I have blogged about the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar previously. I just read a timeline of her time in hospital. Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to the hospital due to extreme pain. She was actively miscarrying. Unfortunately for Savita she was in Ireland where her pregnancy could not be terminated as long as there was a fetal heartbeat. The timeline reads like a horror of medical decisions based on church doctrine enshrined in law.
For days Savita languished in a hospital bed asking to have her doomed pregnancy terminated. She had accepted that she was losing a child she desperately wanted. Finally when the fetal heartbeat stopped, the hospital evacuated her uterus. After the procedure, one of the nurses told her it was a girl. Savita desperately wanted a girl.
As Savita’s condition worsened, the doctors assured her husband she would be fine. Then the ask him if she had been around farm animals or anywhere strange as she had contracted e. coli as if somehow it was her fault that she was so sick. At one point the doctor leaves a critically ill Savita to go to the chapel and pray.
The doctors at this hospital in Galway told Savita that they could not terminate her pregnancy because it was against the law. It would seem that the Catholic Church places more value in the potential of life, than in actual life; the fetus trumps the mother. This is an inherently misogynistic and violent position. The Catholic Church does not value women. While men can become priests and rise to the position of pope, women are completely shut out of this career path. Sure they can become nuns and minister to the poor, teach or become nurses but they are never really in a position where they can influence church policy or make decisions. By shutting women out from the highest levels of church office, the voices of Catholic women are not heard or considered.
Savita was not Catholic. Yet she became a victim of Catholic doctrine. In a country where religious doctrine dictates medical treatment and where a doctor’s answer to a critically ill patient is to blame her, while he goes off to pray, many women will die. How many women have died because their fetus’s heartbeat was still detectable? How on earth can doctors practicing in Ireland fulfill their oath as they let a patient deteriorate and die all because her dying fetus still had a heartbeat?
I hope that Savita’s husband Praveen sues not only the hospital and the Irish Government but also the Catholic Church. We must move on from a place where the religious beliefs of a few privileged men determine whether women live or die.