I’ve had a hankering for quite a while now to do my Masters in Cultural Studies. But both time and more specifically money have stood in my way.  So being a poor nerd in the meantime I’ve decided to participate in the ‘Will Hunting School of Educating Oneself’ and simply go to the library and borrow text books.

“You dropped 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!” – Will Hunting

So until I can drop $20,000 on a Masters degree, I’m going to the library and my Kindle.

I’m currently reading a book titled Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Blackburn. There is a chapter titled Birth and it covers abortion.

And one particular quote struck me.

“In one of the most famous papers in this debate, Judith Jarvis Thomson compares the situation of a pregnant mother to that of someone suddenly waking to find another person plugged into them and dependent on them for life-support. She argues that the dependent person’s ‘right to life’ does not include a right to unlimited demands on other people, including here the demand that the supporter continues her support. The value of the analogy has been challenged, but it introduces the important distinction between having a right to the time or labour or energies of others that, as it happens, are necessary to support that life.”

Now I don’t want to specifically talk about abortion, I want to talk about Marlise Munoz, the Texan mother who was brain-dead but because of Texan laws, the hospital undertook heroic measures to keep her alive simply because she was pregnant. Even though the family wanted to turn her life support machine off, in accordance with Marlise’s wishes, the hospital was not in a position to do this. The case had to be heard by a judge.

So for weeks the family’s emotions were held to ransom while a court case determined the fate of Marlise and her unborn baby.

Texas is among 12 US states that have adopted strict laws requiring that a woman be kept alive if pregnant, regardless of the stage of her pregnancy.

Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant when she suffered a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in her lung. Marlise went into cardiac arrest and it is reported that she and her unborn baby had been deprived of oxygen for a period of time.

The family argued that the foetus might not be viable after having to also endure the electric shocks and drugs that were given to Marlise to revive her. And at 22 weeks gestation the hospital agreed that the foetus would not likely be viable.

And Marlise was finally allowed to rest.

Another woman, in Canada, Robyn Benson suffered a brain hemorrhage and too was placed on life support. She was 22 weeks pregnant when she was hospitalized. From news reports I’ve read it did not seem that Robyn, nor her unborn son were deprived of oxygen.

In this case the husband opted to keep Robyn alive until their unborn son reached as close as possible 34 weeks gestation. The hospital complied and kept Robyn on life support. Baby Iver was born by c-section at 27 weeks gestation earlier this month.

After hearing these two stories, Thomson’s quote kept running through my brain. Does the foetus have the right to unlimited demands on the mother, including the mother to continue to support a pregnancy? Even if the mother is clinically dead?

None of this is black and white; which is why I suppose ethics is always a hot topic of conversation.

No easy answers people. For mine, I would always follow the wishes of the family over a law.


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