Fears over law delayed help for Savita, says medic

Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Sabaratnam Arulkumaran.

Fear of prosecution held back Savita Halappanavar’s clinical team from terminating her pregnancy sooner, the medical expert who headed the inquiry into her death has said.

Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, said the hands of doctors should not be tied because of a legal situation.

At a conference hosted by the Irish Family Planning Association, Prof Arulkumaran said the people of Ireland must vote yes on Friday to repeal the Eighth Amendment to “right a serious wrong”.

He had spent more than 40 years in clinical practice and has come across a number of pregnant women with the severe cardiac disease, renal disease, sepsis, and other serious conditions.

Decision-making was very very difficult but the treating physician had to take the woman’s health into consideration and decide whether she needed an abortion or not.

“By having this Eighth Amendment it ties their hands; they can’t make a decision,” he said.

Prof Arulkumaran said if doctors treating Ms Halappanavar had not been concerned with the foetal heartbeat, she would have been treated much earlier.

Ms Halappanavar died of septicaemia in her 17th week of pregnancy at Galway University Hospital on October 28, 2012. She had asked about the possibility of having a termination when she was miscarrying in the hospital.

The inquiry into her death found she was inadequately assessed and monitored by her clinical team.

Prof Arulkumaran said Ms Halappanavar was admitted with an inevitable miscarriage at 17 weeks and showed signs of sepsis that were not well documented.

Her clinical team kept looking for a foetal heartbeat, even when she had a pulse rate of more than 160 beats a minute and a high temperature.

Prof Arulkumaran said his committee’s report clearly indicated that doctors would have terminated the pregnancy much earlier if Eighth Amendment did not exist.

“The law as it stands is not enough to safeguard the health — the permanent health, of the woman,” he said.

He said a yes vote was needed to better protect the health of pregnant women and ensure that doctors could provide the best possible care to women in Ireland.


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