Ireland’s Catholic Roots End In Woman’s Demise

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A 31-year-old woman was rushed to a hospital in Galway with severe stomach pains when doctors told her the child she was carrying was not going to make it.  In an effort to ease her pains, the woman requested an emergency abortion in order to save her own life.  However, the doctor replied that Ireland was a “Catholic Country” and that they would not perform the procedure until the baby’s heart stopped beating.  Unfortunately, the woman died a week later, suffering from blood poisoning that was contributed to the refusal to perform the abortion.  In a devoutly Catholic country, the subject of abortion can lead to violent debate, however when a woman’s life is at stake, is it really worth it?

The doctor at the Galway hospital is permitted to decide when the health of the mother is at risk when determining whether to perform an abortion, however, this decision has come under much scrutiny as it allows the doctor’s religious beliefs to play a role in his decision.  There is no steadfast rule in Ireland concerning when an abortion may be performed and its absence is placing future women in danger of being injured or killed because of a religious belief.

It is paramount in this discussion to leave religious and personal beliefs behind and focus as future lawyers on the facts of the matter.  The unborn child was declared by a doctor as being unable to survive.  Regardless of whether there was a heartbeat, the unborn child, in the opinion of a trusted doctor, would not be able to sustain life, period.  At this moment the doctor, who swears the Hippocratic Oath prior to being licensed, is handcuffed with a legal dilemma.  The doctor is required to preserve the life of the mother, however, is unable to prescribe abortive relief.  The Supreme Courts of the United States and Ireland have both found that abortions are allowed in cases where the life of the mother is at risk.  However, the doctor in this case was not bound by the ruling because the decision was not enacted into law.

Should the doctor be held responsible for the death of the woman or was his decision within his rights as a doctor?  What should Ireland do to clarify its position regarding abortions?  Should the European Court of Human Rights establish a universal position regarding abortions in the event the mother’s life is at stake or should it allow the individual countries to decide?

Source: Reuters

Photograph Source: Time

3 comments

  1. A doctor’s duty is to his patient. His job is to make a diagnosis of a patient’s medical condition, if necessary, he should inform the patient of the various medical procedures available, he must describe the risks and rewards of each option and he must perform the procedure chosen by the patient to the best of his abilities. There is of course the philosophical and religious debate that is attached to the issue of abortions however in this situation such a debate is unnecessary because the issue is not the moral or spiritual repercussions for having an abortion but the duty a doctor has to perform one when a patient chooses to have one.

    The decision to attempt to keep the child or to have an abortion is for the mother to make. Lawyers are able to remove themselves from representing a client in certain situations, however if a request for removal is made too far into the proceedings a judge will deny it because of how it would be unfair to the client. I think that doctors should have similar rule. If it is determined early on in the pregnancy that it is a high risk pregnancy and that later during the pregnancy the woman may need an abortion to save her life then a doctor, at this point, should be able to refuse. There would be no damage to the mother if she were to go out and find another doctor who would perform the abortion at an early stage, if the mother so chooses. However, when a doctor has made a diagnosis that the baby will not survive or has only a small chance at survival and that the mother’s life is in immediate danger as well the doctor should not be able to refuse to perform an abortion because it would go against his religious beliefs since it may mean the death of both the mother and the child.

  2. I remember reading this a few days after it happened and being totally shocked that this happened in Ireland. I guess I never really thought about its position on abortion and how heavily the Catholic religion weighs on Ireland’s legal system and its citizens’ professional decisions. After doing some research, I found that the issue of abortion in Ireland has already been in front of the European Court of Human Rights. In 2010, the Court, in A,B, &C v. Ireland, found that unless there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman there is not a right to an abortion in Ireland. This holding is supported by the Irish Constitution Article 40.3.3 which recognizes the right to life for both child and mother. Also, in 1992 there was an Irish Supreme Court case that held that the Irish Constitution allows for abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman, including from suicide. With all this supporting case law, how did this happen to Savita Halappanavar? Why didn’t the doctor perform an abortion and save her? I think that despite these rulings, the majority of Irish officials refuse to create a national medical protocol as to when to abort a fetus because it goes against core religious beliefs. The doctor should be held responsible because he knew the extent of her condition and had to know the possibility of her getting infected due to the abortion. This case will be in front of the European Court of Human Rights soon and I will be interested to see how the Court treats Ireland this second time around.

  3. I wrote blog not too long ago on Irish abortion law (http://pilr.blogs.law.pace.edu/2012/07/22/from-whom-is-all-authority-and-to-whom-as-our-final-end-the-influence-of-thomistic-philosophy-on-contemporary-abortion-law-in-ireland-2/) and, like McCallion, I was completely shocked when I learned just how much influence Catholicism has on the legal issues of Irish abortion law. Although the Fifth Amendment removes from the Constitution the “special position” of the Catholic Church, Catholic social doctrine continues to pervade contemporary Irish abortion law: Sections fifty-eight and fifty-nine of the Offenses Against the Person Act 1861, for instance, criminalize abortion in all circumstances- with the very narrow exception added later by Constitutional Amendment; that is, where the life of the mother is in immediate danger. A lot of good that exception did here.

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