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Family of Savita Halappanavar blames Irish law, medical negligence for her death

ANI  Belgaum, November 15, 2012
First Published: 20:05 IST(15/11/2012) | Last Updated: 20:07 IST(15/11/2012)

The family of Savita Halappanavar, the Indian dentist who died last month in Ireland after she was refused an abortion by hospital authorities citing religious grounds, blamed the Irish law against abortion and the negligence of hospital staff for her death

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Savita Halappanavar, 31, who was admitted to University Hospital Galway in western Ireland last month, died of septicaemia a week after miscarrying 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her repeated requests for termination were rejected because of the presence of a foetal heartbeat, her husband told state broadcaster RTE. Halappanavar was reportedly told that Ireland being a Catholic country, her request for an abortion would not be entertained.

The incident has drawn widespread outrage, with criticism coming in from multiple quarters on a law overriding humanitarian considerations.

Her father, Andalappa Yalagi, speaking in Belgaum on Thursday, blamed such archaic laws and the rigidity of the medical practitioners for his daugther's death.

"There are two reasons: one, the ban on abortion (under) Ireland's law, and secondly, the negligence of the doctors. I can say these two factors have taken place," Yalagi said.

Her mother, A. Mahadevi, said the authorities should have been sensitive to the situation and should have considered saving her life above everything else.

"It is a very important issue. The authorities there should have considered the fact that we follow the Hindu faith and they should have taken a decision after taking everything into perspective. Now it is time for our foreign ministry to take this matter up with the government of Ireland," Mahadevi said.

India's foreign ministry condoled Halappanavar's demise, saying that it would take up the issue with the Irish government once the twin enquiries instituted into the incident had submitted their reports.

"We deeply regret the tragic death of Mrs. Halappanavar. The death of an Indian national in such circumstances is a matter of concern. Our embassy in Dublin is following the matter closely. Our sympathies have been conveyed to the next of kin by our embassy, which is in touch with them. We understand that the Irish authorities have initiated two enquiries. We are awaiting their result, and we will take it up from there", said foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin in New Delhi.

At least 2,000 people gathered outside Ireland's parliament for a candle-lit vigil to demand that the government legislate to close a legal loophole that leaves it unclear when the threat to the life of a pregnant woman provides legal justification for an abortion.

Speaking in New Delhi, spokesperson for the Delhi Arch Diocese, Father Dominic Emmanuel, said that while the Church was against abortion, the priority when both a mother and child were threatened should be to save the former.

"In case of such an emergency where the life of a woman or a mother is in danger, first of all they should take all the measures to save the lives of both the mother and the chil, and in case you cannot do it and in the last analysis, if nothing works, your intention should never be to kill the child. You are not aborting the child. You are only taking steps to save the mother of the child," said Emmanuel.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Brinda Karat sounded a strong note of criticism, saying that the circumstances of the case made it one of culpable crime.

"This shows the utter insensitivity of governments who want to-in the name of religion-control women's bodies, and this case in Ireland is particularly shocking because it is nothing but a culpable crime. In the first place, no religion mandates that you watch a woman dying and you refuse to give her an abortion which is what she needed. The government of India, since the young woman was an Indian citizen, should and must intervene with the government of Ireland on this issue, and at least ensure that justice is brought to the family members of this woman," Karat said.

The news of Halappanavar's death overnight sparked a wave of anger on Irish social media, with more than 50,000 people sharing the Irish Times's lead story on the issue on Wednesday (November 14).

After several challenges, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose party has been criticised for delays in introducing legislation to define in what circumstances abortion should be allowed, offered condolences to the woman's family, but said he could not comment further until an investigation into the death.

Abortion remains an extremely divisive issue in Ireland, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country which has some of the world's most restrictive laws on medical terminations.

Despite a dramatic waning of the influence of the Catholic Church, which dominated politics in the country until the 1980s, successive governments have been loathe to legislate on an issue they fear could alienate conservative voters.

In the absence of legislation, Irish women are forced to go abroad to terminate their pregnancies, an option not open to seriously ill mothers.


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