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Italy records first death linked to abortion drug RU-486

A hospital in Turin is under police investigation after a 37-year-old woman reportedly died after taking the abortion drug regimen RU-486.
Wed Apr 23, 2014 - 11:31 am EST

TURIN, Italy, April 22, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A hospital in Turin is under police investigation after a 37-year-old woman reportedly died after taking the abortion drug regimen RU-486. Although there have been dozens of deaths related to the drug around the world, the Turin incident is a first in Italy since it was approved for use in 2009.

The public prosecutor has ordered an autopsy to verify the exact cause of death, which is reported to have occurred after the woman suffered a “respiratory crisis.”

Paolo Simone, medical director of Martini hospital in Turin said, “We are shocked. For us this tragedy does not have an explanation. We can guarantee 100% that there were no errors.” Simone told media that the woman, who was the mother of another child, had no known pre-existing illness. He said the hospital followed the protocol for the drug.

Italian media reports that the woman took the first stage of the regimen, mifepristone, and went home. Two days later she returned to the hospital for the second half, a drug that causes uterine contractions to expel the dead child. During her second hospital visit the woman, who has not been named in the press, developed breathing problems and heart palpitations.

The medical examiner will have 60 days to reach his conclusions. 

Eugenia Roccella, a Deputy and former health minister, said that the drug is used too casually. In an op-ed in the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, she estimated that in all, including the young woman in Turin, there have been as many as 40 deaths associated with RU-486 around the world. “We know from the scientific literature that the mortality for chemical abortion is ten times higher than that for surgical abortion,” she said. 

“In recent years we have seen a continuous forcing of the regions to broaden the use of the abortion pill: it is urgent that the casual use of RU-486 stops, remembering that abortion cannot be addressed in such an ideological and quick way.”

The Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency (AIFA) approved the drug on the condition that it must be administered only by physicians in hospitals up to the 49th day of pregnancy, and not sold over the counter in pharmacies.

Silvio Viale, a gynecologist who helped develop the drug, said there is no “theoretical link of causality” with the abortion drug, but added that the second stage of the regimen, a prostaglandin, has been associated with “cardiac effects.”

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Viale said that RU-486 has been used by “tens of millions of women around the world,” including as many as 40,000 in Italy.

But the incident in Turin has roused legislators to revisit the controversy over the drug, which came close to being rejected in Italy’s Senate. New Centre Right Deputy Alessandro Pagano said the woman’s death “poses dramatic questions on a method of abortion which in certain cases is treated with precautions, but too superficially and with too much confidence.”

“What happened demonstrates irrefutably that the approach to RU486 should not be comparable to what it would be for example, to a normal over-the-counter medication and that the use of this pill cannot be allowed to outpatients without hospitalization.” 

Roccella, a former feminist who now campaigns against abortion in Italy’s Parliament, wrote that when the drug was introduced, it was advertised “superficially” as a “safer and less invasive” abortion technique than surgery.

But “the way you stop a pregnancy does not change the substance of the facts - the suppression of a human life,” Roccella wrote.

“However you think of ‘voluntary interruption of pregnancy’ it is a serious social problem, which not only affects individual women but challenges us all.” 

She continued, “The truth is that the abortion pill was meant to put a bomb under Law 194, to eliminate the (few) restrictions that the law imposes. The political calculation is simple, and already experienced in France, because it is politically difficult to ‘widen’ the law on abortion. Instead, by-passing Parliament [the pill] changes the practice of abortion, in fact introducing abortion at home and breaking up the establishment of 194.”

The ploy is straightforward, she said, to “make it easier to support in Parliament [the argument] that the law is outdated and must be changed to be more permissive.”

At the time the drug was introduced in Italy, Roccella was serving as undersecretary of health. She recalled that it was introduced for strictly political, ideological reasons by a vote from the left, even without the prompting of the manufacturer to market the drug in Italy.

“In the end,” she said, “the abortion pill was introduced through a European procedure of ‘mutual recognition’ which Italy could not escape.” 

Roccella said that once this was accomplished, her office introduced the rules that it could only be administered on an in-patient basis, a decision that was attacked as “exaggerated and inappropriate, while in other countries there were women who died.”


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