Pregnant Indian's death in Ireland 'medical misadventure'

DUBLIN (AFP) - A pregnant Indian woman who died in an Irish hospital after she was refused an abortion was the victim of medical misadventure, a jury at her inquest ruled on Friday in a case that has focused attention on the Catholic country's tough abortion laws.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist, died of septicaemia last October in a hospital in Galway on Ireland's west coast, after suffering a miscarriage.

Her husband Praveen claimed his wife had repeatedly asked medics for a termination, but the request was refused "because Ireland is a Catholic country".

The allegation sparked fierce debate about Ireland's abortion laws, although the inquest heard that Savita was refused the termination because there was still a foetal heartbeat.

A senior midwife admitted at the inquest in Galway that she told Savita she could not have an abortion because of Ireland's Catholicism, but said she was simply trying to explain the law.

Coroner Ciaran McLoughlin stressed that the verdict of death by medical misadventure did not mean that systemic failures by the hospital caused Savita's death.

Mr McLoughlin also said during the inquest that Irish state-run hospitals did not operate under religious dogma of any persuasion.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother.

Mr Tony Canavan of University Hospital Galway admitted there had been "lapses in the standards of care" in the case.

"We will take on board the coroner's recommendations to ensure that the deficiencies will be rectified by the hospital," he said in a statement outside the court.

The jury endorsed nine recommendations made by the coroner, including that the Irish Medical Council set out new guidelines on when doctors can intervene to save a mother's life.

Mr Praveen Halappanavar said his wife's treatment by the hospital was "horrendous, barbaric and inhuman".

"There are still some questions that need to be answered," he told reporters.

"I'm still not convinced... I haven't got my answers yet why Savita died." His lawyer Gerard O'Donnell insisted that a series of errors contributed to Savita's death.

"All of these failures and shortcomings, taken individually... did not contribute to her death but in our opinion all of them taken together had significant impact," he told reporters.

"They delayed treatment. Delayed treatment, ultimately and unfortunately, resulted in her death.

"From the day of her admission on 21st October until her tragic and untimely death on 28th October, Savita Halappanavar was in my opinion deprived of and denied proper medical treatment."

Ireland has promised to introduce legislation later this year to make the rules surrounding abortion easier for doctors and patients to follow.