Bioethics Blogs

Irish Court: Hospital Can Stop Physiological Support for Dead Woman

A woman in her mid 20s was declared dead in a Dublin hospital on December 3, when she was 15 weeks pregnant.  But despite pleas from her husband and father, clinicians refused to stop physiological support.

Clinicians said they needed legal clarification on what they were allowed to do because of the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution (“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”)

Today, December 26, Ireland’s high court ruled that doctors can stop physiological support.  (Irish Times; Guardian)  (I posted an early copy of the 26-page judgment here.)  The court “is satisfied, in the circumstances of this case, that it is in the best interests of the unborn child; it should authorise at the discretion of the medical team the withdrawal of ongoing somatic support being provide in this tragic and unfortunate case.”

“To maintain and continue the present somatic support for the mother would deprive her of dignity 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 consequences.”

The court found as a fact there was no genuine prospect the somatic process would lead to the birth of a live baby.  “From a medical viewpoint… 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 licenced for pregnancy.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.