Savita was told this is ‘Catholic coun­try’ in a place NOT run by nuns. No won­der women are ner­vous

Irish Daily Mail - - News - PHILIP NOLAN

FIVE min­utes af­ter leav­ing my house, walk­ing to the lo­cal Dart sta­tion, my foot went side­ways in a crack on the foot­path. I tried to break my fall but I went down hard, bang­ing the side of my head and, be­cause I had twisted slightly, land­ing on my right arm.

Dazed, I man­aged to pick my­self up and get back home, where­upon the ini­tial shock wore off and I re­alised my arm was bro­ken. I man­aged to phone my fa­ther and he col­lected me and drove me to the near­est hospi­tal, St Colum­cille’s in Lough­lin­stown, south Co. Dublin.

A&E wasn’t packed, but it was busy. I went to the counter to reg­is­ter and, be­cause I write with my right hand, the woman at the desk said she would fill out the form for me. We went through the usual ques­tions – name, ad­dress, date of birth – and then, be­cause it was my first time ever to visit a hospi­tal in those cir­cum­stances, came a ques­tion that gen­uinely sur­prised me.

‘What’s your re­li­gion?’ she asked. ‘I beg your par­don?’ I stut­tered. ‘What’s your re­li­gion?’ she re­peated, with those in earshot all now sud­denly quiet as they waited for the an­swer. ‘What’s that got to do with any­thing?’ I asked, more be­mused than any­thing else. ‘You might need a priest,’ she snapped. ‘Will he be able to fix a bro­ken arm, or do you think I’m go­ing to die?’ I smiled, and she said, ‘there’s no need to be smart’. I said, ‘there’s also no need for that ques­tion, so leave the box blank, please.’ It was 1994 and, to be fair, things have changed, for me any­way. I’ve ac­tu­ally been hos­pi­talised four times since, once with a gen­uinely life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion, and no one has asked me about re­li­gion at all, though per­haps my orig­i­nal re­luc­tance to an­swer has fol­lowed me around on my records with­out my knowl­edge.

Mind you, on one of those oc­ca­sions, I was op­er­ated on in Tar­rag­ona in Spain, in a hospi­tal named af­ter Pope John XXIII, and no one seemed both­ered if I was Ro­man Catholic or fol­lowed any creed. In­deed, the young fella next to me in the ex­cel­lent semi-pri­vate ward was a Moroc­can Mus­lim who broke his leg play­ing foot­ball. All any­one re­ally cared about was my EHIC, the Euro­pean Health In­sur­ance Card I hope you all carry when trav­el­ling, and details of my VHI Mul­tiTrip travel in­sur­ance pol­icy.

Twice, though, I was in St Vin­cent’s Univer­sity Hospi­tal in Dublin, which now finds it­self at the cen­tre of a grow­ing con­tro­versy. It will be the lo­ca­tion for the new Na­tional Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal and, this week, it emerged the State will pay €300mil­lion to build the new fa­cil­ity, but that own­er­ship of it will be handed to the Re­li­gious Sis­ters of Char­ity, the or­der that runs the St Vin­cent’s Health­care Group. The ques­tion many have been ask­ing is why, when the or­der still owes €3mil­lion to the re­dress board deal­ing with in­sti­tu­tional abuse, has it been gifted a hospi­tal worth 100 times that? As one of the four or­ders that ran the in­fa­mous Mag­da­lene laun­dries, its le­gacy at­ti­tude to women – es­pe­cially women preg­nant out­side mar­riage – re­mains a stain on our na­tional con­science that prob­a­bly never will be erased. Dr Rhona Ma­hony, Mas­ter of the ex­ist­ing Na­tional Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal in Holles Street (where I came bawl­ing into the world), is adamant that, even with four peo­ple from St Vin­cent’s on a nine-per­son board of man­age­ment, there will be no in­ter­fer­ence by the nuns in med­i­cal mat­ters.

Afraid

The pre­vi­ous Mas­ter, Dr Peter Boy­lan, is not con­vinced, and yes­ter­day told RTÉ’s Morn­ing Ire­land that it was ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ for the Sis­ters of Char­ity to have in­flu­ence over the hospi­tal, es­pe­cially given their ‘bad his­tory’ in the past. He has a point. As things stand, St Vin­cent’s does not carry out va­sec­tomies or fe­male ster­il­i­sa­tion – rou­tine pro­ce­dures sought by many couples when they de­cide their fam­i­lies are large enough and don’t want to rely for the rest of their fer­tile lives on bar­rier meth­ods of con­tra­cep­tion, or on hor­monal drugs that might in­crease cer­tain can­cer risks.

That is a clear in­di­ca­tion that a Catholic ethos pre­vails at the ex­ist­ing hospi­tal, but Dr Ma­hony in­sists it will not per­vade the new fa­cil­ity and that ex­ist­ing pro­ce­dures avail­able at Holles Street will con­tinue to be per­formed. In this, she in­cluded ter­mi­na­tions when the life of the mother is threat­ened, once they are in line with the terms of the Pro­tec­tion Of Life Dur­ing Preg­nancy Act 2013.

The con­tro­versy is un­likely to go away any­time soon. In­deed, a pe­ti­tion to block sole own­er­ship of the new Na­tional Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal by the Sis­ters of Char­ity had, at the time of writ­ing, at­tracted al­most 65,000 sig­na­tures, in lit­tle over 24 hours, a fairly em­phatic pro- test by those hor­ri­fied that the nuns be­hind the Mag­da­lene homes now would have any say in re­pro­duc­tive care. But while that re­mains a valid sub­ject for de­bate, there is an­other, far more fun­da­men­tal, ques­tion to be asked, and that is whether re­li­gion should have any role – at all – in hospitals or health­care? Re­li­gion and science have al­ways been un­easy bedfellows, and re­li­gion tends to take a long time to catch up with sci­en­tific think­ing and pub­lic ac­cep­tance of the lat­est de­vel­op­ments. As Dr Boy­lan asked yes­ter­day, what about abor­tion, IVF, gen­der re­align­ment surgery? Again, he has a point. What if the Eighth Amend­ment ac­tu­ally was re­moved from the Con­sti­tu­tion by ref­er­en­dum, and elec­tive abor­tion be­came le­gal? Would the hospi­tal per­form ter­mi­na­tions? Would cer­tain board mem­bers al­low it to?

His­tor­i­cally, the Church of­ten was the only health­care provider for the poor, and for that it must be thanked, but times have changed. It was a source of be­muse­ment to me to be asked my re­li­gion when check­ing in to have a bro­ken ra­dius cast in plas­ter, but others be­ing asked to state it pub­licly might ei­ther be em­bar­rassed or afraid. You might be­lieve every­one would re­ceive ad­e­quate care any­way, un­til you re­mem­ber that when Praveen Halap­panavar begged for his wife Savita to have a ter­mi­na­tion be­fore she died from sep­sis, he was not told the pro­ce­dure was ‘il­le­gal’, but that ‘Ire­land is a Catholic coun­try’. Univer­sity Hospi­tal Galway, where Savita’s death oc­curred, is not run by a re­li­gious or­der, so if some­thing like that could be said there, then it is en­tirely un­der­stand­able why any preg­nant women might feel ner­vous about en­ter­ing a new Na­tional Ma­ter­nity Hospi­tal in which four mem­bers of the board of man­age­ment were ap­pointees of the Sis­ters of Char­ity.

Care pro­to­cols should be de­cided only by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, most of whom man­age to be dis­pas­sion­ate enough about their per­sonal re­li­gious be­liefs to in­stead per­form what­ever pro­ce­dure is med­i­cally nec­es­sary. It would be con­sid­ered lu­di­crous for re­li­gious or­ders to run, say, a space pro­gramme at­tempt­ing to send a mis­sion to Mars, so why is it con­sid­ered ac­cept­able for them to su­per­vise the branch of science that most af­fects our daily lives, namely medicine? There is a very sim­ple way to end this con­tro­versy and to re­as­sure every­one – po­ten­tial par­ents, se­ri­ously ill preg­nant women fac­ing treat­ment for other con­di­tions, and those who know they are car­ry­ing foe­tuses with fatal ab­nor­mal­i­ties – that their out­comes will not be af­fected by a re­li­gious ethos.

And that would be for the Sis­ters of Char­ity to look to their own name and per­form the most char­i­ta­ble act of all. They should re­lin­quish own­er­ship of the hospi­tal, hand it over to the State and, if they want to heal any­thing, set about healing souls, and leave qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als – gy­nae­col­o­gists, doc­tors, mid­wives and nurses – to look af­ter the preg­nant, the sick and the dy­ing.

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