I heard a sad but ethically and philosophically interesting story the other day. It seems that a mother to be, a Marlise Muñoz suffered a major stroke that has left her brain-dead. The hospital has refused to turn off life support, even after the urging of the woman’s spouse and parents who stated that she explicitly stated she did not want to remain on prolonged life support if she was ever to be found in the state she was now in…i.e. brain dead with no hope of recovery.
The reason the hospital gives for not turning off life support is a Texas law that prevents them from doing so if the person in question is pregnant.
At the time of her stroke, Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant. She is now 19 weeks. It is legal, if almost impossible to get an abortion in Texas prior to the 24th week. But is this an abortion?
The now single parent of a 15 month old, seems to see it that way. I will not try and get into the mind of the bereaved spouse, but because he is pursuing legal actions, his conviction that his life would be better and that honouring what he sees as his departed wife’s wishes to be primary…well, I trust he is doing what he sees as right.
I am a strong supporter of women’s choice…thanks to global overpopulation, I would even say I am pro-abortion. That said, I would think it wrong for anyone other than the woman to make that choice. It seems obvious that Marlise is incapable of giving consent, so calling this an abortion somehow seems wrong.
One could make an analogy to the mentally challenged who may have an abortion forced upon them by a guardian…but from what I can find out, a guardian may prevent an abortion but not authorize one. So, again it seems unclear at best, if the spouse can make the hospital abort his brain-dead wife.
That said, I have often argued that until a certain magical point, a fetus is just a tumor…not a person at all and thus, the woman’s rights take precedence. But in this case…well, she is for all intents and purposes dead. Dead people have no rights…so does this mean that, tumour or not, it’s living and thus now takes ethical precedence?
Well, maybe. Now comes the cost-benefit argument. Yes, life is theoretically priceless, but for those, especially in the USA, who cannot afford that medication, operation or treatment and are left to die…well, could the resource be better used?
That said, this leads to the opposite problem. What if the hospital wanted to turn off life support?
How much money should the hospital spend…money that could be used to save other patients…how many resources should be expended to quote, ‘save this one possible life’? What if the father insisted ….
The reality of the situation is that the likelihood that this potential life will be born healthy…or born at all, is pretty slim. At the end of the day, there is greater probability of a still birth or a child with severe birth defects.
From the research I did, and this is based on cases where the mother was within a month or so of viability.
What is viability you may ask? Most physician hold that at least 24 week is the earliest a fetus can be deemed a baby…i.e. can be removed from the mother and kept alive. The cases I checked out used a 25 week marker.
So, it’s not that simple. There is a parallel case in England where a brain-dead woman, 15 weeks pregnant, gave birth to a health child at 27 weeks. That said, another women in 2005 was kept viable…it seems wrong to say alive when all that was alive was a uterus…anyway, that child died 5 weeks later.
It’s an ethically tough question. Less obvious as a regular abortion case or even euthanasia plea. Ultimately, in my humble opinion, the three things should be given weight…
1) What is the likelihood of delivering a healthy child…if the odds are greater than, oh I don’t know 60%…seems like that takes precedence?
2) Will the resource used to keep the mother alive, likely cause the death of another? If keeping one person alive (mother or fetus) results in the death of 2 or more others…well, then pulling the plug seems prudent
3) How much anguish will it cause the survivors? If the other questions seem unanswerable or a tossup, one should take into consideration that the surviving spouse may not have the resources to take care of the potential child…especially if it may likely be a special needs child…or that the idea, to them, that their loved one is being tortured by remaining on life support…then pull the plug.
Conversely, if the survivor sees this a one last way to keep a part of their spouse alive…to turn tragedy into a future, then keeping her alive seems valid.
What are your thought? Share them in our comments section.
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