When and whether to become a mother
I am 100% pro-choice. I believe that a woman should have the absolute right to determine when and whether to become a mother. I also believe that reproductive issues are not just women’s issues, they are human issues. Every child deserves to be wanted, loved and cared for. When children are born to families who want them, who will love them and who have the ability to care for them, the world is better. Period. And when women have control over their bodies and reproductive self-determination, their lives are better…and the lives of their children are, too. As a society, if we give women reproductive rights, we can make life better for everyone. Don’t believe me? Check out this report.
Last week, I was horrified to learn that in many states, including mine, a woman’s living will or other advance directives about end of life care can or will be disregarded if that woman is pregnant at the time of brain death. Some states have exceptions for pain or harm caused to a woman by life sustaining measures and some have limits based on the probability that the fetus can reach viability, but twelve states don’t have any exceptions. And only two states – Oklahoma (I didn’t see that one coming) and Minnesota – allow women to include pregnancy in their advance directives and guarantee that their wishes will be followed.
In one current case, Marlise Munoz, 33, was 14 weeks pregnant when she suffered brain death from a blood clot in her lung. She had let her family know that she did not want to be kept alive on life support. But because Texas is one of those states that prohibits physicians from withholding life-sustaining treatment to pregnant patients, she has been on life support for over six weeks. Many believe that brain death constitutes legal death and therefore, she should not be subjected to the law – she is dead and no longer a patient and should be allowed to die with dignity. If she were still living, she would have the option of abortion. But because she is dead, she is now a living incubator. The hospital is keeping her alive until the fetus reaches viability before deciding how to proceed. Her family is suing, but with little hope of relief and no ability to make decisions about their loved one or her unborn fetus.
This becomes not only an issue of law, but one of science, ethics and decency. How can I have the right, as a living, breathing woman and citizen, to dictate my wishes about end of life care, but if I am pregnant, even just a few weeks, have those rights disregarded and essentially become an incubator? Even if the fetus has little chance of survival or my body cannot sustain that life long enough to result in living fetus outside of the womb. Even if that process will cause me or my family significant pain.
These laws assume so much. First, that an unborn fetus, at any gestational age, is more valuable than the adult woman who carries it. Let’s reflect on that for a second. The thought brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Great book. Terrifying reality.
When does life begin and when does potential life supersede existing life?
And what about the fetus? Don’t they also assume that the fetus is wanted, has someone to care for her after those months of incubation, even if she is born prematurely and/or severely disabled from the process? And that both the woman and her unborn fetus should not be allowed to die with dignity in accordance with her stated wishes.
It seems that pregnancy has become a condition that diminishes the rights of women in our country. Scary thought.
Featured image and pregnant belly credit: Steph, all rights reserved.
US Map image credit: Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post, Source: Center for Women Policy Studies