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Commentary. The death of a young woman in Catania highlights the tragedy of a system that treats the life of fetuses with more respect than the lives of women.

Valentina had no choice but to die in childbirth

“The child’s heart is still beating.” In the whole of Italy in religious childbirth units and in childbirth units where religion is predominant, this sentence is still used to put women at risk.

Still. “Still” means that pregnancy is by now fatally compromised but the fetus’ heart keeps beating. For women in between 16th and 22nd week of pregnancy, with fetuses that according to International Protocols mustn’t be reanimated because incompatible with surviving, this sentence risks every day to become a death sentence.

The majority of these women have the amniotic sac broken(we can’t get to know if this was alsoValentina’s case at 19th week) and the vast uterus wall, living flesh, is so in contact with the exterior, and the woman risks a very dangerous infection, septicemia, nowadays called sepsis. Of course sepsis not always happens, sooner or later the beating stops and labour pains arrive; somehow the woman’s body succeeds in getting free of its content and nothing happens. But letting them there, instead, saying “we can’t intervene there’s the heart beating,” increases by the hour the risk of mortal sepsis.

What has to be done then?

In units where doctors apply the 194/78 law, it’s explained to women that the child they wished for can’t be born anymore and risks killing them and a therapeutic abortion is suggested.

In some Religious Hospitals the doctors call a Laic Hospital, the woman is tricked by saying “you sign to leave under your responsibility and you’ll get help there”, and the solidarity gesture, indispensable to protect the woman’s life goes on the shoulders of the Laic Hospital.

In some others Laic Hospitals they proceed without so much bureaucracy, saying to the woman : “it’s the best thing to do, there’s no more hope”, same as when performing a urgent caesarean – no matter at what week – on a woman with an eclampsia crisis (which is the convulsions of gravidictoxicosis).

And then some others raise the hurdle. There’s the mother’s intermittent fever, a threatening sign of sepsis, but it doesn’t matter (at morning did the nurse call the doctor to tell him? Did the nurse decide to give something to lower the temperature by herself?) – The temperature is 34 Celsius, the blood pressure is 50/70, but it doesn’t matter.

The exam Head Physician, Dr. Scollo, is so proud of as a modern science success (the one telling that the infection is expanding) has been performed, but it doesn’t matter.

There are atrocious pains, shouting, cold, to the point of not wanting to get out of bed to go to delivery unit. Her mother slaps her to make her recover consciousness, when she already had fainted thrice during the morning.

None of these signs, terrifying as clear symptoms of the beginning of sepsis since morning, enters in the perception of the conscientious objector doctor.

Blocked in his sentence “The heart beat is still there,” he practically becomes a robot, saying nonsense such as “there’s a kidney colic” or “it’s the labour pains” in order to deny to himself that he’s putting her life at risk, a thing that would make helping her mandatory.

Not to know they always put lives at risk.

He could call the doctor who performs pregnancy interruptions in that hospital as an external consultant and make him help her, but in that case he would be forced to admit the wrong he’s doing her, the risk they force on women every day, in the name of a mantra with no clinic meaning whatsoever.

So the hours go by, destroying Valentina’s life.

In sepsis even 20 minutes can make the difference: The anesthetist for reanimation must be called immediately, the saving life therapy must be immediately performed. Otherwise the infection will start to destroy the liver, the kidneys, the brain.

Valentina feels these terrible pains caused by the destruction of her organs, she shouts them out to someone who has no ears to listen nor heart to pity her.

They are twins and he says: “Even if one of the hearts is still beating there’s nothing I can do.” And meanwhile Valentina is dying. She has been dying since morning.

She asks her mother to be sedated because she feels what’s happening and asks at least to stop her sufferings.
But everything is denied to her, even pain therapy.

Since morning at 9, the moment when the temperature rose, she expels the first dead fetus at 11 at night, after her body has been literary eaten alive by sepsis. Finally, after expelling the second fetus, similarly dead, the only thing she can do is to die herself.

And we’re left with the sorrow, the rage and the promise that this must not happen to other women.

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