Life as an Extreme Sport

When We Know “It’s a Catholic Country” Isn’t An Excuse

A severely ill woman is admitted to the hospital. Doctors assess that without an abortion, she will die.

Oh, you think this is about Savita Halappanavar, don’t you?

Well, it is and it isn’t. Savita Halappanavar is a horrific story making the rounds now; a young woman admitted to an Irish hospital was suffering a miscarriage but told that doctors couldn’t perform an abortion until after the foetal heartbeat ceased, even though the pregnancy was clearly ending (as Ms. Halappanavar was fully dilated and her water had broken; at 17 weeks there is no way the foetus could have been delivered and survived). Why couldn’t the doctors perform this medically necessary procedure – one that is actually allowed, in the Republic of Ireland, if there is a real and substantive risk to the life of the mother?Other sources via Wikipedia, sorry: Charleton, Peter; McDermott, Paul Anthony; Bolger, Marguerite (1999). Criminal law. Dublin: Butterworths. p. 518 and Herring, Jonathan (2012). Medical law and ethics (4th ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 308. Well, according to staff at University Hospital Galway, because Ireland “is a Catholic country.” So instead of performing a medically necessary procedure, doctors, nurses and medical staff at Galway Hospital watched as Savita Halappanavar suffered for over two days before the foetus died. At this point, they evacuated her uterus – and it was too late. Septicaemia had set in; three days later, Ms. Halappanavar suffered multiple organ failure and died.

That takes us back to the severely ill woman who was admitted to the hospital in December of 2009. A Catholic hospital in Arizona, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. This young woman was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Sister Margaret McBride was the on-call member of the hospital ethics committee, and part of the care team that approved the abortion necessary to save this young woman’s life, even though abortions are not typically performed at Catholic hospitals.And, in fact, the hospital eventually lost their Catholic affiliation over this choice, because they refused to agree to never perform abortions again, placing the health and well-being of the pregnant woman over obsolete and medically inaccurate Catholic doctrine.

A Catholic nun at a Catholic hospital was able to make the decision that the living, breathing, suffering woman in front of her should not die because of a fatal complication of pregnancy. She did this even though the hospital guidelines specifically forbid abortion even to save the life of the motherAs noted here. Guidelines that are more strict than those in the Republic of Ireland. And while Sister McBride was automatically excommunicated under the Catholic concept of latae sententiae, she was also returned to a member in good standing of both the Catholic Church and her religious order.

So then, this isn’t about Savita Halappanavar or that unnamed Arizona woman; this is about that medical team. This is wondering: what is the excuse of every single member of the medical team at University Hospital Galway? I think at this point, we’re all waiting.

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