Izabela (2021) † Poland

Pregnant woman suffers loss of amniotic fluid, but dies of sepsis because doctors waited for fetus to die.

30-year-old Izabela died on Sep 22. She was 22 weeks pregnant, married with one daughter, and had been taken to hospital due to loss of amniotic fluid from her uterus. According to the family’s attorney Jolanta Budzowska, the doctors were either told to wait for the fetus to die or were afraid to do anything for the woman until the fetus had died. Izabela herself had sent text messages to her family about the doctors adopting a “wait and see” approach”. But as a result of this delay, Izabela died of septic shock.

Low amniotic fluid during pregnancy is a serious condition and can be life-threatening if not treated. Izabela’s fetus had already been diagnosed with a serious anomaly, which may have been why her amniotic fluid was low. It also sounds as if she lost whatever amniotic fluid there was in her uterus and was miscarrying. If so, her cervix must have been open, putting her at high risk for sepsis. All these are indications for emergency obstetric care – to prevent exactly what happened in the absence of treatment – septic shock followed very quickly by death. 

The hospital where Izabela died announced that all medical decisions were made taking into account the Polish law on the admissibility of termination of pregnancy.  They also claimed: “The only premise guiding the medical procedure was concern for the health and life of the patient and the fetus. Doctors and midwives did everything in their power, they fought a difficult fight for the patient and her child.”

The claim that nothing more could have been done is absurd. The pregnancy was no longer viable. Urgent removal of the fetus along with emergency treatment against septic shock was clinically indicated. This is standard emergency obstetric care.

The strict Polish law is not relevant, because the law allows abortion when a woman’s life is at risk. Nothing should have stopped the hospital from doing an immediate termination. Instead, it appears that Izabela’s death was caused by adherence to Catholic doctrine that prioritizes the life of the fetus over the woman – reminding us of the very similar death of Savita in Ireland in 2012.

Source: International Campaign for Safe Abortion, Nov 5, 2021, “Poland: death of a pregnant woman denied emergency obstetric care”