Susan Anne Catherine Torres and Cristina Doe were born 10 months apart, in August 2005 and June 2006, respectively.
Sadly, Susan Torres passed away six weeks after birth. Yet these two girls are connected to one another through a very unusual circumstance: Both babies were born to braindead women.
According to Dr. Winston Campbell of the University of Connecticut Health Center, there are approximately a dozen cases of braindead women completing gestation to the point of delivering a viable fetus in the medical literature.
Further research in the journal of Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey shows another 15 cases of pregnant women in persistent vegetative states remaining on life support to deliver.
While there are few cases in the literature, this is largely because technology has only recently advanced to the point of making this a possible practice.
The idea of leaving a woman on life support to gestate a fetus is a highly contentious issue. There are those who believe all pregnant women should be kept on life support until delivery is possible. There are those who believe it’s up to individual families to make the decision. Then there are those who see a slippery slope of forced pregnancy and believe if a woman is dead she should be allowed to die, regardless of pregnancy.
These positions are all very self-explanatory, and a few years back, this columnist would have been firmly in the camp of “she’s dead — let her die.”
The idea of a woman being kept alive as a fleshy incubator horrified me — it was like a dystopic nightmare come to life. Women die, but their bodies are kept alive to gestate. What’s next — taking that dead woman, hooking her up to life support and then impregnating her?
In the meantime, I’ve realized that this is a non causa pro causa fallacy, the slippery slope at its worst. It’s saying that if A happens, by a gradual and continual process, B, C, D and eventually Z will happen. Z of course is a horribly bad thing, and since it should not happen, A shouldn’t either.
In reality, there is a strong line drawn between the A of keeping a pregnant woman alive a handful of months to deliver a desired fetus, and the dystopic possibilities inherent in Z.
That strong line is biology. It seems the body can maintain a pregnancy while it is braindead for somewhere around 3-4 months. While it’s long enough to attempt to bring a fetus to viability, it’s not long enough to create a pregnancy from scratch.
These days, I fall in the middle ground: I believe it’s a decision that should be made between family, doctors, friends and religious figures — the important people in the individual woman’s life.
That it be a personal decision, not a political or legislated one, is key. There is currently legislation in 27 states that allow doctors, lawyers and hospitals to override the wishes of the pregnant woman or her family. These pregnancy clauses mandate that every attempt should be made to save the life of a fetus, including keeping the woman alive on life support beyond the wishes of her family and friends.
This is where our concerns should be. It shouldn’t be with people who opt to keep their loved ones alive in order to have a piece of them continue to live in the form of a child.
Nor should it be with the people who believe that heroic measures should not be attempted, and mother and fetus should be allowed to die as nature dictated.
Our concern should be with the people who are taking these decisions out of the hands of those immediately affected and placing them in the clinical hands of the disinterested and uninvolved.
This decision, whether or not to attempt a medical miracle to bring a life into the world, is a private one, not a matter of public policy.