It’s amazing what you don’t find out by reading the papers. The case of the brain-dead pregnant Irishwoman is at present a striking example. I’ve read reports which give information about the age of the baby in the woman’s womb, about the woman’s age, about what hospital she’s in, about what Health Minister Leo Varadkar said about Irish abortion law. But I haven’t as yet read a report that clarifies a key aspect of the case. Of course, maybe everybody else knows the facts of this key aspect, in which case I bow my head and apologise for my ignorance.
The woman is on a life-support machine and all hopes of her recovery, apparently, are gone. She is carrying a baby that is said to be around five months old. At least some of her family want the life-support system to be switched off, which would mean she would be officially dead and so, presumably, would the baby.
But here’s the thing. Someone in a vegetative state can be kept alive indefinitely by a life support machine: that is, they can be fed, they can receive nourishment – the body remains in the basic sense functioning. If that’s so, what about a baby within that person? Would it receive nourishment from the mother’s body? Would it continue to grow? Or would it be fatally damaged by the damage done to the woman?
I wish the answers to these questions were easily available because they would make decisions about the case much more clear-cut. If the baby inside the woman cannot receive nourishment or continue to grow, and assuming that it would not be capable of surviving at five months, the turning off of the life-support system would seem logical. A truly sad case but relatively uncomplicated.
If, on the other hand, the baby was capable of receiving nourishment from its brain-dead mother, again things are simplified. The obvious course is to keep the woman on life-support until such time as the baby can be safely removed. After that any decision about switching off the life-support system could be made. A truly sad case but relatively uncomplicated.
Yet in none of the reports have I come across the key information: will the baby continue to grow inside the woman? I’ve read indignant reports about Irish abortion law, furious references to treating the woman as ‘a human incubator’ (though why that should be seen as degrading when the alternative is death I don’t know), references to other sad cases involving women and abortion or non-abortion in Ireland. But no report has given me what strikes me as the key information: will the baby continue to grow? If it won’t, switch off if that’s the family’s wish. If it will, switching off is essentially the termination before birth of an innocent life that could have been lived, with all its possibilities.
I’d welcome clarification. But then some newspapers don’t do clarification. They just do sales.