Author of Savita Halappanavar report says 8th Amendment contributed to her death

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran outside Leinster House today. Pic: Collins.

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Savita Halappanavar died as a direct result of Ireland's restrictive abortion laws and not simply because she contracted sepsis, the author of the independent report into her death has said.

Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran made the comment as he said the eighth amendment is "not working" and declared his "surprise" it has taken five years since Savita's death for a discussion on its removal to take place.

Speaking during a meeting of the cross-party Oireachtas committee on the future of the eighth amendment which also heard former master of Holles Street Hospital Dr Peter Boylan call for the immediate repeal of existing laws and warn politicians will face "groundhog day" if they fail to do so, Prof Arulkumaran said the reality is Savita died because of Ireland's abortion laws.

Asked specifically by Independent senator Lynn Ruane "if the presence of the eighth amendment cost Savita her life", Prof Arulkumaran - who authored the report into her death - said: "It was very clear the things holding the hands of physicians was the legal issue. Anybody, any junior doctor, would have said this is a sepsis condition, we must terminate.

"She did have sepsis. However, if she had a termination in the first days as requested, she would not have had sepsis. If she had the termination when asked for it, the sepsis would not arise.

"We would never have heard of her and she would be alive today," he said.

The comment was later contradicted by Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who said there is "lots of differing opinion on that".

However, Prof Boylan responded on behalf of the witnesses, saying both he and Prof Arulkumaran "had the opportunity of reviewing her medical notes" and as such "have an unfair advantage" over the TD.

Prof Arulkumaran also told the committee he is "surprised" by the fact a referendum on the eighth amendment is only taking place now, telling Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger he made such a recommendation in his 2013 report and "nobody took notice of it".

The expert physician separately said the eighth amendment is "not working" and told Independent senator Ronan Mullen in one heated exchange about a woman dying on her return home from Britain after an abortion: "The mistake is not Marie Stokes. The mistake is with Ireland. That is the root cause."

Speaking during the same meeting, Prof Boylan told Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer Ireland will face "groundhog day" over and over unless the abortion question is definitively answered now.

"We'll be back, you've got to do something now," he said when asked what he would tell committee members if they do not recommend a repeal vote.

In an eight-minute speech to the committee during her own question time, Fine Gael senator Kate O'Connell also strongly called for abortion law reform, saying she was flying back from Britain last week and "walked down the aisle wondering who was travelling back" after an abortion.

Urging TDs to stop thinking about "our own careers" and telling them "to be brave here", Ms O'Connell asked Prof Arulkumaran, Dr Boylan and Mayo University Hospital specialist Dr Meabh Ní Bhuinneain to "stop pussy footing about" and say what Ireland should do, saying there is "a need to spell it out".

"Legislation, discuss with the woman based on the request for termination if she wants," said Prof Arulkumaran, while Dr Ní Bhuinneain said "use the result of the Citizens' Assembly".

Dr Boylan added simply: "Repeal the eighth and replace it with legislation."

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