Hilary White

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Savita’s doctor denies ‘Catholic ethos’ remark, says she was prepared to offer ‘termination’

Hilary White

Updated April 10, 2013 at 10:34 EST to correct the date when sepsis was diagnosed

GALWAY, Ireland, April 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – International media packed into a small courtroom in Galway Courthouse heard testimony today from Savita Halappanavar’s attending physician, who disputed claims that she had refused Savita an abortion on the grounds that “Ireland is a Catholic country,” as had been widely reported in the media.

She testified that while she had initially denied Savita a termination since it was not medically necessary, she later changed her mind when her condition deteriorated; but by that point the baby had already died spontaneously.  

The death of Savita Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital in October last year, triggered an international media uproar. The media furor around Savita’s death contributed to the Irish government bringing forward legislation proposing to overturn the country’s constitutional protections for the unborn. 

The inquiry heard evidence today from Dr. Katherine Astbury, Mrs. Halappanavar’s attending physician.

Dr. Astbury said in a prepared statement that on Tuesday, October 22, shortly after being admitted to the hospital, Mrs. Halappanavar had asked for “medication to cause a miscarriage,” but that she had informed her that since her life was not in danger Irish law would not allow a “termination” at that time. 

However, on Wednesday, October 23, after sepsis was diagnosed, the doctor said she had changed her mind and decided to allow “a termination regardless of foetal heartbeat” because she believed the pregnancy was by then causing a “real and substantial risk” to the life of her patient. 

By the time she saw Mrs. Halappanavar again, however, the baby, a girl, had already died and was later spontaneously delivered. 

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Savita’s husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has claimed that Dr. Astbury had refused “termination” three times after his wife had asked for it. He claims that it was Dr. Astbury who made the remark about the Catholic ethos, a claim she strongly denied. 

Dr. Astbury told the inquest the question of a termination was discussed only once with Mrs. Halappanavar. There was no reason, she said, to discuss a termination again, since at that time there was no threat to the patient’s life or health. 

But when she diagnosed sepsis on Wednesday the 23, said Dr. Astbury, “I also informed Mrs. Halappanavar that if the source of the infection was not identified we would have no option but to consider termination regardless of foetal heartbeat.” 

A friend of Savita Halappanavar, Mrudula Vasealli, told the inquest that she and Mrs. Halappanavar had asked an unnamed midwife at the hospital whether “something could be done” to stop her baby’s heartbeat. She said the midwife asked a doctor and later returned and said, “We don’t do that here. It’s a Catholic country”. 

Two weeks after Savita’s death, her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, touched off an international media firestorm when he went to a pro-abortion member of the Irish media complaining that his wife had died because she was refused the abortion he claims she requested three times. He and his family, followed by much of the world’s press, claimed it was Ireland’s “Catholic ethos” and pro-life constitution that caused Savita Halappanavar’s death. 

Dr. Astbury said she had informed Mr. Halappanavar that blood tests were showing his wife was suffering from septicaemia “due to E. coli and extended spectrum beta lactasmase” bacterial strains resistant to many antibiotics. She said her medication was changed to deal with the infection, but Mrs. Halappanavar “suffered cardiac arrest at 12.45am on Sunday October 28th, 2012 and resuscitation was unsuccessful. 

Lawyers for the Health Service Executive have also said that only one request for a termination was made. Mr. Halappanavar admitted to the inquest he may have been “confused” over when requests were made for a termination of her pregnancy. They also said that Mr. Halappanavar could not have been present, as claimed, when Dr. Astbury met with Savita on Tuesday the 23, because he was bringing his wife’s parents to Dublin airport at the time.

Pro-life advocates have questioned the timing of the affair, at the moment when the government was under extreme pressure to legalise abortion, as deeply suspicious. It was later revealed that abortion campaigners, who quickly organised a rally around the case demanding that the government change the law, knew about and planned to use Savita’s death to promote their cause before the story was made public. A leaked e-mail indicated that the Irish Choice Network had been given prior knowledge of the case, days before it hit the media. 

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute, who has been closely following the inquest, said, “There does not appear to be any corroborating evidence against Dr. Astbury” on the issue of whether she had refused abortion because of Ireland’s “Catholic ethos”. 

“Yet the claim that she had relied on a Catholic ethos was first made in an interview on the Irish Times website, where it was alleged that Dr. Astbury had made the comment in front of several witnesses, including junior doctors,” Uí Bhriain told LifeSiteNews.com.

“If the Irish Times published this claim with the knowledge that there was no corroborating evidence, then the paper has very serious questions to answer," she added.

The inquiry also heard that a nurse who had taken Mrs. Halappanavar’s vitals on the evening of October 24 had said that in her seven years at the hospital she had never seen any woman with an inevitable miscarriage get so sick so quickly. Another doctor, Dr. Inkechukwu Uzockwu, Senior House Officer at Galway University Hospital, who was called to examine the patient, said he believed she was suffering from sepsis due to chorioamnionitis - an infection of the foetal membrane. 

Upon being told that Mrs. Halappanavar’s pulse was taken and found to be 110 beats per minute, Dr. Uzockwu said he had not been informed of the elevated pulse. “I was told the vital signs were stable…There is no question that if I had known she had an elevated pulse, this lady had ruptured membranes, I would have attended immediately.” 

The inquiry continues tomorrow. 

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