What Happened to 'Do No Harm?'

Published on November 29th, 2012

Walking around “wound up” half the time is bad for our health. But these days I find myself wound up way too often. The bad news for women around the world is troubling, upsetting, alarming and relentless.

My sense of outrage today is attributable to a report that a Catholic hospital in Ireland denied proper medical treatment to a woman, Savita Halappanavar, who was having a miscarriage. Because of its neglect, the woman died. (Thanks to the Population Media Center for sharing the story.)

According to media reports, the hospital did not perform the medical procedures needed to end the pregnancy because there still was a fetal heartbeat (this, to the Catholic stance on abortion). The doctor said it would be over in a few hours but the heartbeat continued for nearly three days.

Then, several days after being admitted to the hospital, Halappanavar died of septicaemia caused by bacteria in the bloodstream. Without proper medical treatment, septicaemia can be fatal, as was in this case, even though the patient was in a hospital!

I’m not a doctor but as I interpret the facts, Halappanavar was carrying a fetus that was not going to live and should have been removed days before it finally was. Failure to perform the medically necessary procedure likely caused her death.

I’m shocked and appalled that Halappanavar’s lack of treatment occurred in an industrialized country and during the 21st century. Where was the Hippocratic Oath – “Do No Harm” – in Halappanavar’s case? The story is like something out of the Middle Ages.

A woman’s health issues should be between the woman and her doctor. The law’s long arm should not interfere. Tragically, in Halappanavar’s case, her medical professionals failed to carry out their responsibilities.

Tragically, in Halappanavar’s case, her medical professionals failed in to carry out their responsibilities.

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