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Brain death during pregnancy and prolonged corporeal support of the body: A critical discussion

Journal title
Women and birth : journal of the Australian College of Midwives
Publication year
2017
Author(s)
Staff, L.; Nash, M.

AIM: To discuss corporeal support of the brain-dead pregnant woman and to critically examine important aspects of this complex situation that remain as yet unexplored. BACKGROUND: When brain death of the woman occurs during pregnancy, the fetus may be kept inside the corporeally supported body for prolonged periods to enable continued fetal growth and development. This has been increasingly reported in medical literature since 1982 and has received considerable media attention in the past few years. IMPLICATIONS FOR MIDWIVES AND NURSES: Sophisticated advances in medical technologies have altered the boundaries of conception and birth, life and death, Western biomedical and cultural conceptions of women and their bodies, fetal personhood, fetal rights and fetal patienthood, profoundly influencing maternal behaviors, medical decisions and the treatment of pregnant women. This is especially so in the rare, but fraught instance of brain death of the pregnant woman, where nurses and midwives working in High Dependency Care units undertake the daily care of the corporeally supported body that holds a living fetus within it. This discussion enables critical and ethical conversation around the complexities of developing appropriate discourse concerning the woman who suffers brain death during pregnancy and considers the complexities for nurses and midwives caring for the Woman/body/fetus in this context. The potential impact on the fetus of growing and developing inside a ‘dead’ body is examined, and the absence in the literature of long-term follow up of infants gestated thus is questioned.

Research abstracts