Halappanavar’s husband seeks truth

The husband of an Indian dentist who died after she suffered a miscarriage said his late wife is giving him the strength to fight for the truth.

Savita Halappanavar died in hospital on October 28 last year from suspected septicaemia.

The 31-year-old’s husband Praveen described life without his wife as a tough journey.

“It’s not easy to sit there in the court to see all the proceedings,” said Mr Halappanavar after her inquest opened.

“I believe I’m getting that strength from somewhere to look forward. I suppose I believe it is coming from Savita. She was that type of a person. She was always there for me so I’m getting the strength from that.”

Mr Halappanavar claims that doctors at University Hospital Galway refused to carry out an abortion 17 weeks into his wife’s pregnancy because a foetal heartbeat was present.

He says they were told Ireland “is a Catholic country”.

As the inquest into Mrs Halappanavar’s death opened, the Coroner for Galway city, Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin, promised a transparent inquiry which would be open to public scrutiny.

He offered his condolences to Mr Halappanavar and vowed to conduct the hearing with solemn respect, dignity and courtesy to him and to the memory of his “beloved Savita”.

“It is my duty as coroner to ensure that the inquiry shall be independent, effective and prompt – that the procedures are open, transparent and accountable and are subject to public scrutiny,” Dr MacLoughlin said, adding that her next of kin would be involved to an appropriate extent.

The full hearing, which is expected to last more than a week, will begin on April 8 at Galway courthouse.

The coroner urged all sides involved in the hearing to respect the functions of the court after statements, which revealed that Mrs Halappanavar had requested an abortion while being treated in hospital a week before her death, were leaked last night.

The family’s legal team had previously said that medical notes they had seen did not record the request for a termination, but noted that she had asked for tea and toast during her care.

Dr MacLoughlin was told 48 statements have already been furnished by health chiefs and gardai, with six more to be ready within a week.

However, John O’Donnell, junior counsel for Mr Halappanavar, raised concerns about two more witnesses who have not, and may not, be able to assist the inquest due to personal difficulties.

The pair, who had written in the patient’s hospital records, have been unable to give statements for confidential reasons which were recognised and accepted by the coroner.

Declan Buckley, senior counsel for University Hospital Galway, its staff and the Health Service Executive (HSE), agreed to write to Mr Halappanavar’s legal representatives to outline the issues affecting the staff members on the strict understanding that the information remain confidential.

He said the leaking of confidential information provided to the inquest into the death is causing “significant distress” for hospital staff, who had given statements voluntarily.

Elsewhere, the coroner revealed the cost of five specialist independent witnesses – including the former master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Peter Boylan – would be paid for by the local authority, Galway City Council.

Mr Halappanavar, a 34-year-old engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, has refused to co-operate with separate investigations by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) and an internal HSE inquiry.

But he insisted he had faith in the coroner’s court and will make a decision on whether to take the Government to the European courts in pursuit of a public inquiry after the hearing.

“We have been confident right from day one (that the truth will come out) and we have faith and trust in the justice system,” he said.

“The coroner has assured us by bringing in an expert panel so I hope that justice is being made and the truth is revealed.”

The death of Mrs Halappanavar thrust the controversial issue of abortion in Ireland into the spotlight, with pro-choice and pro-life groups both due to stage demonstrations in Dublin this weekend.

The Government has since 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.

Elsewhere, watchdog Hiqa is examining “the safety, quality and standards of services provided by the HSE to patients, including pregnant women, at risk of clinical deterioration and as reflected in the care and treatment provided to Savita Halappanavar”.

Two of its investigation team, Hiqa’s Mary Dunnion and Emily McLoughlin, were at the inquest opening.

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