I’ve had Savita Halappanavar and her family in my thoughts and my prayers since I first became aware of her story a little less than 24 hours ago.
Mrs. Halappanavar, a 17-weeks-pregnant Indian woman and her unborn baby have tragically died; now without clear detail on how she died and what the hospital did and when, their deaths have become another opportunity for misunderstanding flowing forth from our media in the form of a rekindled debate over abortion. According to media reports, Havita Halappanavar was miscarrying her baby when she was admitted to a hospital in “Catholic Ireland.”
Savita Halappanavar’s death has become the subject of worldwide controversy, and has ignited a debate over abortion laws in Ireland, finally starting by extension a bit of a worldwide opinion referendum on pro-lifers. The Church has been implicated by the public in her death because it is such a historic influence in Ireland, yet Savita Halappanavar was not at a Catholic hospital. “Irish Catholic bigotry kills woman,” Richard Dawkins declared on Twitter. “Write to the hospital to have the responsible doctor(s) struck off,” he said.
We don’t actually know the details of her death, such as the cause of the infection that is reported to have killed her, yet the media have discussed it as if it were a settled matter. If anyone might be eligible for a strickening, it would not because they are “Irish Catholic bigots” intent on killing women but because they may have been negligent.
“The lack of precise medical details included in media coverage of the Savita Halappanavar case does indeed make it difficult to offer a cogent moral analysis of what transpired,” Reverend Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center cautions. “If it were the case, for example, that she suffered from a serious placental infection unable to be controlled by other remedies, it would have been allowable to induce labor under a proper application of the principle of double effect. Such an action would not constitute a direct abortion, but maternally directed therapy to remedy the infection, with the secondary, unintended effect that the life of the child would be lost.”
As is so often the case in tragic situations, one family’s tragedy has become a cultural one too, leading to misrepresentations and pouring salt in painful wounds. In being a leading defender of the lives of the most vulnerable, the Catholic Church does not insist on the forgoing of medical treatment to suffering women. We do no one any good by adding a myth-based debate over the Catholic Church to an already awful situation.