The Dublin government has been forced to organise a second inquiry into the death of a pregnant woman at University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) after it drew international condemnation for the profoundly incompetent manner in which it constituted the first.
Savita Halappanavar, an Indian-born dentist settled in Galway, died last month from an infection as her pregnancy miscarried. It was reported that a potentially life-saving termination may have been refused to Savita because of a lack of legislation in the area, despite a Supreme Court judgement on the matter 20 years ago.
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has said medical staff repeatedly refused to carry out a termination, telling him and his wife that Ireland “is a Catholic country”.
The Dublin government brought on further criticism when three colleagues of the medical staff involved were appointed to the panel of an inquiry set up by he Health Service Executive (HSE) last week. Amid widespread suspicions of a potential cover-up, her husband has refused to co-operate with that inquiry.
Despite an extraordinary appeal from the floor of the Dublin parliament by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Mr Halappanavar to support the HSE investigation, the government eventually succumbed to public sentiment and asked another government agency, HIQA (the Health Information and Quality Authority), to carry out an investigation as well.
Ireland’s controversial Minister for Health, James Reilly, met Mr Halappanavar in Galway today to express the government’s condolences and to inform him of the new plan. Nevertheless, there have been renewed calls for the serially-disgraced Minister to resign his post and to quit politics.
Civil liberties campaigners have pointed out that the HIQA investigation is unlikely to meet the State’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Any inquiry would be an inquiry which would call witnesses to give evidence under oath,” said Mr Halappanavar’s lawyer, Gerard O’Donnell.
“Mr Halappanavar is prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights if an independent public inquiry is not set up into his wife’s death,” he told state-run radio.
A Sinn Fein motion, calling on the government to introduce long-delayed legislation for cases where a termination is needed to save the life of the mother, was defeated earlier this week in the Dáil by the Fine Gael and Labour coalition.
Despite the largely ceremonial nature of his role, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, spoke directly on the matter while on an official visit to England.
He said he had been moved by the “enormous response” to the “tragic death of wonderful Savita” and hoped that lessons would be learned from her case to ensure that women in Ireland felt safe.
“But look, at this particular time, as President of Ireland, my sympathy goes to her husband and to her relatives in India and I do hope that there will be such a satisfactory investigation as meets those family needs and also meets the state’s responsibility.
“And, also particularly above all else, out of it women will be safer and get the medical services to which any woman is entitled in any part of the world,” he said.
His comments were criticised by government figures for “overstepping the bounds” of his role.
But during a visit to the Irish Centre in Liverpool, he defended his remarks.
“I did say it [the inquiry] should be aimed at ensuring the safety of the health of women and I think, surely, that is the greatest consideration.”