Many politicians across the country have called for mandatory inquests to be heard on all maternal deaths. The campaign is being led by Clare Daly TD (Ind) and is encouraging many councillors across Ireland to back a motion of the urgent passing of the Coroner’s Bill 2015. At a recent meeting at (NUIG) Galway, human rights researcher and lecturer Fleur van Leeuwen explained that Ireland’s failure to ensure automatic inquests into maternal deaths is breaching its international obligations.
According to the latest statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO), for every 100,000 live births in Ireland in 2015, 8 women have died as a result of maternal death. It states that “maternal deaths are described as deaths of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
Limerick City and County Cllr. Marian Hurley (FG) highlighted concerns around maternal deaths that carry no coroner’s inquest during a metropolitan council meeting in the city. Cllr Hurley said: “As a parent and a grandmother this has to be taken heed of; you can’t have mothers dying in child birth and not have a full hearing or follow up.”
During the announcement, Cllr. Hurley cited her own figures, stating that “out of 27 maternal deaths between 2011 and 2013, inquests were held on three of those cases, ‘which resulted in medical misadventure’.”
The Maternal Deaths Enquiry (MDE) report, released by University College Cork in 2012, says that pregnancy status at time of death should be included on the coroner’s report. The report also noted that it was apparent that a number of deaths were caused by lack of communication with the mother’s maternity unit or GP.
Dr. Jo Murphy-Lawless, a sociologist from the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin said “without an automatic inquest, the entire circumstances leading up to a maternal death remain unknown. This is agony for the widowers and families involved and impedes learning for clinical staff in the unit or hospital where the maternal death has occurred and across maternity units nationally.”
Dr. Murphy- Lawless claims that if an inquest was held on Dhara Kivlehan soon after her death in 2010, it would have spared the life of Sally Rowlette who died from the same condition, Hellp Syndrome, in 2013. Inquests into the deaths of the two mothers took place within months of each other in 2014.
Cllr. Hurley pushed for further investigation as to why these inquiries were not carried out and future clarification on the issue and that: “those answers lie with the HSE and the maternity hospitals”.
This motion follows on from similar motions having already been passed by seven county councils around the country, with 12 other county councils currently in the process of considering the motion.