Terrible tragedy

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from Belgaum in Karnataka, in a hospital  in Ireland has again brought the focus on the conflict between personal choice, which has a bearing on the health and wellbeing of an individual, and laws based on religious convictions and diktats. It has intensified the debate in that country on the need to change its strict abortion laws in line with the changes in society, advances in medical science, the wishes of individuals and above all with the imperatives of health care.

Savita died of blood poisoning after the doctors at the hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy even after she and her family made many requests for an abortion. They were not ready to abort the foetus as long as its heart was beating and when they carried it out it was too late to save Savita’s life.

Ireland is a Catholic country where abortion is banned because of the staunch opposition of the church. But in Savita’s case a full-blooded life was snuffed out in the attempt to save a foetus which would not in any case have survived. There cannot be a more mindless application of the law in which an attempt to observe the letter defeated its own spirit. The ban on abortions is itself blind and archaic. Ireland’s Supreme Court had ruled many years ago that the law should be amended to make abortions legal when the lives of mothers are in danger. But the government has not taken any initiative for that under pressure from the church. Even within the church there is a view held by some sections that a humanitarian view should be taken of the issues of life and death in such situations.

Savita’s death has caused dismay in Ireland and has triggered widespread protests against the rigidity of the law and the conduct of the doctors. It has strengthened the campaign in that country for sensible changes in the existing law. Thousands of people have gone to other countries, especially the UK, for abortion in cases in which the foetus is not in good health,  when continued pregnancy would have endangered mothers’ lives or to terminate unwanted or forced pregnancies. The decision of parents is of prime importance in such cases, and religious tenets, which evolved in different circumstances, should not constrain the freedom of individuals. Savita’s case should lead to a rethinking and positive changes not only in Ireland but also elsewhere. 

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