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Savita case: Midwife sorry for 'Catholic country' comment

April 11, 2013 10:44 IST

A midwife has apologised for telling Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, who had a miscarriage, that she could not have an abortion in Ireland because it was a "Catholic country".

Ann Maria Burke admitted she made the remark to Savita at the University Hospital in Galway just days before the latter died after giving birth.

According to Irish media reports, the senior midwife said she had been trying to explain the law of the land after the 31-year-old said she was a Hindu and she would have ended her pregnancy in her home country.

"I did mention it's a Catholic country," Burke told Galway coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin.

"I didn't mention it in a hurtful context. It was in a conversation we had," she said, adding, “I am sorry that I said it."

Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to the hospital on October 21 last year.

She delivered a dead baby girl three days later and was rushed to intensive care within hours of the delivery, where she remained in a critical condition.

On October 28, Savita died of a heart attack caused by septicaemia -- an infection in the blood.

The case reignited debates on the strict rules about abortion in Ireland. Her death sparking rallies and protests that called for a change in the law.

The inquest, in its third day, has heard claims that Katherine Astbury, a consultant obstetrician, also made the "Catholic" remark to Halappanavar and her husband Praveen.

Astbury denied using the phrase, but she admitted there were system failures in her care and also warned of a lack of legal clarity for doctors treating pregnant women who suffer from health risks.

She insisted that when she told the dentist she could not abort the baby, she also told Savita, "In this country it is not legal to terminate a pregnancy on grounds of poor prognosis of the foetus."

She also referred to the Irish Medical Council’s guidelines on abortion which refer to terminating a pregnancy only if there is an immediate threat to the mother's life.

Asked by the coroner if there was confusion over the interpretation of the guidelines, she replied, “There's no law to tell you what you what is permitted or not permitted."

Dr Astbury also revealed she had been unaware of the blood test abnormalities as they had not been passed on to her team from the weekend staff on-call.

She also confirmed that the patient's vital signs were not checked every four hours after her foetal membrane ruptured, which was a breach of hospital policy.

H S Rao In London
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