deal with a serious issue which is endangering the lives of women, this is it,” he said.

Sinn Féin councillor Thérese Ruane, who attended a protest rally outside An Taoiseach’s office in Castlebar on Wednesday evening, added: “I recall the Minister for Health James Reilly saying that he did not want to be the seventh successive government to fail to take action on the Supreme Court findings on the X case 20 years ago. It's time he lived up to his word.

“The report from the expert group is sitting on the Minister's desk since yesterday and it must be published immediately. This must be debated in full in the Dáil and the Seanad. This government must bring forward legislation to ensure that women's lives are protected and a similar fate as the needless, avoidable, and tragic death of Savida Halappanavar does not happen to another woman in this State.”

A candlelit vigil is now being planned for Ms Halappanavar in Galway this Saturday.

Galway Pro Choice spokesperson Rachel Donnelly says more woman will die unless the government acts now to legislate for abortion.

However, Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign commented: “It is deplorable that those who want to see abortion available here are exploiting Mrs Halappanavar’s tragic death when the Medical Council guidelines are very clear that all necessary medical treatment must be given to women in pregnancy. Given this, we welcome the fact that a thorough investigation to establish what went wrong is taking place.

It is also vitally important to acknowledge at this time that Ireland, without induced abortion, is recognised by the UN and World Health Organisation as a world leader in protecting women in pregnancy and is safer than places like Britain and Holland where abortion is widely available.”


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