A three judge panel of the High Court in Ireland allowed the doctors to turn off life support system of a clinically dead pregnant woman on Friday, triggering off fresh debate about the extremely strict abortion laws in the country. The decision came after legal representatives from the woman’s medical team explained to the court that the 18 week old fetus had little chance of surviving because the condition of the woman’s body which was deteriorating fast.
The woman, whose name has not been released, was 14 weeks pregnant when she suffered a major brain trauma after a serious fall on Nov 29 and was placed on life support system, much against her family’s wishes because the doctors were not sure about the legal rights of the unborn baby. She is in her 20s and already a mother to two, says The Associated Press.
The woman was put on a half-dozen machines that regulated oxygen, blood flow, nutrition and waste collection even as her family requested for her to be allowed to die. But the doctors did not listen to them since a woman and her unborn child have the same rights as per the Irish constitution. They were afraid of being sued for negligence or even charged for murder if they did not put her unborn baby on life support.
The woman’s life support, the doctors later said, was “being maintained at hugely destructive cost to both her remains and to the feelings and sensitivities of her family and loved ones.”
The court said it was wrong to continue to deprive the woman “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.”
One of the doctors also pointed out that “the body was being pumped with drugs never authorized for use on a pregnant woman and described what they were doing as experimental and, if it persisted, grotesque.”
Justice Nicholas Kearns, the president of the High Court, said that it was debatable whether the Eighth amendment which gives equal protection to both mother and her fetus was applicable in this instance because it did not appear to be “an abortion case at all.”
“The entire medical evidence in this case goes one way only,” Justice Kearns said in a written ruling on Friday, “and that is to establish that the prospects for a successful delivery of a live baby in this case are virtually nonexistent.”
Nearly 4,000 Irish women go to the neighboring England (where abortion was legalized in 1967) for medical termination of pregnancies every year, though the Parliament had relaxed the laws last year and legalized abortion of required to save the mother’s life.