Another 'choice': the right to life or the right to die?

By Justina Van Manen

I like to think that I don’t have a one track mind, but when it comes to social issues I might be just a little bit guilty. When at least a few hours of your day are focused on engaging the abortion issue in some way it’s pretty much inevitable that any connections that can be drawn between it and other issues will be drawn. Awhile ago, euthanasia was one of the issues I was thinking about, and other than the idea of the value and inherent dignity of human life at all stages, I wasn’t drawing any connections. And then suddenly it struck me. What about pregnant women? What if pregnant women request euthanasia?

It could happen. In fact, if we keep going in the direction that we’re going it probably will. On one hand, I don’t see how our ‘liberated’ country could have a problem with it. In our free world, pre-born children dying is about as mundane as it gets: another day, another 300 babies in the trash. But I can’t help but think that there may be some niggling feelings of discomfort if such an issue should arise. After all, many Canadians are willing to support bills such as Cassie and Molly’s law, focused on justice for pre-born victims of crime and their families. Why? While the death penalty is illegal in Canada, in the 92 countries that use the death penalty, in all but one—Saint Kitts and Nevis—it is illegal to perform it on a pregnant woman. Why? There are posters in most restaurants saying that pregnant women should not drink, because doing so could harm their baby. Why? If abortion is so important, if pre-born children are clumps of cells, parasitically feeding off of their human hosts, why would any of these issues matter?

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It’s because we know. We know that a whole, distinct, living human being is present at the moment of fertilization. We’ve known it for a long time and as science continues to advance we know it even more now than we ever have. The problem is, if we want to celebrate abortion, we need to continue to ignore facts, and human rights, and anything else that may interfere with what we want. It means we can’t think about pre-born children in any way, because thinking is dangerous, particularly when it comes to abortion. You might start thinking about tiny hands and tiny feet, little faces and beating hearts. And then you might start feeling uncomfortable about the idea of tiny hands and feet being torn from tiny limbs, little skulls being crushed, and beating hearts silenced forever. So we shouldn’t think about it.

It’s why pro-choice advocates are uncomfortable with the only situation that can be somewhat compared to a pregnant woman requesting euthanasia. There have been a few cases in North America where brain-dead mothers were kept alive artificially in order to allow their pre-born children a chance to develop past viability. In 2013 Robyn Benson of Victoria, BC, was 22 weeks pregnant when she suffered a brain cerebral hemorrhage and was declared brain dead. She was kept on life support until February, when her son Iver was delivered via C-section. In Alaska, Jessie Ayagalria was kept on life support after collapsing while three months pregnant. Baby Faith was delivered by C-section when she was 35 weeks old. In both cases the mothers were then removed from life support. In these tragic situations, the women’s families made the decision to keep them on life support in order to give the child the best chance at survival. Respect for the mother was preserved in respecting the life of her child. 

This situation was reversed in the case of Marlise Muñoz, a Texan woman who collapsed and was declared braindead while 14 weeks pregnant. Her chances of delivering a healthy child were far lower than in the previous two cases as her child was farther from the age of viability. Her family fought a Texas law demanding that medical care be given to a pregnant woman, declaring that Marlise’s wishes were that she not be kept alive artificially. They won the battle, and Marilise was removed from life support. Her daughter, whom her father named Nicole, passed away that same day. This situation quickly became a pro-life vs. pro-choice battle. The pro-choice claiming that in order to treat Marlise with dignity her wish to die had to be respected, while pro-lifers declared that her pre-born child deserved a chance at life, no matter how small that chance may be.

In the end, that is the question that would be debated should a pregnant woman request euthanasia. Is a woman’s so-called right to die more important than a pre-born child’s right to life? Just reading that question over gives us a picture of how bizarre things are getting.