Ireland and the staggering hypocrisy of Personhood USA

November 20th, 2012 | Posted by Atlee Breland in Pregnancy Issues

Pursuant to the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar we discussed in our last post, Personhood USA has now issued a press release on the issue in which they claim that Ms. Halappanavar should have been treated:

“Our hearts go out to the family of Mrs Halappanavar,” stated Jennifer Mason, spokesperson for Personhood USA. “Although the medical investigation has not yet been completed, we do know for certain that in Ireland, doctors are always to intervene to save the life of the mother, and their Medical Council’s guidelines go so far as to say that doctors who do not do so will be fired.

This is an absolutely breathtaking piece of hypocrisy from an organization whose stated position on life-of-the-mother situations is that “in cases where a mother’s life is at risk, every effort should be made to save the baby’s life as well”.

As we noted previously, electing to wait rather than immediately inducing labor is part of making “every effort”. As this paper from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology notes, about half of infants whose mothers suffer pre-viability PROM, and who do not immediately go into labor, will eventually survive.

the same hypothetical patient’s [a woman with preterm PROM at 18 weeks of gestation] newborn had a mere 20% chance of surviving to viability without major morbidity at the time of preterm PROM

Obviously, 20% is not 0%. At the time Ms. Halappanavar’s water broke, there was a 1-in-5 chance that waiting to deliver her baby would have saved the baby’s life. Of course, there was also a 50% chance that waiting to deliver the baby would cause her to develop an infection, and a much smaller chance that the infection would be serious enough to kill her.

If you know there is a 20% chance a baby’s life can be saved by waiting to deliver, and perhaps a 5% chance that waiting to deliver will kill the mother, and the law dictates that “every effort should be made” to save both lives, the math is obvious: you wait to deliver as long as possible. There is a greater chance that you will save both the baby and the mother than that the mother will die. If both lives are legally and morally equivalent, you’re obligated to choose the course that has the greater likelihood of protecting both patients.

Of course, in that situation, someone has to be in the 5%. In Ireland, that someone was Savita Halappanavar.

I’m issuing an open challenge to Personhood USA, and to personhood advocates: if waiting to deliver for PPROM has a 20% chance of saving the baby and a 5% chance of killing the mother, but inducing labor immediately has a 100% chance of killing the baby and a 100% chance of saving the mother, what would personhood mandate that a doctor do? And, if you choose “wait to deliver”, can you be honest enough to acknowledge that maternal deaths like Ms. Halappanavar’s are an inevitable consequence of your policies?

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