In Germany, a 40-year-old woman in her 13th week of pregnancy suffered a heart attack that cut off blood flow to her brain. Still in a coma 22 weeks later, the woman nevertheless delivered her baby, who is now a healthy one-and-a-half year old.
Because this is the first known time a woman in a persistent vegetative state has delivered a baby, doctors at the University Clinic in Erlangen decided to keep the story a secret until it was clear that the child was healthy.
“We wanted to keep the spectacular case secret for as long as possible to demonstrate that we’re not experimenting on people and that the child is still healthy,” the hospital director said. We can only rejoice that this case has a happy ending (or the happiest possible ending given the circumstances), but it’s a bit disturbing that the hospital never would have publicized the case had the outcome been different. Should doctors or families face such a difficult decision in the future, every detail of this case is vital.
The early reports on this story leave many questions unanswered, such as: is there a chance that the mother will recover? Who is caring for the toddler? Was the father involved in the decision to deliver the baby? The clinic refuses to answer any of these questions, except to say that the mother’s “family” decided they wanted the baby to be born even after her coma, which would indicate that the toddler is in good hands.
In cases in which no family is authorized to decide whether or not to deliver a baby, do you think doctors have an obligation to deliver babies who have a reasonable chance of survival, even if their mothers are unable to choose to give birth or to care for the child?