Savita Halappanavar must not be forgotten; her story bears the ultimate lesson of the danger of elevating theology above science, above reason, and above caring. Her story is simple and stark. She was 31 years old, an Indian-born Hindu living and working in Ireland, where she was a dentist. She was pregnant. In the seventeenth week of what had, to that point, been a normal and healthy pregnancy, complications occurred, and Savita was admitted to Galway University Hospital for treatment. It was discovered that her fetus was infected, a dying, oozing mass. But the treatment which would have saved Savita's life -- termination of a doomed pregnancy -- was refused to her because of the rule of Catholicism in Ireland. Though doctors determined early on that the fetus could not be saved, they refused to act. Even as septicemia set in, even as Savita's kidneys and liver failed her, even as she collapsed and vomited and begged in agony to be saved, the removal of the infected fetus was denied to her. And so, on October 28, 2012, she died, because the doctors feared prosecution under church-made law more than they cared to save the only one of the two lives which could have been salvaged from these horrific circumstances.

It mattered not that Savita was living in a country where first-rate medical technology was available, and that such technology could have been hurriedly employed in the defense of her life, were it not barred by religious belief. It mattered not that she was a guest in this country, and that she herself objected that she was neither an Irish citizen nor a Catholic (for the tenets of Hinduism would have prescribed saving the mother and setting free the unborn child to reincarnate into another life). It mattered not that her baby was doomed, that its death was not simply inevitable but actively underway, for nobody dared act on that knowledge so long as the purely automatic function of a heartbeat was still detectable amidst its infected, rotting limbs and gangrenous organs. It mattered not that Savita wanted so badly to live, that she was beautiful and young, that she was herself a medical professional and utterly capable of comprehending the situation and choosing to save her own life.

The obscenity of this situation is compounded by the veneer of civilization pressed over the responsible religious prohibitions, ossified oddities which have not been updated since stone age times. And indeed, such prohibitions simply cannot be made modern, because their very existence relies upon the rejection of the notion that old ideas can be wrong in light of new discoveries. To confess that Savita ought to have been saved here, though it meant removing the fetus which was killing her along with itself, is to begin the unwinding of the control that religion grasps in its lust for power over individual lives.

Now, some may be tempted to mount a religious defense, to shrug at this especial consequence and suppose that their deity works in mysterious ways. Some will offer hollow assurances of Savita (despite her rejection of their deity) obtaining some eternal reward through her untimely death. Interestingly, the Church whose law compelled this outcome has offered no such olive branch, and has restricted its statements to generic condolences over the event of the death, without comment on the cause of it. Some theologians have parsed scriptures to assert that the doctors who refused the assistance Savita needed were simply operating under an errant interpretation of those dangerously dust-ridden passages. But such parsing is useless where scriptures are so full of passages meaning everything and nothing, readily interpretable to support most any desired end -- as evidenced by the thousands of competing sects forwarding irreconcilably diverse interpretations of every ancient tome claimed as a 'revelation.'

It is a brute fact that Savita Halappanavar simply did not have to die. She ought not have been allowed to die. In a more enlightened system -- one where individuals are free to choose for themselves how to deal with pregnancy and to control their own bodies, she would have stood a far better chance. But those are not the times we live in. Instead, we continue to bear the weight imposed on our backs by the interference of theological institutions in the governance of individuals. We continue, as a species, to bear the marks of the lash of organized religion, enslaving us by forcing itself upon us through the mouths of lawmakers who wish us to obey their creeds instead of allowing us that most fundamental freedom, the freedom of conscience. So long as reason and compassion are trampled under the boots of churches, any man amongst us could have a mother, wife, sister, or daughter murdered through the same religious callousness which claimed Savita; and any woman amongst us could be forced to endure the death which she endured.


Some reading:

Tragic Savita case reignites abortion debate in Ireland
'My wife is giving me the strength to seek the truth': Husband of Irish mother who died after suffering miscarriage demands answers at inquest
Tánaiste seeks 'clarity' on abortion after Savita death
Savita's infection 'undiagnosed for three days': Draft report
We Are All Savita Halappanavar: Catholic Hospital in Ireland Denies Woman Life-Saving Abortion

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