When End of Life Issues Meet Reproductive Ethics

Friday, July 23, 2010

defibrillator (flickr: ernstl)

The New England Journal of Medicine has printed the story of an ethical dilemma that doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital grappled with back in 2008. Is it ethical to keep a brain-dead patient on life support to harvest her eggs, in the hopes of allowing her husband to still father her child? 

The story began in 2008 when a woman in her mid-thirties collapsed on an international flight. She had suffered a heart attack after a blood clot had formed in her lung. The woman was rushed to Mass. General Hospital where she was diagnosed with irreversible brain damage and was put on life support. Her family made the decision to take her off life support. But shortly after they turned off the machines, her family asked whether they could be turned back on long enough to harvest a viable egg from the dying woman’s womb.

Dr. David Greer, a neurologist on the team of doctors at Mass. General, which debated the ethics and the medicine behind the wishes of the patient's family. Ultimately, the eggs were not harvested. Medical ethicist Dena Davis agrees that this was the right outcome.


Dena Davis and Dr. David Greer

Comments [7]


She was on birth control. Maybe she wanted a child some day (or maybe she did not--the story does not say, which may either be because everyone assumes that everyone will want to reproduce some day and they figure it doesn't need saying, or perhaps the husband is conveniently keeping back information that she did not want to, to further his sentimental whim), but she did not RIGHT NOW. I'd like to see Europe some day too--if I died tomorrow, should my family ship my body off because it was something I may have liked to do at some point in my life??

Jul. 23 2010 08:14 PM

P--OMG, women want autonomy over their own bodies! Anarchy is imminent!!!

Come on. This creeps me out to no end. Anyone who thinks my death will be made better by pillaging my body for parts they can use to make what they apparently hope will be some sort of mini-me....can stuff it. How very insulting, to pretend you're sad over losing me when apparently any surrogate will do as a replacement.

She's gone. That is sad. They are grieving. But having a child of hers isn't the same as having her, any more than having one of her dirty gym socks would be, and anyone who thinks it will is either dumb or delusional. You do NOT create a child because you are grieving, and you do not bring a new life into an automatic motherless existence because you hope it'll be some sort of clone of the mother or something.

Jul. 23 2010 08:06 PM
alan from Ct

Can I get a written transcript instead of audio of an interview or part of a show?

[Unfortunately, we do not provide a transcript service -- just the audio of every interview.]

Jul. 23 2010 12:28 PM

I do not believe that any text, holy or not, can dispossess a person of the right to their own body. I do not understand why people choose to believe that just because a woman is married that they give up all rights to their own body. If this is the case, does it give my husband a right to transplant my organs against my will? Or perhaps force me to get plastic surgery is he is not pleased with my appearance?

Jul. 23 2010 11:45 AM

... and another thing. I suspect a tinge of bias as I listen further, from Ms. Headlee and Ms. Davis on the part of being a woman. Their voices just seem to scream "THIS IS MY BODY!"

Jul. 23 2010 09:51 AM

Not to inject religion into the conversation, but 1 Cor 7:4 states that the wifes body is not her own, and neither is that so for the husband. I agree with Katy. Currently my fiance` is taking birth control and we plan on having a family. After being married in a few months, we still would like to wait a year or two to establish ourselves. If something were to happen to her (that would drasticly change our plans), I would feel it my right as her husband to make that decision. I know her better than anyone and can say w/o a doubt that she would agree (this after I confirmed it :-).

Jul. 23 2010 09:38 AM
Katy from Brooklyn

I'm surprised by the outrage over this story...it's not as though these are strangers looking to attempt the procedure as an experiment, it's her husband and family who understandably may want a child (from her.) I am a young woman on birth control who regularly discusses with my husband when we will start a family- it scares me to think that if something happened tomorrow the evidence (according to one of the doctors on your show) might point toward me not wanting to have a child at all...

Jul. 23 2010 09:02 AM

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