By Susan Gately - 19 December, 2014
The difficult case of the woman who is clinically dead in a Midlands hospital but being kept alive for the sake of her unborn baby is a very complex case, a moral theologian has said.
Dr Vincent Twomey, a Professor Emeritus of moral theology at Maynooth told CatholicIreland.net that extraordinary means to keep a person alive are not obligatory in Catholic theology.
“The difficulty is that normally this is applied to the patient, but here the means are meant to keep the woman alive so that the child can develop naturally.”
There does not seem to be a moral obligation to keep the woman artificially alive, he said, but on the other hand if it is likely that the child would survive, [it is good] to offer treatment.
“The treatment would have to be careful and monitored, but apparently this is all quite within the bounds of medicine.”
Dr Twomey referred to a Canadian case where a husband asked for his wife to be kept alive on life support until the baby came to term.
“It is a prudential decision,” he said. “There are other conditions [to be considered] as well – what kind of burden is this on the family, on the hospital? Is somebody else needing that machine?”
These factors also had to be brought into the equation, he said.
However, there is also a principal, said Dr Twomey, that “if you can promote life, keep a life, you should do all you can to do so.”
According to media reports, the woman in question suffered a catastrophic internal injury as a result of a blood clot and was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin two weeks ago.
Doctors were unable to save her, but kept her on life support so her baby could have a chance of life.
Following a clinical assessment, the woman was transferred back to hospital in the midlands so she would be close to her family. Her parents do not wish their daughter to be artificially kept alive.
A senior source in the hospital told the Irish Independent that “The legal advice would be, there is one life here and it is the unborn child. Everything practicable has to be done – and that’s both under the constitution and the legislation passed last year. There is also a high possibility the unborn child will not survive.”
The Pro Life Campaign (PLC) said that the woman’s family should be given privacy and respect at this time.
“This is one of these most difficult of situations brought about by modern medicine,” said Cora Sherlock of PLC.
“Cases like this have arisen elsewhere so it is simplistic when people seek to blame the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution for what is happening.”
She added that it was the sign of a “a mature society” that the life of the baby was being acknowledged and considered.
“Modern medicine puts at the disposal of doctors a huge range of extraordinary interventions. But there is never an obligation to employ extraordinary means. Where doctors and family members are coming to decisions in such cases, it is appropriate that the life of the baby should be considered.”