Switch Off the Death Support

pregnant woman

Once again Ireland needs legal advice on how to cope with pregnant women – even when they are dead.

head in sand
The circumstances of the current case open up many  ethical questions –

None of them have anything to do with abortion, despite what the pro-life lobby would have us believe!

Case history:
A clinically brain-dead Irish woman in her 20s (let’s call her Mary) is being kept alive artificially – because she is 17 weeks pregnant .
Allegedly Mary’s parents would like to turn off her life support machine. Doctors cannot because this would end the life of her foetus.
Remember: If Mary was taken off life support and left to “God” then she and the baby would die

What does all this mean?
1) The state is controlling Mary’s body after she has died, without her consent.
2)  Mary’s family are powerless to stop it.


Different Precedents:

on life support
1) A ventilator kept brain-dead Canadian Robyn Benson, who was 22 weeks pregnant, breathing so her baby could survive.
Doctors delivered her son at 28 weeks gestation. She died the next day.
Family members and doctors had agreed to keep her on a ventilator until they could deliver the baby via a cesarean section.

2) An Italian woman was 23 weeks pregnant when she suffered fatal brain hemorrhage
Family asked for life support machine to be kept on to save unborn child
Doctors then performed a Cesarean in the 32nd week of pregnancy

NB Most foetuses are able to exist independently of their mother,



albeit with major medical care and assistance only at and after 24 weeks (6 months) gestation.

A similar precedent to Mary’s:
3) 33 year old Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when doctors pronounced her brain dead.

Her family had said she did not want to have machines keep her body alive,

Officials at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, argued state law required them to maintain life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient.

The family went to court and a judge in Fort Worth ordered the hospital to remove any artificial means of life support from Marlise .
The devices were shut off and her body was released to her husband

life support off

Thoughts: Unlike the Canadian and Italian women

a)Mary and Marlise’s pregnacies are a long way off the 24 week foetus viability cut-off.

b) Next of kin want to switch off the life support.

c) People who are brain dead do not have a life to sustain and are not patients. They are legally dead.


Queries: In Mary’s circumstances

Does the term “life support” mean “death support”?
Even in death, will Mary be forced to remain ‘alive’?
Will her life’s value be reduced to that of a hospital incubator?
When a woman gets pregnant, does she stop being a person?
Does she have no right over her own body, or is she a human being  like everybody else?
Why should others beyond the next of kin decide if Mary lives or dies?



Mary should be allowed the right to die with dignity,

Neither Church nor State has any right to interfere with a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body.

Or her next-of-kin’s right to accept that she is dead, once they have been so informed by the medical authorities.



PS Update:In the Sunday Independent Dr Ciara Kelly is asking the same type of questions as The Mirror

She agrees that decisions are up to  next of kin and doctors.

“Here, we have the ludicrous situation of solicitors debating aspects of medical care with obstetricians on television, as if they were authorities on it.

In what other aspect of medicine would that happen?

Why in this one area, do we think we can’t trust women with their own bodies or indeed the doctors who care for them?

Why, in this one area, do we feel we all have a right to intrude and decide what’s best for them?








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