We all remember the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and the national outcry it inspired, with Irish citizens demanding that the country address it’s dangerous abortion laws and the ways that hospital “ethics codes” can end up hurting women. It looks like issue isn’t confined to countries oceans away from the United States. Even here in America, where access to safe abortions is supposed to be a protected right, hospitals are allowed to value the possible life of a fetus over the life of a mother.
Over at Salon, Irin Carmon looked into “ethics committees” at Catholic hospitals and the ways that these religious concerns take precedence over actually providing medical care or even saving a life. She told the story of a nun who approved a requested termination of an 11-week pregnancy because the mother was in heart failure. The mother lived. The nun was excommunicated. And the director of ethics at the hospital had this to say: “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.”
More often then not, when it comes to miscarriage treatment or ectopic pregnancies, these hospitals just pass the patients along to other facilities where the ethics codes aren’t as cumbersome. The problems occur during emergency situations where seconds count and a woman should be able to trust that her doctor will do everything in his or her power to save her life.
In these situations, hospitals here in the United States give our country a tragedy like Savita Halappanavar. Catholic Hospitals, which surveys say treat one of every six patients in the US, are not required to save your life if you’re a pregnant woman and your treatment would risk the fetus growing inside of you. Even if that fetus is not yet viable. Even if that pregnancy will die with you.
I’ve had an ectopic pregnancy. I’ve gone through the unimaginable emotional trauma of choosing to end my pregnancy to save my life, because really, that was the only option I had. I could either end my pregnancy or I could leave my husband a widower and my daughter motherless. And it is terrifying to think that there are medical institutions in this country where I wouldn’t have been permitted to make that heart-wrenching but necessary decision.
If these hospitals don’t want to save the lives of their patients, then they shouldn’t exist. If they can’t treat pregnant women as more then vessels or walking, talking reproductive machines, then they shouldn’t be allowed to practice medicine in this country. We should not accept this. No “ethics committee” should be able to decide that your life is not worth saving because there is a potential life growing inside of you.