ethics of human rights, philosophy

The Ethics of Human Rights (86): The Rights of the Dead, Ctd.

hospital room

(source)

Most of you will have heard the story by now: a brain-dead pregnant woman is forced to stay on life support in Texas:

[T]he Munoz family … are being forced to keep Marlise Munoz alive even though she was declared brain dead before Thanksgiving when she was 14 weeks pregnant and despite her clearly expressed wishes to her husband, Erick Munoz, that she did not want this to happen. … [A]s her parents and her husband prepared to say their final goodbyes in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital here and to honor her wish not to be left on life support, they were stunned when a doctor told them the hospital was not going to comply with their instructions. Mrs. Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant, the doctor said, and Texas is one of more than two dozen states that prohibit, with varying degrees of strictness, medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant patient. (source)

More than a month later, Mrs. Munoz remains connected to life-support machines on the third floor of the I.C.U., where a medical team monitors the heartbeat of the fetus, now in its 20th week of development.

I’m guessing many of us are horrified by this. But what is it exactly that puts us off? Perhaps it’s the fact that the mother is used as a mere means for the fetus and that the doctors ignore her wishes. We find it disrespectful and we think she has a right to be respected and to be treated as a human being rather than just a means without a will, even after death. However, the mother is indeed dead and therefore can’t be harmed in any meaningful way. Perhaps there’s a solution if we recognize that rights aren’t just about the avoidance of harm.

More on the rights of the dead herehere and here. More posts in this series are here.

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3 thoughts on “The Ethics of Human Rights (86): The Rights of the Dead, Ctd.

  1. QWerty says:

    To be honest I do not see that much of an issue here. If she is brain dead, she is technically speaking “legally” and technically dead. Therefore, she has no human rights per say as those can by their very nature be only assigned to living humans. Since she is legally dead, the claim about life support is void.

  2. Faye says:

    What humam right would this violate? I don’t see any way out of this without violating a human right. if they take her off the life suppoort then her baby is going to die when it has a chance to live. Surely the right of the potential life is more important than the wishes of a dead woman?

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