A mother’s sacrifice: more than an incubator

The ABC reported today that a brain dead woman in Portugal gave birth to a healthy baby. The woman was declared dead on 20 February this year.

What a complicated issue. A terrible decision for family to have to make, and no doubt bitter sweet joy upon the successful delivery of a healthy baby. But what are we to make of the decision to keep a woman as an incubator for a baby?

Many might claim that a pregnant woman would want her baby to survive. This is a widely held understanding of ‘a mother’s sacrifice’. It is offered as justification for what might otherwise be considered a gross invasion of human dignity: not allowing a person to die, and using a human as a means to an end, that end being the birth of a baby. Neither of these propositions is uncomplicated in itself. But before reaching this conclusion, I think that there are still a number of unasked questions that should be exposed before suggesting that the conclusion is correct. Is this sacrifice too great?

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Government accountable for care of pregnant women

This week a Somali refugee gave birth to a baby boy, one month premature, on Nauru. She reportedly suffered from pre-eclampsia which is a life-threatening condition. The woman, known as Naima, and the baby were each airlifted to Australia for treatment.

Naima is now in a critical condition in a Brisbane hospital. But she had experienced a seizure at 5 months gestation and there has been adequate time to have treated her before her situation became critical.

I had pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy and a full medical team, in a well-equipped Australian maternity ward, swung into action. I was induced immediately the symptoms appeared. I was, fortunately, past my due date and the baby was successfully delivered. But I knew that everyone around me was gravely concerned. I only found out afterwards that my life had been in danger – just as Naima’s life is now.

Australia’s treatment of all asylum seekers must improve. But government must give immediate priority to the care of pregnant women and their infants. There is no reason for even a caretaker government to wait to change the clinical care afforded to pregnant women in Australian detention centres.

Hold all politicians to account for failing those in their care, but especially and immediately, the particularly vulnerable: pregnant women and babies.