Bronze gavel winner
Abortion

Brain Stem Death

The High Court of Ireland rules that a woman, 18 weeks pregnant and brain-dead, could be taken off of life support in accordance with her family‘s wishes, stating to continue treatment would deprive the women of dignity in death and subject her father, her partner, and her young children to unimaginable distress.
  • Country: Ireland
  • Edition: 2015
  • Visits: 2094
  • Court: High Court of Ireland
  • Date of the Decision: 26/12/2014
  • Votes: 12
A woman, in her 20’s and in the early stages of pregnancy, was admitted to a hospital in Dublin complaining of headaches and nausea. While in the hospital, she fell and was found to be unresponsive. At 18 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed as suffering from brain stem death. The woman was then placed on life support, against the wishes of her family. While on life support, she was given very heavy doses of medication for a number of infections and complications in order to keep the fetus alive.

Her parents and partner sought to have her removed from life support but members of the medical staff were unsure how to proceed given Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion and lack of guidelines for cases like this one. Under the Irish constitution, fetuses have the same right to life as the mother.

The court heard testimony from several doctors who gave evidence that there was no realistic prospect that the fetus would be born healthy even if the treatment continued. The court also heard graphic testimony on the deteriorating condition of the woman.

The court held that it would deprive the woman of “dignity in death and subject her father, her partner, and her young children to unimaginable distress” to continue life support only because staff were fearful of potential legal consequences.

The court left open the possibility that future cases may have a different outcome, depending the stage of pregnancy, since the woman in this case was 18 weeks pregnant.

Decision available in English.

Judges who issued the decision

Justice Nicholas Kearns
Justice Marie Baker
Justice Caroline Costello

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