If you were looking for profiles in courage last week you would not have found them among American politicians. Emma Mhic Mhathúna while dying herself likely helped save thousands of Irish women's lives.
Instead, you could go to the tiny village of Ballydavid in Co. Kerry, where a young woman of 37 breathed her last after a fatal misdiagnosis during a cervical cancer smear, read in an American laboratory cost her her life.
Emma Mhic Mhathúna was one of 221 women who received the wrong result of a cervical check smear from a Quest Diagnostics laboratory in Texas. Caught early cervical cancer is very curable, but its advanced form is usually fatal.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) decided to save a pittance and have their very successful CervicalCheck service smear results farmed out to the Texas lab rather than done in Ireland.
The cut-price service skipped a vital aspect of the test, a visual screening of the smear in favor of a less expensive method. Now
221 women will likely all pay for it with their lives.
The HSE was aware of the terrible mistake and tried to cover up. It was a handful of brave and determined women like Mhic Mhathúna who exposed the dreadful con job.
The nationwide outrage in Ireland when the mistakes were made public likely saved thousands of Irish women from a similar fate.
It did not help Emma, though. Her greatest fear as she lay dying was that her youngest child of five children would not remember her.
Asked about what her personal crusade to save others meant she said, “I never wanted to be in politics. I wanted to be a mother and to be a humanitarian, helping refugees in particular. But I don’t want to die and leave this government in place for my children and other children.”
Mhic Mhathúna died at University Hospital Kerry on Sunday, October 7.
In a statement, her family said she died in the "knowledge that she had helped to shine a light on important issues which affected not just her own life, but the lives of many others.”
"Emma's unending and unwavering commitment to her children means that her abiding legacy will be that of a great mother. However, Emma will also be remembered as someone who fought for social justice in an exceptionally selfless way during times of great personal challenge."
President Michael D Higgins said in a statement: "I was greatly saddened to hear that Emma Mhic Mhathúna has died. When I met her and her children in May, I was greatly struck by her poise and bravery, in the midst of what was a very difficult time for her family and friends.
"On behalf of the people of Ireland, I send my condolences to her family, friends, the wider community in West Kerry, and to all those who have shared Ms. Mhic Mhathúna's journey as she battled the disease She was a profile in courage, a light amid the darkness of a horrific episode in Irish life. By her example, she personified the term courage and gave a lesson to all in fighting back against a horrific injustice.”
She was laid to rest in West Kerry this week, one of the most remote corners of Ireland. Hundreds attended her services, many whose lives she has surely helped save.
Emma died so some bureaucrat would show a few dollars less was spent on a lifesaving program that should have saved her life too. It defies belief to carry out such a money saving exercise on a diagnostic test of such great importance.
Five children are left without a mother and a country must ask itself some very hard questions including what is the price of a young woman’s life. May she rest in peace.