A 2014 Irish court case involving a young, pregnant, brain-dead woman was not a one-off case

In December 2014, following a car accident, a young woman, mother of two small children, was approximately 15 weeks pregnant when she was declared clinically brain dead. The two hospitals involved, uncertain of the position of the fetus under the Constitution and fearful of prosecution under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, did not turn off the life-support machine. This situation continued for 20 days until the woman’s family brought an application to the High Court to allow them to end the life-support.During the emergency Divisional Court hearing (P.P. v HSE), the view of the expert witnesses, as well as the government’s Health and Safety Executive, was that there was no reasonable prospect of the baby being born alive if life-support continued. The court held that it was in the best interests of the fetus to authorise the withdrawal of life support, as maintenance of life support would deprive the woman of dignity in death and subject the woman’s father, partner and young children to “unimaginable distress in a futile exercise”. Representatives for the unborn [sic] had initially argued against the decision, stating that the right to life was greater than the right to dignity in death.This was not a unique case. In fact, the Irish government has legislated for it in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, signed last December. The Act includes governance on Advance Healthcare Directives (AHD), which allow people to draw up guidelines on how they would like to be treated medically, should they lose capacity in the future.The purpose of the AHD is to give people autonomy to direct what should and should not happen to them – unless they happen to be a pregnant, that is. Under the new law, if a woman’s AHD states that she wishes to refuse treatment, medical professionals are required to ignore those wishes if she is pregnant. Due to the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, giving equal rights to the pregnant woman and the fetus she is carrying – the law requires an automatic referral to court. Bizarrely, this is seen by policy makers as a vindication of the woman’s rights, because, they say, her will and preference will be taken into account by the court (rather than ignored altogether).Read the full article by Kate Butler, Barrister and member of Lawyers for Choice, here: http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/eight-amendment-abortion-rights-2685815-Mar2016/?utm_source=shortlinkRead more about the original Irish case in December 2014:http://www.thejournal.ie/life-support-clinically-dead-woman-judgement-1852228-Dec2014/See also: http://safe-abortion-womens-right.tumblr.com/post/106502355467/the-newest-irish-case-the-high-courts-decision (though the embedded news links are mostly no longer functional)