Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Savita case, a tragedy in Ireland

A man takes his wife and their young son boating. The boat capsizes in deep waters. The man is a good swimmer but his wife and son can’t swim. The husband can save only one of them. The question here is who should be given the preference. If a decision is delayed, both would drown.

Was it something like this that happened in Ireland last month?

Did the 31 years old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar die because the doctors at the hospital in Galway, Ireland could not decide about aborting her 17 week pregnancy?

Media reports do not indicate so. The doctors specifically decided not to interfere and save the mother because there was foetal heartbeat. Their justification was that Ireland is a Catholic country and the laws do not permit abortion.

Ireland is not a Catholic country. It is a republic. And, 20 years back that country’s Supreme Court had asked the government to make suitable changes in the abortion law. That has not been done yet.

What would have happened if the doctors had gone ahead with medical termination of the pregnancy and saved Savita? Technically, they could have been prosecuted. Many Irish women go to England for abortion because of this problem in their own country. Why bother about the theology of when the soul enters a foetus or whether a 17 week old foetus can be baptised?  

The sad truth is that Irish law relating to abortion is archaic. In Britain the relevant portion of the Penal Code was amended in 1967. In India too abortion was proscribed. Women who wanted to terminate pregnancy had to approach unethical doctors or quacks. Countless cases ended up with severe complications and even the woman’s death.

India shook itself awake and enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act which came into effect on April 1, 1972. Instead of abortion being defined as purposely causing miscarriage it became medical termination of pregnancy. Bravo, India.

What was result? Of course there was the good side to the legislation that was essential. Though the Act which was amended once, in 1975, provides specific conditions, many foetuses which would have been born girls, were aborted. Who wants a girl child?

In cases like Savita’s, a good doctor should interfere and save the mother, in any country, any religion. Will the Church frown if the man whose boat capsized saves his wife though she happens to be beyond childbearing?

Savita is a martyr. Her tragedy, sad, depressing as it is, has brought world attention to the question. It is likely to induce Ireland and other such countries to revise antiquated laws. Hopefully. Ireland has not given any commitment yet.

Heartfelt condolences to Savita’s family.


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