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The panel investigating Savita Halappanavar’s death must change and why

The Irish Health Service Executive has appointed a 7 member panel to investigate Savita Halappanavar’s death from sepsis at 17 weeks in her pregnancy. The problem? There is only one international expert and three of the doctors on the panel work at Galway, the hospital where she died.

Her widower is understandably upset and has refused to authorize it or testify as he has no faith in the care his wife received there. While I certainly understand his lack of faith in physicians at Galway, I have additional concerns.

Vocal anti-abortion OB/GYN, Eamon O’Dwyer, was on staff at Galway, the hospital where Ms Halappanavar died, for 35 years and is currently a professor emeritus at Galway. Prof. O’Dwyer recently organized a symposium on maternal healthcare in Dublin and is on record saying, “We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.”

Individual hospitals have cultures. During my training we delivered babies at two hospitals and there was definitely a different way of doing things on one labor and delivery versus the other. And anyone who knows anything about Parkland in Dallas knows that there is a “Parkland way” on labor and delivery. So, having three physicians on a seven member inquiry who all work at the hospital where a vocal anti-abortion physician was on staff for 35 years could perhaps be interpreted as injecting potential bias. In my opinion no physician from Galway should be on the panel.

The head of the panel is an expert from England and a good choice. I agree with Cathriona Molloy, a patient advocate; Cora McCaughan, co-chair of the HSE’s national incident management team; and Geraldine Keohane, the director of midwifery and nursing at Cork University Maternity Hospital. However, the remainder of the panel should not be Irish physicians. Mr. Halappanavar claims he was told that nothing could be done because Ireland is a “Catholic country.” If we are to know if Irish law played any role in Savita Halappanavar’s death, then physicians who practice without the burden of that law must be the ones reviewing her records.

In independent inquiry is just that. Independent.

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  1. Pingback: Independent Inquiry? « herlander-walking - November 20, 2012

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