Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No Excuse

If you haven't read about the death of this woman, you should:

Woman "Denied A Termination" Dies in Hospital

A 31-year-old woman presented to a hospital in Ireland in pain, and was diagnosed with a miscarriage in progress (what we call inevitable abortion - "abortion" being the medical term for any pregnancy that ends before viability). There was no doubt that she was going to lose the fetus. Nonetheless, the doctors were barred by law from removing the fetus or inducing labor because the fetus still had a heartbeat. The woman suffered for 2.5 days, and then died of sepsis.

Non-medical people might wonder whether this outcome might just be a rare, unexpected outcome. You might wonder whether the doctors could have known what would happen.

So, let me be clear: this outcome was entirely preventable. This woman should not have died. Her risk of sepsis was well-known, and predictable. Women who have spontaneous miscarriages are at risk of infection, and the longer the miscarriage goes on, the higher the risk. Women in second trimester (which she was, at 17 weeks) are at even higher risk, because the cervix has to dilate more, and because the reason for the miscarriage could easily be an infected pregnancy. Pregnant women are highly susceptible to infection, and less able to fight it because their immune systems are suppressed. When a woman comes in with a miscarriage that doesn't end spontaneously within 1-2 hours, we evacuate the uterus to prevent the development of complications - specifically, hemorrhage and sepsis.

Her death is not a mystery, and it is not surprising. It's hard to blame the doctors, as their hands were tied by law and they risked losing their license to practice, or going to jail, by intervening. The doctors were prevented from providing adequate medical care by the law. The people responsible for the law are the Irish lawmakers who created it.

If they had done their jobs, the lawmakers who created this law would have looked at the implications of it. They would have learned that the law would inevitably cause the deaths of women. (Who knows how many others have died that we haven't heard about?) In fact, women die every day as a result of pregnancy and of lack of access to safe abortion. Anti-choice individuals who argue that such outcomes are rare, people such as our recent nominee for vice-president, are lying, or they are speaking ignorantly. I think it's the former, because if you spend 1 minute googling maternal mortality, you can easily see that 800 women die every day in pregnancy from preventable causes.

When lawmakers dictate what physicians can and cannot do, they are presuming that they can practice medicine better than doctors can. If they want to pass laws dictating medical practice, then they should take responsibility for these patients' lives. Lawmakers who pass laws that prevent abortion even when the pregnancy is a threat to the mother's health or life are knowingly causing the deaths of pregnant women. This is murder, and should be prosecuted as such. There is no excuse for having a law like this.

1 comment:

Magpie said...

well said.

came by because i saw your "how to deliver a baby in a taxi" piece in the alumnae magazine. it was terrific (and i hope to never have to do that!).