Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(1) February 2023

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar

Dr Pravin Thevathasan

Pravin ThevathasanSavita Halappanavar died in 2012 at University Hospital, Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant. The cause of death was sepsis, E.coli in the bloodstream and a miscarriage. Her death was a rallying call for changes to the Irish law on abortion. Ireland is now a pro-abortion nation.

I asked Dr John Bruchalski, a pro-life gynaecologist who has one of the largest free-standing pro-life medical practices in the United States, for his clinical opinion of the case of Savita Halappanavar:

"She was with child and her fetus/unborn child was approximately 17 weeks gestation; far from viability - life outside her uterus. Her waters broke and her membranes were already at her introitus if I remember correctly. Apparently, the physicians on duty did not think there was an infection, endometritis, brewing or developing and they took a wait and see attitude. She developed sepsis, Savita was infected severely, and then she died of an MI.
Infection is a common cause of preterm birth with a rising white blood cell count. Because sepsis, like hemorrhage is a common cause of maternal morbid­ity and mortality, AND her child was far from viability, we life affirming physicians would target the infected placental membranes with soon as sepsis or even infection was suspected.... to remove the abscess from the mom’s body, and under the principle of double effect, the death of the child is the forseen but not direct intention of the procedure of induction. We treat the disease always, in this case the infection of the placental membranes, probably because of the time those membranes were spent sitting in the birth canal/vagina. We never directly intend the death of the unborn.
Elective abortion is when the unborn child/fetus is considered the bad actor that must be neutralized to save the mom’s life. It is devastating to Mom to speak to her like this, putting her life against that of her unborn child. Life affirming doctors NEVER pit mom against her child. A healthy mom is good medicine for a healthy fetus/unborn child."
Because our logic and language have become so malleable and mushy these days, most people do not see the moral or practical or medical difference but we do because words and thoughts still matter in rational discourse and in eternity’s judgement."

A consultant with decades of experience in intensive care medicine writes:

"No direct attack on the foetus can be made. But if the source of sepsis was amnionitis/endometritis, the current evidence is that the sepsis should be treated by medical means (antibiotics etc.). But if the sepsis is overwhelming and endangering the life of the mother, we can proceed to evacuate the septic tissue and, as an unintended but foreseen consequence, the death of the foetus occurs."

So, both clinicians are in agreement that the principle of double effect applies:

  1. The treatment procedure is morally neutral.
  2. The intention is to treat the disease. The death of the foetus is an unintended but foreseen consequence.
  3. The means of saving the mother's life is treating the disease. The death of the baby is not the means by which her life is saved.
  4. Saving the life of the mother is a propor­tionally grave reason to tolerate the unintended death of the baby.

I received two further correspondences. Firstly from a retired consultant pathologist with a wealth of experience:

"She presented with an inevitable miscarriage (defined as the cervix being open). The clinicians did not note that the sample taken on admission showed a resistant E Coli infection. So, with an untreated infection missed by several examinations, she developed septic shock which killed her days later. The reality is that had she been appropriately treated at the beginning, the outcome would have been different. Although clinically the initial treatment would have been with appropriate antibiotics, when her condition deteriorated, the double effect principle would have justified the unintended but foreseen death of the baby."

One of our leading pro-life physicians writes:

"The medical consensus is that she should have been treated with antibiotics and delivery to save the mother's life, accepting the unintended death of the baby. ..three independent inquiries all determined that death was caused by medical negligence...the (pro-life) law at the time would have allowed appropriate management to have taken place."

Does this mean that Savita Halappanavar's life could have been saved without having to change the abortion laws in Ireland? It would appear so. There are reasons why the maternal mortality rates were lower in Ireland than in Britain when Ireland was a pro-life nation. The clinicians in Ireland understood the principle of double effect reasoning.

So, are we saying that the people of Ireland were duped? Were the people of Kansas recently duped when they voted in favour of abortion believing that pro-abortion laws are needed in order to save the life of the mother? It would seem so. I fear that people in many other states and nations are going to be duped in a similar fashion. I do not believe that most people are aware how virulently pro-abortion the mainstream media and most of the political establishment have become. The Irish Times reports that the tenth anniversary of Savita Halappanavar's death will be marked by a march calling for further "abortion reforms." The abortion activists want to dismantle the few safeguards that are left. Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland has said that "the ongoing criminalisation of abortion...was a significant barrier in terms of access...the legislation could have gone much further post referendum. It didn't and this review is the opportunity now."

But the tragic death of Savita Halappanarvar was not due to the Irish pro-life laws at the time. Her memory continues to be cynically manipulated by the pro-abortionists.


18 October, 2022, The Kitty Holland Irish Times. Tenth anniversary of Savita Halappanavar’s death to be marked by march calling for major abortion reforms.­marking-10th-anniversary-of-savita-halappanavars­death-to-call-for-major-abortion-legislation-reforms/