The life of a 23 week-old fetus was aborted in the state of Texas yesterday, and ironically, the child’s mother wasn’t involved in the choice. In fact, had her mother still been conscious, a newly passed Texas law prohibiting the abortion of pain-conscious fetuses (beyond 20 weeks gestation) would’ve protected her life today.
But Baby Munoz was not your average “unwanted” fetus. Neither was the pregnancy that carried her, nor her eventual death anywhere near typical. Baby Munoz’ mother Marlise became brain-dead on November 26th when her wanted fetus was only 14 weeks old.
In order to give the fetus a fighting chance at viability, her hospital refused to disconnect her from life-support, going against the end-of-life wishes of Marlise and her family. And so began a lengthy court battle between Baby Munoz’ father Eric and the hospital, as lawyers and bioethicists argued over the Texas law that supposedly forbade the denying of life-sustaining medical care to a pregnant woman.
“The Texas Legislature can’t require doctors to do the impossible and try to treat someone who’s dead.” said bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan in a New York Times coverage of Baby Munoz story. And it’s true that under normal circumstances, maintaining a body that has no hope of recovering consciousness is unethical. After all, Marlise wasn’t merely vegetative, she had been declared brain-dead. Were it not for the fetus in question, Marlise’s life-support machines would’ve been turned off and her body interned many weeks ago. But there was a patient in the equation who was not dead. A developing human child with her own body and her own rights and whose life-support was currently her mother.
Baby Munoz lost her life yesterday afternoon. It was her father Eric who got the right to choose in the end, as a judge ordered Marlise taken off life-support per the family’s wishes. And thus a wanted fetus who had been one of two patients prior to November 26th, was downgraded to a non-entity, condemned to lose her life-support and be buried with her mother’s body. With rising concerns over fetal abnormalities, the hospital chose to not attempt a preterm delivery. Instead of only losing one patient, the hospital lost two.
Has the debate over bodily autonomy and “a woman’s right to choose” so blinded society that even when the issue has nothing to do with a woman still capable of choice, and even when the body in question is no worse off on a ventilator than in the ground, we nonetheless cannot grant a fetus the right to what he or she needs to survive? How have we come to fight for a fetus’ life via fetal surgery on the one hand, and yet deny a nearly viable fetus the basics of oxygen and nutrients on the other hand – simply because her mother’s family wants a body to bury sooner rather than later?
One may fairly point out that organ harvesting cannot be forced on a dead body if doing so violates the desires expressed by the individual while still alive. Despite the obvious controversy of forced organ harvesting, the case of the so-called “dead incubator” is not entirely analogous. Under ordinary circumstances a woman has an obligation to provide basic care and protection to her offspring, and as a biological member of the human family, the fetal offspring should see that same obligation extended to him or her.
Where the woman’s right to bodily autonomy conflicts with the right of the fetus to live, the loss of life is a greater loss than the temporary loss of autonomy, and does not nullify the basic rights a fetus should have as a human being. This is even more true where the loss to the woman is completely null and the loss to her family is but a delayed funeral.
Unfortunately, Baby Munoz is victim of a flawed Texas law being applied at last. Baby Munoz could’ve been legally aborted at 14 weeks by a conscious mother, so it’s a wonder the hospital saw her as a patient to be fought for in the first place. There were two bodies present in the Munoz tragedy, one still having had a hope of survival. For a brief time, the John Peter Smith Hospital acted as though that were true.
So goodbye, Baby Munoz. You join the countless vulnerable and dependent human beings deemed too young to count as individuals with their own rights. Perhaps you would’ve been born deformed and brain damaged. Perhaps you would’ve overcome your rough beginnings and survived just like the 27 week fetus recently born to a woman declared brain-dead when 15 weeks pregnant. We won’t ever know… But one thing is certain: your brief life has touched many. You won’t soon be forgotten.
LifeNews Note: Kristine Kruszelnicki is the founder and Executive Director of Pro-Life Humanists, www.prolifehumanists.org Her goal is to help equip the pro-life movement with strong secular reasoning, and to bring the pro-life message to as many secular and atheist events as possible.