Weekly Roundup: “Medical Misadventure” verdict in Galway, and mounting tension between Government parties over Abortion Bill

Welcome to another ARC Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. This week we look at coverage from the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Savita Halapannavar at Galway University Hospital; the Government’s failure to present Heads of Bill to the cabinet, and the unworkable draft proposal.

Jury returns a verdict of ‘death by medical misadventure’ at the inquest into Savita’s death

The inquest, at Galway Coroner’s Court, into the circumstances surrounding the death of Savita
Halapannavar at Galway University Hospital last October has concluded, with the jury reaching
a unanimous verdict of ‘death by medical misadventure’. The jury further accepted all nine
recommendations made by the coroner. These include systematic and nationally applicable
adjustments to the management of shift handovers in public hospitals, the tightening up of the
monitoring of blood tests with new protocols , and training to be provided, in the management and
treatment of sepsis.

The most significant recommendation, however, was the coroner’s view that the Medical Council
must, as a matter of urgency, ‘lay out exactly when a doctor can intervene to save the life of the
mother in similar circumstances which would remove doubt and fear from the doctor and reassure
the public’.

The evidence given to the inquest by the former Master of the National Maternity Hospital and its
current clinical director, Dr. Peter Boylan, was unequivocal: Savita Halapannavar did not die due
to the various deficiencies in her care after entering hospital – she died because the law in this
country did not allow her to have a termination when she and her husband requested one. Dr.
Boylan’s view, which he has subsequently clarified and repeated in various media, is stark: doctors
here cannot do what they would and could routinely do in other jurisdictions where such a threat
existed to the life of the mother. Unlike all other obstetric choices when the wishes of the mother
with regard to procedures are respected, and as far as possible, acted on, in these instances the
mother is powerless in the face of the law.

Speaking after the verdict, Savita’s husband, Praveen Halapannavar, said that the way she was
treated in hospital was ‘horrendous, barbaric, and inhumane…….she was just left there to die. We
were always kept in the dark’.

see more
ARC Press Release

Failure to bring heads of bill to cabinet

The Headline on the front page of last week’s Sunday Times read “Labour rejects ‘unworkable’
abortion bill”. Newstalk carried the Sunday Times report that Labour ministers rejected the draft
legislation and branded it unworkable following the inclusion of a plan that would force suicidal
women to be assessed by six doctors before being granted a termination.

Labour’s Junior Minister, Jan O’Sullivan, speaking on RTE last Sunday described the idea that
six doctors would be required to assess a suicidal woman before allowing an abortion as entirely
impractical. This sentiment was reiterated by both politicians and medical professionals. Dr
Anthony McCarthy, a leading perinatal psychiatrist, went so far as to say it was a “sick joke”
He also believes that suicidal pregnant women will continue to go abroad for abortions if they have
to see psychiatrists Irish Times

On foot of Sunday’s reports, Minister for Health James Reilly, subsequently clarified that pregnant
women who feel suicidal will not have to face six doctors. (theJournal.ie) However, as Ruadhan
Mac Cormaic reported in the Irish Times, assessment of a pregnant woman’s suicide risk emerged as the chief point of tension as the Government prepares to legislate for the X-case ruling of 1992. (see more)

Despite expectations, Minister for Health James Reilly did not bring the draft heads of the
legislation to Cabinet on Tuesday as originally planned. RTE has reported that draft heads of
legislation to deal with abortion are expected to be brought to Cabinet next week.

Tuesday saw strong exchanges between United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly and the Taoiseach.
The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the Government must ensure that ‘unreal
barriers’ are not erected in abortion legislation.

The Abortion Rights Campaign is gravely concerned about the continuing delay in introducing
legislation to protect the lives of pregnant women in Ireland. ARC call on Minister James Reilly to
ensure Cabinet is presented with the heads of Bill before next Tuesday, so that legislation can be
enacted before the summer

Proposed Draft Legislation for the Abortion Bill

On Wednesday night’s episode of ‘Tonight with Vincent Brown‘ it was revealed that James Reilly had been involved in the drafting of Abortion legislation calling for six doctors to be involved in the process for approving a termination when there is a threat of suicide. Earlier in the week Reilly said “I want to reassure people that there will be no question of a woman in distress with suicidal ideation being put through the sort of interviewing process that we have heard about on the television and the radio”.

The Independent revealed on Thursday morning that the proposal for the involvement of six medics was causing tension between the government parties. Enda Kenny has said that any legislation introduce will contain no new rights – It wouldn’t be constitutionally possible to legislate beyone the remit of the X case legislation without a referendum.

Enda also stated that there would be no referendum on abortion

The government can either make X case legislation completely unworkable by insisting on a panel of six doctors reviewing each case or they can make sure that legislation is woman-centred and ensures that those who are constitutionally entitled to have an abortion can practically access it.

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