As a long-term fan of Harry Potter, your acting, and your preceding commitment to make the world a better place, I am urged to write a response to your recent open letter to Dr Savita Halappanavar. You are a huge name, a famous face and have great influence across the world. With an Oxford Degree and a Masters under your belt, you’ve encouraged many women to aspire academically and politically and for that I admire you. Due to the influence you have earned and are admired for, I was painfully disappointed to see your letter to Dr Halappanavar. What you have written was misinformed and poorly researched. I understand you are keen to support the introduction of abortion into Ireland, but this does not excuse misinformation to be spread especially concerning someone who is no longer here to correct you.
The tragic case of Dr Savita Halappanavar has been used and abused by abortion campaigners in Ireland. It is simply not true that being denied an abortion cost Savita her life.
Severe sepsis and lack of medical care cost Savita her life.
To clarify, below is a summary of what happened regarding the Savita case. (A full timeline of events can be read here)
A long and thorough investigation was done into this heart wrenching case and evidence shows that Savita died from a progressively worsening sepsis. An E.coli bacterial infection from her urinary tract had entered her bloodstream. It resisted antibiotics. And fatally, it went undetected. With the best medical care in the world, this is a very serious condition which could have been fatal. What is most distressing about this case, however, is Savita did not receive good medical care. On the contrary she was given utterly insufficient medical care.
From the first day she presented at hospital with back pains, on 21st October, critical signs of sepsis were repeatedly missed:
- Her abnormally high white blood cell count (a key signal of sepsis) was not communicated to her medical team.
- After her waters broke and pain continued, a student nurse found her pulse was abnormally high this was said to have been reported to the Senior House Officer, Dr Uzockwu.
- He denied being told this, stating he understood her vitals to be normal.
- The hospital then failed their policy and did not check her vitals every four hours.
The days passed. She should have been very closely monitored. Her condition was repeatedly missed and the care she received shockingly poor:
- She shivered through nights at the hospital with teeth chattering and was simply given a blanket.
- Unchecked, her heart rate doubled in speed and her temperature was high.
- A foul-smelling discharge was noted by one doctor.
- But the next doctor who checked on her had not read the notes herself and wasn’t not told about the discharge.
Finally, sepsis was diagnosed, but it was not recognised as severe sepsis and another key bit of information was missed:
- Lactate levels which detect signs of shock were tested.
- However, the test was rejected because it was in the wrong bottle.
- This was not communicated to Savita’s medical team.
Over the next few days, her condition worsened, and Savita deteriorated. She died a week after presenting to the hospital the previous Sunday. Due to multiple failings, Sepsis was only diagnosed on the subsequent Wednesday, with her full condition only picked up by blood tests on the following Friday. By this point she was in intensive care and in a critical condition.
An abortion for Savita?
Performing an abortion on Savita would not have reversed the medical negligence that led to the irreversible decline of Savita’s health. Dr. Hema Divakar said this about the case:
“Severe septicaemia with disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening bleeding disorder which is a complication of sepsis, major organ damage and loss of the mother’s blood due to severe infection, is the cause of death in Savita’s case. This is what seems to have happened and this is a sequence which cannot be reversed just by terminating the pregnancy.”
It is true that when Savita asked about an abortion she was denied it, on the grounds that her life wasn’t at risk from the pregnancy and the presence of the fetal heartbeat meant medical staff were conscious of two patients.
It is also true that doctors were planning to terminate the pregnancy once it was clear Savita’s condition had deteriorated severely.
What is not true is to conflate two truths:
Savita died. Savita was initially denied an abortion
Savita died because she was initially denied an abortion.
Simple research would have shed light on what happened in this case.
Truth seeking or agenda pushing?
What disappointed me was your seeming lack of interest in truth. Rather, you leapt upon this tragic case to shout about your cause. You wrote: “That the eighth amendment enabled valuing the life of an unborn fetus over a living woman.” This is simply fictitious and misleading. The eight amendment, in its own words, “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn” and the “equal right to life of the mother.”
This letter, to me, seems an odd way to ‘pay your deepest respects’ to the late Dr Savita Halappanavar. Instead of honouring her memory and life in and of itself, you ‘honour’ her by what her death has been used to promote. This seems to fly in the face of the age-old ethical principle, from Kant, of treating people as ends in themselves and not as a means to an end. This letter is an abuse of Savita’s memory rather than an honouring of it.
I hope you understand my concern and can look into the case in order to clarify the misinformation you have publicised.