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Early abortion may have saved Savita`s life: Expert

Last Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 17:47

London: An expert witness, who appeared in an Irish court, has said that Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar would have survived if her pregnancy had been terminated days before she died of blood poisoning, last October.

"The real problem was the inability to terminate prior to Mrs Halappanavar developing a real or substantive risk to her life. By that time it was effectively too late to save her life," Dr Peter Boylan, one of Ireland`s most eminent obstetricians, said in his statement during the inquest at Galway Courthouse on Wednesday.

"Had Mrs Halappanavar`s pregnancy been terminated on Monday, October 22 or Tuesday, October 23, it is highly likely on the balance of probability that she would have survived. However, termination at that time was not a practical proposition because of the law," he added.

The 31-year-old mother-to-be eventually died on October 28, 2012, as a result of septic shock with the presence of an ESBL-producing E coli infection.

A further factor in her death was the miscarriage at 17 weeks associated with the onset of chorioamnionitis, an inflammation of the membrane, an expert who carried out the post-mortem told the inquest on Thursday - the seventh day of hearings being conducted by Coroner Ciaran McLoughlin.

Praveen Halappanavar, 34, had reiterated in his witness statement to the inquest last week that his wife`s two requests for a termination after the foetus was found to be unviable were denied based on Ireland being a "Catholic country".

Dr Boylan`s testimony, as the former master and current clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital, will bring the stringent anti-abortion laws in the country into focus yet again, where the government has since committed to legislate to allow abortion if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman`s life, by July.

Last year, when news of Savita`s death triggered an international debate, Dr Boylan had said that the issue of terminations hangs like "a sword of Damocles" over his profession.

Having reviewed the circumstances of the case in detail, he presented an 18-page report, which also points to deficiencies in Savita`s care while being treated following her miscarriage at Galway University Hospital.

According to Irish media reports, he told the coroner`s court that an accumulation of failings delayed appropriate treatment, and each hour of delay increased the chance of her death by 6 per cent.

The expert witness also criticised the hospital`s notekeeping and said it was a serious deficiency that the nurse who cared for Savita on the morning of October 24 had not provided a statement to the inquest.

The nurse was the only staff member involved in the case who did not provide a statement, but has submitted a certificate to the coroner confirming her inability to attend the hearing.

A midwife, Ann Maria Burke, had last week apologised for telling Savita that she could not have a termination due to Ireland being a Catholic country, corroborating accounts given by her husband and friends.

The inquest is exploring the circumstances leading to Savita`s death in the hospital after a miscarriage.

Savita`s husband, Praveen, did not attend the inquest today and his solicitor Gerard O`Donnell explained that he did not wish to sit through the post-mortem evidence on his wife.

Others scheduled to appear today include Dr Peter Kelehan, another expert witness who was requested to review the post-mortem findings by the coroner.

A report will also be read into evidence from Dr Sebastian Lucas, considered the foremost UK expert in sepsis, a potentially deadly medical condition characterised by a whole-body inflammatory state caused by severe infection.


First Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 17:46

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