The Strange Case Of The Brain Dead Mother-To-Be

In happier times; Mr. and Mrs. Munoz with their first child. And she really wanted her second child to die with her?

In happier times; Mr. and Mrs. Munoz with their first child. Did  she really want her second child to die with her? Is that a respectable request, if she did?

Dead people are causing a lot of anguish in the ethics world lately. First, a family wants to force a hospital to keep their brain-dead, which is to say, dead, daughter on life support just in case a miracle occurs, while the rest of society pays for it. Now, in Texas, we have a true brain death dilemma that once again highlights the problem with U.S. abortion law and ethics.

Texan mother Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant with her second child when she collapsed and later died from a blood clot in her lungs. Her parents and husband told the intensive care unit at  Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital to honor her stated wish not to be left on life support, but the hospital has so far refused to comply with their instructions.  Texas is one of 31  states that prohibit medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant patient. Now, more than a month after her brain stopped functioning, the late Marlise Munoz is still connected to life-support machines, and her unborn child is now in its 20th week of development.

I think the stand of the hospital is the ethically correct one, as well as in the spirit of the intent of the law, but I have doubts about whether the law, as I understand it, will sustain  the hospital’s current interpretation of it. The law was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1989 and amended in 1999, and states that a person may not withdraw or withhold “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant patient. The issue is whether any treatment can be “life-sustaining” if the patient is dead. The hospital’s lawyers obviously believe that “life-sustaining” applies. because the treatment is sustaining the fetus’s life, which they alos regard as their patient. The New York Times, however, surveyed ethics experts in the field that seemed to agree that the parents have the better case:

“If she is dead, I don’t see how she can be a patient, and I don’t see how we can be talking about treatment options for her,” said Thomas W. Mayo, an expert on health care law and bioethics at the Southern Methodist University law school in Dallas. Arthur L. Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, agreed. “The Texas Legislature can’t require doctors to do the impossible and try to treat someone who’s dead,” Mr. Caplan said. “I don’t think they intended this statute the way the hospital is interpreting it.” Critics of the hospital’s actions also note that the fetus has not reached the point of viability outside the womb and that Ms. Munoz would have a constitutional right to an abortion.

If this really is the consensus agreement among bioethicists, I think we need to junk bioethics and start all over. The convenient fiction behind the extreme pro-abortion position has obviously infected the field. Why wouldn’t reasonable respect for life have all parties supporting the hospital’s decision?

1. The family’s main argument is that Marlise Munoz had said that she didn’t want to linger on life support. Did she really specify that this would be true even if removing it meant ending her unborn child’s life? I can’t find any accounts that suggest this, and I find it very unlikely.

2. The ethics of abortion decisions should turn on the balance between the child’s right to live and the mother’s right to have control over her body and her future. I think the typical “choice” position does not treat the life of the child with proper consideration; I think the absolutist “pro-life” position is wrong to treat the woman’s right of self-determination as completely subordinate. But how is this situation even a tough call? On one side is a human life just wanting the chance to be born. On the other, there is a dead woman who has no future, except to give birth.Isn’t the choice in this case clear, convincing, humane and obvious?

3. Why would she not want to give birth? If she can’t raise her child, then nobody can? Would she want to take the child with her so they could be together in heaven? Is there something about her family we should know about? How would “if I die, I want to make sure my baby dies with me” every be a reasonable, even respectable request?

4. The mother is not endangered or inconvenienced by this childbirth in any way. The worst that could happen is the same result the family appears to want. What possible justification can the family, the state or the society have for not allowing the fetus to reach viability?

5. Sure, the wishes of the deceased should be given respect and be followed when it make sense to follow them, but there have to be limits. Protecting a deceased family member’s dignity—although the dead really don’t suffer from indignities. you know, since being dead is a lot worse than being embarrassed, and they really don’t care—is a respectable objective, but not at the cost of a life, or a potential life, or whatever you want to call it. That seems cruel, and indeed insane.

A child will be born if the hospital does what it is doing; a human being will have a chance at life. If the family, including the father, don’t want the baby, swell–I’m sure some loving family will be thrilled to take it. Then they can have their dead daughter taken off life support, and apologize to her for the horrible, cruel inconvenience visited on her by that unfeeling hospital that chose life over a dead woman’s preference that may not have applied in this situation anyway. That is obviously the most ethical result.

Next, I want to know why the current group of U.S. bioethicists are in their field at all if they regard human life so callously.


Pointer: ABA Journal

Source and Graphic: New York Times

90 thoughts on “The Strange Case Of The Brain Dead Mother-To-Be

  1. Sad face

    From everything I understand, and local news has this fairly well covered, the couple definitely discussed not being kept on life support while in a coma. I don’t think they discussed this scenario one bit…so their wishes are, in a way, irrelevant.

    She is dead, and in a state she would have preferred, had she been merely in a coma.

    The deciding factor in this is the unborn baby, who is alive, since the mother’s body, for all intents an purposes has now become just another machine for bringing the unborn to full term.

    The question is, although the father has soundly rejected any desire to be the father of his child (I’ll withhold my scathing condemnation of him), what financial responsibility exists with him to ensure his child is at least brought into the world? After which I assume he’ll quickly pass him off to a family that would love and WANT to raise a baby.

      • Maybe that TV critic who got mad at the teenage characters that never even considered an abortion when they were portrayed to choose to keep their baby after discovering they were pregnant.

      • I imagine the most likely arguers for the “position of the parents” would be those we often hear using the “its for the baby’s own good” argument.

        The one that claims “better no living baby than a baby born into miserable conditions. An appalling and arrogant argument.

  2. I think the she and the husband already have one child together. The fear is that since the mom was dead for an unknown period of time before she was discovered, the fetus was severely oxygen deprived, and thus, if born, will either not live for very long anyway, or has a high possibility of being very developmentally delayed. Even if the mother were alive, given the 90%+ abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Downs Syndrome, it is very unlikely she would have wanted to raise a developmentally delayed child.

    • Yes, those are the concerns raised by the father.

      Yet, it requires you to make the assumed decision for another, when all bet’s are likely that any living organism, having not yet had a chance to be born, would prefer to be alive than not.

      Further, you’ve made a second assumed decision for the brain-dead mother. You have nothing to go on to assume she wouldn’t want to raise a disabled child.

        • The lawful State seeks to protect the rights of the innocent and weak from the capricious actions of others.

          If you believe unborn humans have a right to life, then the state ought protect known instances of the unborn under threat of extermination.

          If you believe, however, as the pro-abortion crowd does, that the non ethical consideration of comfort and convenience of the born trumps the life of the unborn, then this issue is a bit harder to decide. I don’t think in this, it would be a slam dunk “let the baby die”.

          • I understand your points but you didn’t answer my question.

            It is my belief that in this case on either side there are assumptions being made. I believe that in this case the assumptions of the family should override that of the state.

            Also if the state is going to make the decision to that the wife’s body should remain on life support until this fetus is able survive outside the womb the state should assume all finical responsibility to keep the wife alive and for any prenatal and rehabilitative car the child may need for life.

            • I think that’s weird, Bill. The state has a responsibility to protect life. If the family’s assumptions endanger human life without a compelling reason, there is no reason to allow them to control.Are you really saying the state should accept “I want this baby dead because I don’t feel like paying for it now that its mother is dead” as a rationale to let a baby die who can be saved?

              • How is it weird? First its not a baby, its fetus and barely one at that at 14-20 weeks.

                I’m not saying that the state should accept that reasoning but if they are going to be the ones making the decisions on whether the wife should be kept on life support so the baby may come to term then they have to accept the finical responsibility for that decision.

                Do you think its right they get to make the decision but the family has to accept all the burden of that decision if it goes horribly wrong?

                • Bill, Who pays?
                  The law contract between mother and state alllows abortion under some circumstances but defaults to ‘carry to term’ commitment by the mother if the pregnant woman says and does nothing.

                  That silence was this mother’s decision. The father/family has no legitimate agency over the fate of the fetus. He’s obliged to follow through on the ‘carry to term’ decision of the mother, just exactly as he would be had she lived. If he wants to leave the child he must pay support costs as any father normally woulld on abandoning his family. He must pay the hospital bills as he normally would for his family. The state is no more obligated than for a normal pregnancy. Marternal death is just one risk in a pregnancy. This is just rather unusual form of death in childbirth

                • Sure, it’s a family member. The fetus-baby distinction is artificial and convenient for termination discussions—it’s nice that women can convince themselves that a human life isn’t in the balance, but it is. Why should a mother dying unexpectedly have to be a death sentence for a child that the mother intended to bring to term? The father is grief-stricken and doesn’t want a larger family now? Tough. Being a father begins with conception, whether legally protected life does or not.

                  • Is not artificial . It’s not viable outside the womb as it’s a fetus not a child not a baby. That’s the definition of what a fetus is.

                    If the state hadn’t stepped in taken artificial measures to insure the fetus stayed alive then the fetus would have died along withs it’s mother. That is natural and not artificly induced like an abortiom would have been.

                    There has to be line between the rights of the individual and the power of the state. I believe that line is when the fetus become viable outside the womb. Right now that fetus isn’t .

                    You and no one else know what the mother would decide but assume to make that decision for the husband when he is in the best position to make that decision.

                    You also want to make all the decisions but accept none of the responcbility . If you’re not willing to accept the responcbility them you should be quiet.

                    • The last legitimate decision was the mother’s, to continue the pregnancy prior to the accident; Because so much can go wrong in any pregnancy that is a big commitment and non-conditional. The state is making no decisions. It is honouring the last known wish of the woman that the pregnancy should come to term.

                      If you accept the alternative the implication is that the state would have to take care of every fetus which for whatever reason the parents chose to reject, wrong hair colour, sex whatever.

                      Pregnancy has to be an open ended non-conditional commitment, the child may have Down’s or any one of a number of disabilities. Or be a total ass. There’s no telling beforehand and the commitment is total. Whatever and whoever plops out on the birthing mat – that complete stranger is yours for life. Come hell or high water. What you get for making whoopeee. It’s not a matter of state vs individual rights. Just an individual looking fate in the eye and accepting it. No exemptions.

                    • I didn’t create the human life involved. I did my part. Now it is on the road to life, and again, that’s what the state should protect. Don’t create life that you won’t protect, love and care for.

  3. Jack:
    Well stated. I came to same conclusion but in a different manner. The mother stated that she did not want to remain on life support and she is not. The fetus is being kept on life support using one of the most superbly designed organic life support mechanisms in nature. Until medical science creates an artificial womb the women is merely acting as a vessel for fetal development. I see little ethical difference in this and providing an organ donation, albeit a temporary one.

    The Hippocratic Oath requires that doctors first to do no harm. They are doing no harm to the fetus nor the mother maintaining the environment in which the fetus can develop. Doctors are using the best available treatment for the fetus which will give the fetal patient the best chance at life.

    Those that espouse pro choice cannot argue that choice extends into the post-mortem state. Nor can they assert a claim that the women did choose to abort the fetus in the event that she dies during pregnancy as it was not stipulated beforehand.

    Given that a parent or father has no right to choose an abortion, or is subordinate to the women’s rights in any other circumstance, it stands to reason that right of choice is either absolute to the women in question or passes down in order of impact on the human body, Thus, the default position should logically be that the right to choose passes from the mother to the fetus when the mother is unable to make such a choice. Given the fetus has no ability to communicate that choice we must default to potential child’s innate survival instinct.

    One final point for the ethicists. If the family prevails and a strict interpretation of the patient’s wish not to be kept on life support is established, would this proscribe doctors from asking family members if they can harvest organs from deceased patients for transplantation into others who will keep their organs alive?

    • Agree with your line of reasoning. But the last paragraph: the mother IS dead, here the bioethicists were accurate: she is no longer the patient, she isn’t alive. The baby, not being property she can dispose of as in a will, is now the patient.

      Disposition of her body (which the baby is not part of) depends very much on if she signed organ donation papers. A wish that can still be fulfilled AFTER the baby is born.

    • That’s a fascinating insight in the last paragraph.

      Isn’t there such a thing as keeping a corpse on life support to keep organs fresh for donation? (I don’t know. There should be.)

      If she signed an organ donor card she was willing to be kept in a zombie state temporarily for strangers. That would be evidence that she would have been willing to stay on “life” support temporarily to give life to a family member.

      • I am relatively sure there is- I seem to recall a news story about a body kept on life support while a transplant recipient was transported in. There’s a non-zero chance that was a TV show though.

  4. Did she want the child in the first place?

    Then shouldn’t her wishes come first? In the absence of other considerations, we let people choose how their dead bodies will be handled after death. She’d have wanted her kid in an incubator if necessary. Her body is the best available incubator. Keeping it running is the “pro-choice” position.

    She didn’t think about this situation ahead of time, so we’re only guessing her intentions, but if she’d wanted the pregnancy terminated she had the chance and didn’t take it.

    But is anyone else so creeped out that they’re having trouble thinking straight? This isn’t “Ick Factor”, this is “Yeetch Factor”.

  5. In addition to the oxygen deprivation, I wonder how else the child might suffer developmentally without the movement of his mother’s body and the sound of her voice? Incubating in inner space without stimulation?

  6. This case mirrors one of the hypotheticals put forward by pro-choice advocates (What if you woke up and found your body connected to another person as essential life support, what duty do you have to that extremely dependent life – usual answer, none).

    In this case it is much simpler, If the patient is ‘all dead’ and the next of kin, the husband confesses to accepting that, then Mrs Munoz is definitely dead and thus has no current rights. Being dead, living wills about termination of life don’t apply, to the state or to the husband, end of life happened already. The state may commandeer that body mass for its uses just as a cop in hot pursuit may commandeer a car. No rights are violated. A dead body is not a person. It is remains, it is a chattel.

    Except to the husband. He cannot all accept that his wife is all dead. He still passionately cares about what happens to the body, because of a prior commitment to Mrs Munoz when she was alive about a different circumstance (being all but dead, nearly but not quite all dead). He is confused, being stupid, and human and understandable. Like the family in the Jahi case. And just as in that case, here it is the rights of the living that take precedence. The dead wife by proxy of the husband has no superior right over the unborn life, in Texas.

      • Yes Fred, but a will cannot dispose of an unborn because it is not owned, it is a person (after some 22 or so weeks of gestation anyway).
        (btw “I leave my stash of hallucinatory drugs to my Mum’ and the like would also be challenged I think). So I’m not sure that ‘the rights of the living taking precedence’ was right. It should be ‘the higher value takes precedence’, yes?

        • Children are chattels in at least one state’s law, but my point is the principle that we routinely enforce the wishes of dead people.

          • Quite correct again, Fred. The custom is to respect the wishes of the dead, wills apply to property but a wish may be much wider. So a mother’s dying wish that ‘let Grammer take the kids’ would often, ethically, be honoured. Sorry that took me two rounds to get straight.

            Speaking of which, as abortion is an active choice, carrying to term the passive choice. While the fetus is below 22 weeks and not a person, should the absence of the wife’s choice to abort be honoured? Your principle would seem to indicate so. If she had an accident and was brain damaged on her way to the abortion clinic that would be different. But faiing an active wish should the hospital rule out the husband’s wishes. I tend to think so, on the principles that any choice is the mothers and the mother made no choice, so by default the choice is made passively, to carry to term.

            • I think your ‘dies on the way to the abortion clinic’ is still insufficient. The choice to abort is based on the aborting party to consider their own comfort and convenience to be more important than the life of the innocent baby. With the aborting party dead, the baby no longer represents a burden to the party that wished the baby dead, therefore the consideration the state currently allows is moot. The baby’s life then should take precedence (as ethically it should anyway, despite the arbitrary and unjust law to the contrary).

              • Sorry tex, you are now in territory where I dare not tread. Three or four males dominating a discussion on pure right to life grounds is too steep for what’s left of my feminist ideals – yuck.

                Debate this specific case and I’ll follow wherever you go. But arguing over pure ‘right to life’ and ‘a conceptus is a baby’: no way. You’ll need Zoe and Wyogranny too take that one home. That’s injun country, mate.

                • Ugh. There are no gender limitations on speaking about abortion and related issues, and I really hate the suggestion. If anything, males can be more objective than women who are weighing the value of a life that will throw some roadblocks, impediments and inconveniences to careers, social lives, their health and relationships.The implication that there are gender qualifications has been used to stifle legitimate debate, which is indeed its purpose. This is the equivalent, in my book, of the argument “You wouldn’t feel that way about capital punishment if YOU were on death row!”

                  • I underfstand. But for me, letting 4 guys dominate the discussion seems just wrong. It would be like Joe Biden and a group of liberal armchair dwellers debating the deployment of uniforms in harms way in Afghanistan. I’ve suggested before that virtuous scars are a qualification for being taken seriously. Women, all women, are subject to risks and experiences regarding fertility that men are not exposed to. I’m not voluntering to be silent. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the men on thread. But without at least one female voice actively involved, the comment thread lacks something vital. So I’ll wait. Make a space. Listen. It is allowed, isn’t it, listening?

            • Humans are not property to be disposed of as such. Wishing ones children to a particular set of caretakers obviously includes the caveat that the children stay alive… that power of a will does not carry over if the final wish is to kill a baby.

    • The state may commandeer that body mass for its uses just as a cop in hot pursuit may commandeer a car. No rights are violated. A dead body is not a person. It is remains, it is a chattel.
      Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!!!!

      • Not at all Finlay. A dead body is an object. Nothing wrong there, that the court of human rights would object to as far as I know. Respect for the body in death may console the living and expectation of the same may have helped the person while alive. But treating the body respectfully is something you do for kindness not as a right? If so, whose right?

        • That is correct, how we treat our dead is purely for the living; to comfort us knowing that when our time is due we won’t be callously forgotten or tossed aside as though we possessed no value while living.

          It is a valid practice that still has cultural meaning. In this case however, disposing of her body with decorum gets to wait because of considerations (the baby inside) outweigh that. And of course her body would be treated with decorum during the process.

          Now would anyone like to introduce the religious argument that burial must take place within a certain period of time after death?

  7. DNRs are such a fickle beast. On one hand, I understand that if you’re brain dead, or in excruciating and debilitating pain, with no chance of recovery that there’s little to no sense in keeping your body warm or the pain coming. I think it’s a responsible decision to be made, even if your family has a hard time letting go. However, we aren’t dealing with pain here. She’s dead. The baby isn’t. We’re basically holding the right of the mother to die against the right of the child to live. Why is this even a question?

    • I don’t think that’s the comparison. The mother IS dead so her, as you call it, “right to die” has been exercised.

      The two conflicts here, the second of which I believe is clouding the judgement of the first is one: the husband wants his wife off life support because of their agreement but he doesn’t realize she isn’t on life support, she’s already dead, but mechanically providing incubation for the unborn baby.

      That’s where the second conflict arises. The husband doesn’t want the baby.

  8. It strikes me that this is a rather more vexed situation than you suggest. On the one hand, I’d guess that the current situation was intended to be covered by the state law, whether or not it explicitly was. On the other hand, the fetus in question was at 14 weeks at the time of the mother’s death. In other words, the parents could have decided to get a perfectly legal abortion—could even have planned to do so, for all anyone knows.

    Clearly, the mother is now in no position to make such a decision, but the father—who presumably has some variation on the theme of medical power of attorney—can and did, indeed, decide to remove whatever extraordinary devices were keeping his wife “alive,” in full knowledge of the repercussions with respect to the fetus.

    It may be, ethically, that the abortion dispute hinges on, in your terms, finding “the balance between the child’s right to live and the mother’s right to have control over her body and her future.” Or should, perhaps, the prospective father have some say in the matter? Pro-life organizations constantly make the case that the father has rights, although they want a father to have the right to intervene only to support their position. These alleged rights have not, to my knowledge, been supported by any court, but it does strike me as being a position of ideology rather than ethics to argue that a father ought to have the legal right to prevent an abortion but not—even when the mother is incapable of making a decision—to initiate one.

    I have no doubt that the statute was designed as an end run around Roe v. Wade; I’m pretty sure it’s unconstitutional in those terms. (I think Roe v. Wade was an incredibly flawed decision, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is the relevant precedent.)

    I can’t fault the hospital for its position: they’re doing their best to comply with the law as they perceive it… or at least there’s no evidence to the contrary. Theirs was not, therefore, an ethical decision per se, except to the extent that obeying the law is a good thing. The father’s desire for closure is also understandable, as is his wish to remember his wife in terms other than as literally a baby-making machine. The Texas legislature passed a bad law as a means of circumventing a bad Supreme Court decision: problematic, but—again—understandable in emotional and perhaps even logical terms, even if not in legal ones.

    Your proposed solution—adoption—is probably the best (i.e., least bad) alternative, but this is one of those cases in which the least of the available evils is the best we’re likely to get. In this case, I find it difficult to condemn anyone. Bioethics is clearly closer to its infancy than we might wish. Here’s a case in point.

    • With regards to the father’s rights: If you take as a given that abortion is legal, and take as a given that the father has a right to intervene in favor of the child’s life, then yes, it would follow logically that the father also has a right to intervene in favor of an abortion.

      BUT. I don’t see this as pro-life people changing their minds, saying that a father only deserves rights when he agrees with them. I see this as the pro-lifers saying “woah woah woah. You’ve been calling us mysoginistic and sneering at the notion that the father should have any say in the matter, you don’t get to turn around NOW and say that he gets to make a call, just because he’s making the call to abort.”

      In other words, the pro-lifers aren’t the ones putting ideology over ethics here, at least in that specific regard. They are just pointing out that you can’t justify a sudden reversal after years of pooh-poohing the father’s right to legal input on the subject.

      • The difference is that in one case, the mother’s wishes (legitimately, I think) trump those of the father’s; in the other case, the mother is incapable of having any wishes one way or the other, so the father ought reasonably be the person to make any decisions.

  9. This is a sucky analogy but has some points in common.

    Wasn’t there a custom, if not a legal principle, of delaying executions of pregnant women until after they’d delivered?

    In that case, the state had decided that body functions should cease, but allowed them to keep going until the birth.

    In this case, it was the woman who had decided that the rest of her body functions should cease after her brain was gone, but should her other organs have a stay of execution until the Caesarian?

  10. I agree with your conclusions, although I don’t think it is as cut and dry as you suggest. It raises issues about using a dead woman’s body as a piece of equipment, which would not be acceptable in any other circumstance. Feminism by and large seeks to keep women from being reduced to being just a baby recepticle, so I can see how this situation can actually be very murky from that perspective. Imagine digging up recently dead bodies to use as incubators for designer babies in the future, or using “Jane Doe”s who have been determined to be brain dead as the host for a woman who has discovered that there is some problem with her pregnancy. (obviously those are extreme examples, just to illustrate an over the top comparison, I realize they’re not directly comparable because Marlise Munoz consented to becoming pregant in the first place) In the end, though, I think it should be obvious to err on the side of caution and care for the fetus, especially when the mother is not alive to make the choice herself.
    I find it odd that the woman’s husband and parents are so vehemently fighting for her to be taken off of life support immediately, as this is certainly not a situation that they were likely to have discussed in such specifics. Obviously the hospital won’t keep her on life support once the child (or if) comes to term.

    • That’s a slippery slope argument as well as Ick Factor.

      If the conflict in your mind is between the life of the baby and culturally justifiable funerary rites, you are right that the baby’s life trumps. I don’t think that is a “cautious” answer, its glaringly obvious.

      • Good point about the slippery slope, and absolutely I feel the ick factor, I am totally uncomfortable with idea of using a dead body in that way- but I am also cognizant of that and I am trying to still be logical. In my opinion, it is obvious to keep her, and hence the baby on life support, but I can see how there could be an argument otherwise.

        • I think the key difference, is that her body was incubating the baby before her death as well. You’re going over a pretty big hurdle to go from “allow the baby to remain in utero to grow to term and be delivered, if possible” to “implant child in dead woman.”

          • True, and I don’t think that my examples are directly comparable for that reason. I was just trying to illustrate another possible use of a dead woman’s body for the sake of gestation when it would be impossible for her to have a say in the matter, and how I can understand the argument from that perspective. I probably could have come up with a better comparison to make that point…

        • My guess is that the baby, could he or she be asked, would say that the icky aspects are well worth it. And I see no justification, absent the mother’s well-being as a competing factor, to give anything or anybody priority over that life.

  11. Just a quick comment as I check in after being immersed in the 2013 Worst Awards, and having to take a shower as a result. What a nice job everyone is doing on this thread! Carry on…

  12. I’m nowhere near capable of weighing in on the main issue, but I noticed a couple of similar statements:
    “My guess is that the baby, could he or she be asked, would say that the icky aspects are well worth it” and
    “all bet’s are likely that any living organism, having not yet had a chance to be born, would prefer to be alive than not.”

    I sadly don’t have the logical ability to prove this (and may be completely wrong), but isn’t that pretty poor reasoning?
    We all, as living beings, probably like the idea of being alive more than being dead: It’s all we know, and it’s pretty neat, on average.
    But the bundle of cells / potential child / child (depending on your viewpoint) in this case could only possibly express how much they preferred life if they were allowed to continue to be born, yes?

    In order to make one of the above statements, aren’t you presupposing the desired outcome (continued life) anyway?

    • No. The point is that the presumption should always be in favor of life, and the Golden Rule would dictate, based on human experience, that the bundle of cells / potential child / child would rather have the chance to exist than not. I see nothing illogical about that at all. In fact, it is the only reasonable conclusion, unless one believes, as extreme abortion and euthanasia advocates do, that superior power justifies taking life from another precisely because they are unable to express a preference. In which case, ensuring their silence on the matter by killing them and arguing, “well, we’ll never know that he/she wouldn’t have agreed with us” is the ultimate cynical dishonesty.

      • I do apologise if I misled you, I am no extreme abortion or euthanasia advocate, and certainly not trying to exercise cynical dishonesty.

        I simply thought I saw an argument that was more emotive than logical (and have generally been led to believe the latter is superior to the former for debate), but clearly screwed that one up quite badly.

    • Yes, Jack is presupposing and yes it is illogical. An entity that does not exist by definition has no interests. Bundles of cells cannot ‘rather’ or prefer, they have no interests. Potential to develop is not in any way a ‘will to live’. It’s not that immatue fetuses cannot express an interest, they have no interest to express. Only suitable, capable, subjectively existant beings can have interests, including a 22 week fetus, but not a 10 week one. You may as well talk about a clock having an interest in chiming.

      • As I said, that a being with a separate heartbeat “doesn’t exist” is a convenient myth that itself is nonsensical. Every living person somehow developed from something tangible that “doesn’t exist.” There is certainty that, absent catastrophe, this non-existent nascent human being should be granted the aspiration to life. Again, any presumption other than to let an organism progress to human existence when no danger or even inconvenience to the mother and her body is callous and toxic to a culture that should respect life above all.

        • There is no myth. A conceptus, in the limit, is human biologically but is not a human being materially. Just as the mothers body is human but there is no human being.

          There is no such thing as an ‘aspiration to life’. A conceptus has a potential to live it also in nature, has a good chance of dying, of not implanting.

          Your attachment to life is poetical not ratioinal. Nothing wrong with being poetical, but you are not entitled to impose your poetic affinity on others.

          However there is a mothers will to create a life and if that will exists or existed then the credit due to that awesome undertaking, a good start having been made, must take precedence. Somewhat akin to a money man building a cathedral, dying half way to construction and the inheritors having a conventional duty to carry through that project of the heart., rather than follow their own wishes.

          • No, the legal definition of what gets rights IS arbitrary. As technology improves viability outside the womb will be pushed earlier and earlier. Does this mean your magical definition of a living human being is no longer definitive? Human life begins at conception… you cannot deny that honestly.

            Any further arbitrary definition of when a baby becomes ‘really’ human ultimately requires considering the baby a created piece of property which can be destroyed or nurtured at a whim until the state decides it is no longer property. And that argument, my friend, were it to make sense, would easily have dozens of other arbitrary ages at which a baby/child should no longer be considered property of the parents. Hell, I think the imperial Romans considered their children property until they had children of their own…

            • The definition is arbitrary as in practical. The practical limit will indeed creep earlier. As i make no pretence that the limit is fixed absolutely then it does not perish by being redefined. Absolutely. The life of a human being by convention begins at 22 weeks gestation for that reason – practical constraints. Saying a conceptus is a human being is a confusion – or should every married woman perform a funeral for every cycle?

              There could be other definitions of that developmental age of humanity, but there aren’t. According to global conventions IIRC, life starts at birth or a time before birth, never after birth.

          • These are all definitions only, based on arbitrary decisions of when we decide to confer the title of life as human. A fetus has more potential than a man in a coma….you are acting as if this were all based on some grand edict. If a woman decides she wants to keep her fetus, the law will treat is as a person with rights in most states—if I abort the child without her consent, I am guilty of homicide. This mother here made that choice: it’s a baby, and nobody but her can declare otherwise. As has already been mentioned, the law will not execute a women who is even newly pregnant.

            She called it her child, she regarded it as alive. There’s nothing sentimental about it at all. Dehumanizing an organism destined and fully capable of becoming human if left alone to thrive is, as I said, a convenient fiction to help women do what they feel they must without undue emotional hardship. That’s fine, but the result is callousness like the family in this case, as well as the argument you are making.

            • You are backing the mother’s will so I’m with you up to your last two sentences. ‘Dehumanising’ presumes a human being exists. ‘Destined’ and ‘capable’ assume a purpose which is not rationally based. Non viable fetuses cannot ‘be left alone to thrive’.

              Demythologising fertility may weil make a woman feel better, which you agree is fine. As always it is the way that you do it that makes the difference between callous and sensitive. Mourning the loss of a fetus makes at least as much sense as mourning the loss of limb, womb or breast – ie a lot.

              But a poetically inclined male should go carefully where the interests of the sisterhood are concerned. Not evasively, just carefully. So I’d better slow down now.

  13. What a horrible situation.
    I think most of the issues have been covered. Only one has not.

    I see the foetus as being a potential child. Had it reached the status of “unborn baby” – one I define as meaning having significant neurological development – then different considerations apply.

    Right now it has no more brain activity than the deceased mother. If she is not deemed alive because of that lack of activity, then how come the difference? One has to say the foetus is a potential future human, not a person now.

    • Assuming you want to arbitrarily establish level of brain development as the standard for “human”.

      If we want to do that, we could just as easily decide that a human isn’t fully human until their behavioral personality traits are fully developed, that will push the envelop for abortion to at least around age 4 or 5 post-birth!!! What an excellent window for mothers (and fathers if given a chance) to decide if they want a child or not.

      • The only reason for establishing a developmental level qualifying as human is the treatment of such ethical problems relating to pregnancy. Outside of that discussion the term, developmentally human, or any synonymous phrase has no meaning. The only reason it is defined as a level not a curve is to make these rare decisions more clear and accountable.

        You are correct to point out that humans develop after birth, for example they have no freedom of speech or right of assembly as political rights until they reach the age and condition of political majority. But human rights, as minors, they receive as soon as they are a human being – 22 weeks gestation. Prior to that point the rights belong to the mother. And the duties. Including the limited, conditional duty to society to finish what you started, to better protect all children who are born from lack of parental committment. Or to protect the unborn (non-existent pre-22 week fetus) if you are in an appropriately poetically minded society.

      • At some point between 0 and 22 weeks humanity is said to develop. The only reason for choosing 22 weeks, yes it is arbitrary, is that before that in a pregnancy the difference between human and non-human makes no difference in the decision. Exactly and precisely because that is the current level for viability separate from the mother. 22 weeks makes the largest number of cases related to pregnancy clear to decide, does the least mischief. I beleive in fertillity research embryos cannot be allowed to develop beyond 12 or 13 weeks. If that helps.
        At some point in future ife support technology, the awkward problem of measuring brain development fetus by fetus would have to be tackled and the awkward status of ‘partly human’ would have to be invented. Until then the arbitrary, practical, limit of 22 weeks is good enough.

        • “At some point between 0 and 22 weeks humanity is said to develop.”

          “Is said”? Translation: It was picked out of a hat.

          “The only reason for choosing 22 weeks, yes it is arbitrary, is that before that in a pregnancy the difference between human and non-human makes no difference in the decision.”

          What is THAT supposed to mean? It’s a human mother—the baby isn’t going to be a racoon or a meercat.

          “Exactly and precisely because that is the current level for viability separate from the mother.”

          As of now. And if the technology exists to allow the fetus to be viable outside the womb before 22 weeks, is the baby magically human, like Pinocchio?

          At some point in future ife support technology, the awkward problem of measuring brain development fetus by fetus would have to be tackled and the awkward status of ‘partly human’ would have to be invented.

          This is sophistry. The fetus will develop into a human, and its genetic material is 100% human. The “half-human” construct is, again, bioethical spin so ending a human life seems only half like ending a human life.

          “Until then the arbitrary, practical, limit of 22 weeks is good enough.”
          Not good enough for the human fetus whose path to existence is cut short at 22 weeks. Easy for you to say!

          • Rather than counter argue your counter argument I submit that :

            The 22 week limit is arbitrary from the viewpoint of the interested parties. But the system that deals with this limit is itself limited in it’s powers of judgement. Because there is no consensus in society on the major issue, the right to life.

            So the simplest, least harmful, clearly based, accountable definition of ‘developmentally human’ that is broadly tolerable should be adopted so that most cases can be settled within the time frame of the progress of the pregnancy (days not months) to avoid harm by justice deiayed. That definition is currently the viability limit, 22 weeks (states and nations may differ)

            In a perfect world we would understand enough to be able to place a fetus on a developmental curve by measurement and analysis. Thus we could decide if it is or is not yet a human child and to what degree with 100% accuracy and no delay.

            Personally I prefer imperfect worlds. But that’s my poetic sense coming through.

  14. First let me say this — if I were this woman, I would hope and want that my baby be kept alive. But once I’m dead, my desires are no longer relevant. For example, my husband keeps saying that he wants me to have a doctor cut off his head when he dies and have it frozen for later de-thawing down the road once science has improved, and I keep telling him that it is never going to happen. It’s morbid. And since he will be dead, he’ll never know. Anyway, I digress….

    There are a couple things that I don’t think have been given proper attention here.

    1. No one is considering the emotional needs of the rest of the family. My father-in-law was in the hospital for months before we made the decision to end his life. It was the most horrible thing that I have ever gone through and unless you’ve been there, you cannot imagine the horror that this woman’s husband, her other child, parents, and extended family are experiencing. I’m not saying that this dictates the ultimate decision here — I am just saying that it is important so don’t ignore it.

    2. The money issue is not insignificant. The mother’s care (and her fetus’s care) most likely has already reached $1 M, if not more. And, my guess is that insurance will not pay (or will only pay a limited amount) because the mother has been ruled brain-dead. So, if this burden falls on the father, it may mean financial ruin for him and his other child that he still has to raise. And, if it means the State pays, that’s fine I guess, but keep that in mind next time you decide to mock any social policy that is enacted to save the life of “just one child,” because that is exactly what is happening here.

  15. Reading the inset quote, I had one simple thought.

    “If she is dead, I don’t see how she can be a patient, and I don’t see how we can be talking about treatment options for her,” . . . Critics of the hospital’s actions also note that the fetus has not reached the point of viability outside the womb and that Ms. Munoz would have a constitutional right to an abortion.

    If she is dead, *I* don’t see how she can have a constitutional right to an abortion.


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