Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In news that should be a surprise to no one

For weeks now, a hospital in Texas has been insisting it has no choice but to maintain a dead woman's body on an artificial respirator because she was pregnant at the time of her death. 14 weeks pregnant to be exact, which is pre-viability no matter how you calculate viability. A fetus at 14 weeks of development has no possibility of surviving outside the womb. It may have  beating heart, but if this last few weeks of discussion about "brain death" have taught us anything, I would sincerely hope it's that life, real true life, requires so much more than just a beating heart.

Too many people are hung up on the idea that a beating heart is all it takes, though. So when Marlise Munoz's brain lost oxygen until heroic measures couldn't save it, that damn hospital kept forcing oxygen through her lungs merely because there was still a fetal heartbeat. Even though that fetus had also been without oxygen for a long time, probably a catastrophic time. (There's also the side point that the law cited by the hospital probably doesn't apply as it prohibits removing "life support" from a terminal patient. Munoz is dead, so there's no life to support and her situation isn't terminal, it's final.)

For weeks, Munoz's family has been trying to get the ventilator turned off so their beloved can be laid to rest already. They have done this to respect her wishes, all while getting vilified by idiots who accuse the grieving husband of wanting to "murder" his child. Their argument all along, though, has been that Marlise is dead, that her body shouldn't be treated as an incubator, that god or nature or whatever has already made its decision about the fate of both Marlise and the fetus. And they have also argued that while there might still be a fetal heartbeat, it is almost unimaginable that the fetus could possibly develop properly and be born alive to any life they would want for it.

So today in news that should be a surprise to no one, we learn through the Munoz family that, indeed, the fetus is "distinctly abnormal." Malformed, or unformed, limbs. Brain swelling. Heart problems. Who knows what else.

Because life requires more than a heartbeat maintained by mechanical respiration. A heart can be made to beat while totally removed from a body. On the flip side, a person can be kept alive, alive as in conscious and talking and maintaining all of those delightful little personality quirks that makes her her, without a heart at all, but rather with a machine doing the work of blood circulation. Life requires a brain, not just a heartbeat. So it stands to reason that when a fetus' development is dependent on the life of the woman carrying it, that development just won't happen right when the woman's brain is dead. No one has succeeded in growing a fetus in an incubator, some soulless machine. This case isn't any different.


BellsforStacy said...

I am so grateful I don't have to make any decision even remotely like what's going on with this poor family. I don't know the particulars and I haven't read much because it's just so heartbreaking. I'm so sorry for all involved.

14w is way before viability. :( I'm perplexed as to what the hospital is trying to accomplish. Was there a doctor wanting to see what would happen if a mother is brain dead but physically "alive"? Like an experiment? It gives me shivers.

But ... for my two cents ... if I were dead, brain dead or otherwise, and there was a chance to save my unborn child. I want every measure taken to save him. I don't think there was much chance here ... but if I were 24w along? I'd want them to use me as an incubator a week or two, if they could save him. I'd want them to take my organs too, for that matter, to help someone else. After they got the baby, naturally. Ugh. What a macabre train of thought!!

S said...

I know. This kind of case makes you think I don't ever want to deal with this! And the woman was only 22, so I don't imagine her husband is anywhere near our age.

It does seem a bit like a science experiment, doesn't it? Only with a possible human suffering as a result. I keep picturing the hideous monster baby described in The Other Boleyn Girl.

I fully agree that if she were further along (a lot further), it's not crazy for her to have wished for the baby to have had a chance. But she just wasn't close. And we're in all kinds of macabre territory. But really, no one else should have a role in this decision-making. It should just be the husband/family's choice.

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