Nicaraguan authorities have withheld life-saving treatment from a pregnant cancer patient because it could harm the fetus and violate a total ban on abortion.
A state-run hospital has monitored the cancer spreading in the body of the 27-year-old named only as Amalia since her admission on Feb. 12 but has not offered chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a therapeutic abortion, citing the law.
The decision has ignited furious protests from relatives and campaigners who say the woman, who has a 10-year-old daughter and is 10 weeks pregnant, will die unless treated. The cancer is suspected to have spread to her brain, lungs and breasts. They have petitioned the courts, government and the pan-regional Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene.
The case has revived controversy over the 2007 law which made Nicaragua one of the few countries to prohibit abortion under any circumstances. Girls and women who seek an abortion, and health professionals who provide health services associated with abortion, face jail.
“Amalia’s situation demonstrates the urgent need to repeal this draconian ban, which prevents the delivery of timely care and impedes sound medical judgment,” said Esther Major, central America researcher at Amnesty International. “Each day is critical for Amalia’s chances of survival.”
The ruling Sandinistas, who once boasted feminist credentials, supported the measure to curry favor with the Catholic Church.
Amalia is being monitored at a hospital in Leon, the second-largest city in the impoverished central American country. The hospital director, Ricardo Cuadra, said the case had been referred to a government-run medical commission which is due to issue a recommendation next Monday.
Campaigners accused the authorities of dragging their feet despite the patient’s deteriorating condition.
“The doctors say because she is pregnant and since abortion is banned they cannot do anything,” Bertha Sanchez, of a local feminist advocacy group, told La Prensa.
A group picketed the hospital with a banner reading: “Doctors we support you, save the life of Amalia.”
Since publicizing the case last week, Amalia’s sister has been supported by advocacy groups. Oscar Flores, a doctor with the Strategic Group against the Criminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, said Amalia suffered from “metastasized cancer that has spread throughout [her] body, a problem exacerbated by the pregnancy.”
The Nicaraguan human rights center, Cenidh, described the case as “dramatic and painful.”
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