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Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Should Be Allowed to Die, Court Rules

Kieran Lynam

Greg Daly - published on 12/27/14

Respect for the dead “has been the hallmark of civilized societies from the dawn of time,” Kearns said, adding, “It is a deeply ingrained part of our humanity and may be seen as necessary both for those who have died and also for the sake of those who remain living and who must go on. The Court therefore is unimpressed with any suggestion that considerations of the dignity of the mother are not engaged once she has passed away.”

“However,” Kearns clarified, “when the mother who dies is bearing an unborn child at the time of her death, the rights of that child, who is living, and whose interests are not necessarily inimical to those just expressed, must prevail over the feelings of grief and respect for a mother who is no longer living.”

“The question,” he said, “then becomes one of how far the Court should go in terms of trying to vindicate that right in the particular circumstances which arise here.”

Under the circumstances, said Kearns, "To maintain and continue the present somatic support for the mother would deprive her of dignity in death and subject her father, her partner and her young children to unimaginable distress in a futile exercise which commenced only because of fears held by treating medical specialists of potential legal consequences."

Kearns was not speaking lightly when he described continued somatic support as a “futile exercise.”  Noting that without exception the case’s medical evidence pointed to only one outcome, he said that “highly experienced medical practitioners with the best interests of both mother and unborn child in mind do not believe there is any medical or ethically based reason for continuing with a process which Dr. McKenna described as verging on the grotesque on the particular facts in this case.”

The seven medical experts called to give evidence in the case had unanimously held that vital support should be discontinued. Kearns said that he and his colleagues, Justice Marie Baker and Justice Caroline Costello, accepted the medical evidence that in “this case there is no real prospect of maintaining stability in the uterine environment, having regard to the degree of infection, the fluctuating temperatures in the body of the mother, the difficulty in maintaining a safe blood pressure and the amount of toxic medication being administered to the mother which is not licensed for pregnancy.”

“The somatic support being provided to the mother is being maintained at hugely destructive cost to both her remains and to the feelings and sensitivities of her family and loved ones,” Kearns continued, adding, “The condition of the mother is failing at such a rate and to such a degree that it will not be possible for the pregnancy to progress much further or to a point where any form of live birth will be possible.”

He pointed out that the ongoing somatic support for the mother’s body was in fact causing the body to break down, such that “overwhelming infection from various sources will, as a matter of near certainty, bring the life of the unborn to an end well before any opportunity for a viable delivery of a live child could take place.”

Following the ruling, Kearns said he was grateful that the legal team representing the unborn would not be appealing the decision to Ireland’s Supreme Court, clearing the way for the woman’s family and partner to arrange for her burial.

Commenting on the case for the Pro Life Campaign, Dr. Ruth Cullen expressed sympathy to the family of the deceased, but said that, “While it is very difficult for the families concerned that cases like this sometimes end up in court, the fact is that it is a sign of a healthy democracy that life and death issues are taken seriously and appropriately determined.”
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