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Apr 08, 2013 at 10:10am IST

Ireland set to begin inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death

Dublin: Ireland is set to begin an inquiry into the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar. She had died in 2012 after an Irish hospital denied her an abortion due to the country's strict Catholic laws.

More than 50 statements by health experts have been furnished in the case. Ireland has promised that the probe will be transparent and open to public scrutiny.

The quality of care provided by the Irish hospital, where Halappanavar died, is expected to be among the key factors to be examined at the inquest that opens on Monday. A draft review into the 31-year-old's death was told that staff at the University College Hospital Galway attributed Savita's crucial symptoms of shivering and teeth chattering to the cold rather than to a life-threatening infection.

Ireland to begin inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death

More than 50 statements by health experts have been furnished and Ireland has promised the probe will be transparent.

The report notes that at one stage "the radiator in the bedroom was not working" and a nurse went to fetch a blanket for her. But the shivering turned out to be symptoms of a serious infection taking hold in her system, which ultimately led to Savita's death in October 2012.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, has highlighted the fatal tremors among a catalogue of concerns over the care given to his wife. Savita, hailing from Karnataka, died from blood poisoning on October 28 after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy, telling her that the foetal heartbeat was still present and "this is a Catholic country".

Sources close to the hospital told the 'Irish Independent' that the use of the phrase will be "clarified" if it is raised at the inquest, in terms of who said it and the context in which it was uttered. According to the newspaper, 16 hospital staff, including the consultants, doctors and nurses who treated her in her final days, are expected to testify at what will be the first public examination of her death.

More people may be called as the inquest unfolds and a number of expert witnesses will also be asked to testify. The inquest, scheduled for a week, is tasked with establishing the cause of Savita's death and the circumstances leading to it.

More than 50 statements have been furnished by health chiefs for the coroner Ciaran MacLoughlin, who has promised the proceedings will be transparent and open to public scrutiny. Gerard O'Donnell, the solicitor for Savita's widower has said that the 34-year-old engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway was not satisfied with the conclusions of a report by the Health Service Executive (HSE) presented to him on March 29.

The HSE had apologised to Praveen after it concluded that too much emphasis was placed on the foetus rather than the mother. "Different management options needed to be considered, including termination of pregnancy, as the removal of the source of infection reduces the potential risk of sepsis, thereby potentially avoiding rapid deterioration in the patient's clinical condition," the report had concluded.

The agency's review will be updated with inquiry chairman Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George's Hospital, University of London, to include Praveen's concerns before it is brought before cabinet and published. Savita's case has been responsible for reigniting a debate around Ireland's complex anti-abortion laws, which demand that doctors treat an expectant mother and her unborn baby as equals.

This constitutional protection for the unborn child places a ban on abortion, but allows medical intervention to save the life of a woman in limited circumstances. Abortion has been legal in cases where there is a substantial risk to the mother's life since a 1992 Supreme Court ruling but successive governments have failed to enact legislation to give the ruling full effect.

The Irish government has been conducting its own review and is committed to legislate and introduce regulations to allow abortion if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life, including the threat of suicide, by July 2013.

(With Additional Inputs From PTI)