Ichthys.ie
THE WORLD FROM THE CATHOLIC ANGLE

HeartlungIt was year 1200 or so. United armies of Kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and Navarre already liberated about a half of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rulers. In France, the University of Paris, called la Sorbonne, received its charters from king Phillip II of France. In Italian city-states preparations for the Fourth Crusade begun. In Far East Temüjin, after receiving the title of Genghis Khan just started building his empire.

Meanwhile, in a village called Portell in Catalonia a local knight's wife died during labour. She was then prepared for funeral, her body was washed and dressed in her most beautiful dresses. After that she was laid down to wait for her burial surrounded by praying mourners, candles and incense. Suddenly the door opened and Raymond Count of Cardona, the cousin of the deceased, run towards the catafalque. He grabbed his dagger, cut through the dresses and the belly of the dead woman and pulled out alive baby-boy. The baby was named Raymond after his saviour, and got a nickname Nonnatus (not born) for obvious reason. St. Raymond Nonnatus is the patron saint of pregnant women, childbirth, midwives, children, and priests defending the confidentiality of confession.

Over eight hundred years later, on December the 3rd last year a woman at 15 weeks' gestation died of brain trauma. Three weeks later Ireland's High Court ruled that the life support of the woman should be withdrawn, which literally meant death sentence to her little unborn child. According to the Irish Times article, “The court was satisfied it was in the best interests of the unborn child to authorise, at the discretion of the medical team, the withdrawal of life support.” I utterly unsuccessfuly struggle to understand the logic behind the switching the mother's life support off being the best interest of the unborn child. Like what, being dead is better than being alive? According to that logic the best interest of the passengers of the sinking ship would be to make the ship sink even faster.

The ruling was based on medical opinions of seven doctors. I wonder how many of them had anything to do with pregnancy of the brain dead patient before as I somehow couldn't find any trace of such a case in Ireland before. To be clear, we're talking here about clinical medical science. One does not acquire knowledge and experience in those kinds of cases by mixing liquids in test-tubes in laboratory or by experiments on mice. One has to have a hands-on experience to be any kind of expert in BD pregnant patients. Was any of those doctors such an expert provided that there were probably less than 50 such cases worldwide for last 30 years?

The cases of brain dead pregnant patients are quite rare but they seem to occur with increasing regularity. It's due to the progress of the medical science. Few months ago a BD woman in Alaska was kept on life support for nearly six months before giving birth to a healthy baby girl. Few years back another girl in Hungary gave birth to a healthy boy after three months on life support. Another baby-girl was born in USA three months after her mother's death. And so on.

To cut things short and to recap, my reasons for not switching off that lady's life support are as follows:

  • I wouldn't like the child to die as a Catholic and as a human being. And I don't understand the concept of death as the best interest of the child.

  • Minimal chances of survival don't mean the survival is not impossible. Medical science knows amazing cases when for instance healthy children were born despite being diagnosed with conditions “incompatible with life”, or cases of serious conditions which were discovered by accident (like that French guy with fluid instead of the most part of his brain) or the baby-boy born over 15 weeks after his mother's death as a result of traumatic brain injury in 1989 in USA despite of the mother's thermovariability, panhypopituitarism, pneumonia, and diabetes insipidus, all during life support.

  • As medicine progresses cases like the one in question will be more and more common and medical treatment of pregnant BD patients will develop depending on experience. In this particular case the chance to gain experience was lost.

  • The court ruling in my opinion was simply a mistake because it was a landmark decission thanks to which it it's quite possible that in the future switching off the life support of pregnant BD patients will become a routine. There even might be cases that the machines would be switched off against the family wishes.

Anyway, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families of both deceases, the mother and her child. May God comfort their families in their grief and rest their souls in peace.

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