The cruel wickedness of the State was once again laid bare this week for all to see.
On Wednesday, the family of the late Natasha Perie received a High Court apology and €150,000 in compensation from the HSE.
Five years ago this Christmas, the tragic story of the 26-year-old Natasha and her unborn baby made front-page news when her family were forced to go to court to try and end her life after she suffered a large ruptured cerebral cyst.
On December 3, 2014 in Dublin, a medical clinical determination had been made that Natasha had suffered brain stem death.
Even though she was brain dead, because of legal concerns surrounding the now excised Eighth Amendment, which guaranteed to protect equally the life of the mother and the unborn, Natasha’s body was being ventilated for several weeks, despite it beginning to decay.
As set out in the judgment in 2014, she was in the intensive care unit of the hospital where she was being supported by mechanical ventilation and being fed by a nasogastric tube.
She had been maintained on very heavy doses of medication for a number of conditions including pneumonia, fungal infections, high blood pressure, fluid build-up and fluctuations in the production of urine.
She had been receiving physiotherapy twice daily for secretions from her chest and her joints and muscles were being cared for.
Because of the legal uncertainty, Natasha’s body was being kept alive but to the great distress of her loved ones, including two small children, was physically breaking down.
In evidence, her father Peter set out what happened. He was told by the medical staff that, for legal reasons, they felt constrained to put his daughter on life-support because her unborn child still had a heartbeat.
He found this very stressful. On each occasion he visited, her appearance appeared to be deteriorating and her body had become very swollen.
Peter Boylan, the well-known consultant, also gave evidence in court and he expressed grave doubt as to the viability of the unborn child,especially given the presence of infection in Natasha’s deteriorating body.
“Of particular concern in the present instance was the open wound in the skull of Natasha where there is a large mass of dead tissue which will act as a focus for sepsis and infection of her bloodstream, inevitably resulting in infection of the unborn resulting in a rupture of the membranes and a very pre-term delivery.
A newborn, if it survived, would be likely to be significantly damaged,” he said in evidence.
But he revealed too the mindset of the doctors involved.
“A study of the notes brought home that the doctors in the Dublin hospital were clearly concerned, having regard to the mother’s pregnancy, not to do anything that would ‘get them into trouble from a legal point of view and were awaiting legal advice’,” he said in evidence.
Seeking to bury their daughter and grandchild with dignity, Natasha’s family found themselves in the High Court on Christmas Eve and St Stephen’s Day fighting the State to have somatic care withdrawn, as there was no prospect of a recovery.
While the Perie family and Natasha’s finance Mark Johnson sought to end their nightmare, the family’s tragedy became a national battleground for the then raging debate on abortion.
The extent of the toll on the family was eloquently laid out by Natasha’s father Peter on the steps of the Four Courts this week.
“As Nastasha’s father, I would like to express how traumatic and heartbreaking my daughter’s death has been on all the family, especially Natasha’s two children,” he told the media.
“Five years ago, my beautiful daughter Natasha was admitted to Mullingar General Hospital suffering from severe headaches and was misdiagnosed as suffering from morning sickness.
“She was a 26-year-old pregnant, young girl. Sadly, Natasha never came home. She died as a result of a large ruptured cerebral cyst that went undiagnosed while in hospital. What followed was nothing short of a nightmare,” he said.
“This is our third encounter with the legal system. Five years ago, we fought to have somatic care withdrawn, to allow my daughter and her unborn baby, a dignified funeral and burial.
“Instead, we faced Christmas Eve, and St Stephen’s Day in court. Now, for Natasha’s two children, Hannah and Keelan, Christmas is forever associated with the loss of their beloved mom. While most of the media acted in a very respectful way, we endured a torrent of abuse on social media.
“Our second outing with the courts system was in September 2015, where we endured an inquest into my daughter’s death, which was horrendous and distressing.
“As a family, we gave evidence as to what happened to Natasha, but were made feel like we were on trial, and the outcome of an open verdict was unsatisfactory,” he said.
“While today’s HSE’s apology brings some closure and will allow us to finally grieve for Natasha, the pain heartbreak and distress will never go away. Natasha is gone forever,” he concluded.
Through no fault of their own, the Perie family were forced to confront the might of the State’s machinery which sought to, as Peter Perie said, put them on trial.
They have been forced, because of the legal strategy adopted by the HSE, to endure a five-year battle to getjustice and closure from this horrific incident.
Their daughter Natasha, and herunborn child, were failed repeatedly by the State.
They were failed when the ruptured cyst was missed and there was a misdiagnosis of morning sickness.
When she suffered the rupture, she was failed again by her doctors who raised concerns about switching of the machines because they feared potential legal action arising from the Constitutional obligation to protect equally the right to life of the mother andbaby.
What was clear from any reading of the judgment from the 2014 case in the High Court which allowed the machines to be switched off, the viability of the baby was in serious doubt, undermining the decision to keep Natasha “alive” post December 3, when she was found to have suffered a brain stem death.
So the family suffered the trauma of the court case, then they had to sit through Natasha’s inquest in 2015 where, as Peter says, they felt as if they were on trial.
Four years on from that, even after all the promises made by TaoiseachLeo Varadkar and Simon Harris about how such cases involving the State would change as to make them lessadversarial, the HSE were still refusing to admit liability when it came tothe trauma suffered by the Periefamily.
Even after all the promises made in the wake of the Cervical Check scandal, the State remains despicably cruel to the families it has hurt the most.
The promises made by Varadkar, Harris and their fellow ministers ring disgustingly hollow when you hear Peter Perie speak the way he did on Wednesday.
It does not need to be this way.