Thursday, 22 November 2012

Savita Halappanavar: Catholic teaching and Irish Abortion Law

Pauline Gately MA (Bioethics) from Weybridge Parish has produced a very useful article on this very sad case to help explain this matter to others:
"The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar has been the subject of a great deal of media attention this week. Judgment has been made and political conclusions drawn on the basis of an account offered by the widower and without awaiting the results of the two investigations, by Ireland's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and by University Hospital Galway, now underway.

In the mainstream media the alleged circumstances are outlined. It is said that the doctors claimed they could not induce delivery, even to save the mother’s life, because it as contrary to Catholic teaching. This is uncritically and widely reported and it is claimed that Irish law, reflecting Catholic teaching, also prevented vital intervention and that she died as a consequence. This is nonsense.

With regard to Catholic teaching this article, by Catholic Voices, sets the record straight. That the doctors were not constrained by law from inducing delivery (on the basis of the information we have been given by the widower) is demonstrated by Section 21.4 of Ireland’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners:

In the mainstream media the alleged circumstances are outlined. It is said that the doctors claimed they could not induce delivery, even to save the mother’s life, because it as contrary to Catholic teaching. This is uncritically and widely reported and it is claimed that Irish law, reflecting Catholic teaching, also prevented vital intervention and that she died as a consequence. This is nonsense.

With regard to Catholic teaching this article, by Catholic Voices, sets the record straight. That the doctors were not constrained by law from inducing delivery (on the basis of the information we have been given by the widower) is demonstrated by Section 21.4 of Ireland’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners:

'In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.'

Note here the distinction between terminating the pregnancy and an intentional and direct attack on the unborn child. In the UK ‘termination of pregnancy’ is widely used as a euphemism for an intervention intended to kill the unborn child. But a moral distinction can be made (and is made by the Church) between an intervention to terminate the pregnancy to save the mother’s life but in which the child is not directly attacked and every effort is made also to save the child ("indirect abortion") and one in which the intention is to kill the child ("direct abortion").

Although not directly relevant to this case, it may also be of interest to note that direct abortion may never be necessary to save the life of the mother.

There are questions to be answered, but these are for the hospital and the Government insofar as it has responsibility for the proper conduct of the hospital personnel, not for the church. And this is properly reflected in the two inquiries now under way.

David Quinn, writing in the Irish Independent, speaks of ‘asymmetrical hysteria’: He observes that direct abortion may never be necessary to save the life of the mother.

There are questions to be answered, but these are for the hospital and the Government insofar as it has responsibility for the proper conduct of the hospital personnel, not for the church. And this is properly reflected in the two inquiries now under way.

David Quinn, writing in the Irish Independent, speaks of ‘asymmetrical hysteria’: He observes that "We are only ever outraged by anti-abortion laws and their consequences and never by the consequences of pro-abortion laws."

He goes on to point out that: "The Irish maternal death rate is one of the very lowest in the world at roughly three women per 100,000. The British figure is four times higher at 12 per 100,000 and the US figure is eight times higher at 24 per 100,000."

And he then asks: "How is it that Ireland without abortion is so much safer for pregnant women than Britain and America, which both have highly liberal abortion laws?"

Quinn’s article is also worth reading in full, although his implication at the end that an anti-abortion law will cause some ‘hard cases’ would be challenged by the evidence offered above.

We should reject all efforts to draw political conclusions from this and await the results of the two inquiries. Will they, I wonder, be subject to the same intense media attention as the current allegations?

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