On Sunday, as you probably heard, Marlise Munoz was removed from life support under court order. This eliminated any chance that unborn baby Nicole, a few weeks short of viability, might survive to birth.
Secular Pro-Life issued a brief statement mourning the loss and stating our disagreement with the court’s decision. A long comment thread ensued. Pro-choice facebook followers expressed the view that Secular Pro-Life’s position is anti-woman (e.g. wanting Marlise to be an “incubator”); that the logic behind keeping Marlise on life support would also justify grave robbing; that the right to die supercedes the right to life; and that the fact that Marlise did not address the possibility of pregnancy in discussing her end-of-life wishes is irrelevant because, as one commenter put it, “she was still a person, whether she was pregnant or not.”
I present the following analogy in the hope that it will clarify the core issues, put to rest the accusations of misogyny, and help us to better understand one another. (I do not yet know how our pro-choice friends will respond to this analogy, but I am curious to find out.)
Our hypothetical family consists of Wife and Husband, a couple in their thirties, and Daughter, who is in kindergarten. It is a loving family. Wife and Husband are very close, and have discussed their feelings about life support on several occasions. Husband stated that the idea of life support made him very uncomfortable; he felt that being hooked up to machines would be undignified and even dehumanizing. Wife promised to abide by Husband’s wishes.
Tragedy strikes the family when Daughter is diagnosed with leukemia. Wife and Husband love Daughter and are understandably sick with worry. Daughter needs a bone marrow transplant.
Wife is not a match, but luckily, Husband is. Daughter currently has an infection, and in her weakened state, it could take weeks for her body to fight it off. Until then, she is not in good enough shape to undergo the transplant. But as soon as the infection is resolved, Husband is prepared to donate his marrow to save Daughter.
The day after Husband learns that he is a bone marrow match, he suffers a pulmonary embolism (the same condition that struck Marline Munoz). He is placed on mechanical support while his doctors try to figure out their next steps.
Sadly, it soon becomes clear that Husband will never regain consciousness and is beyond all hope. His skin begins showing signs of decay. But most of his organ systems remain functional, and he is still producing good bone marrow.
The hospital checks donor banks with no luck; Husband is the only possible match.
Wife states that she wants Husband removed from life support, in accordance with his wishes.
The hospital wants to keep Husband on life support until Daughter is well, perform the bone marrow transplant, and then disconnect Husband’s life support. The hospital and its lawyers point out that when Husband discussed his end-of-life wishes, he never addressed the remote possibility that life support would be needed to save Daughter. Husband obviously loved Daughter and was prepared to donate his bone marrow to her before he suffered the pulmonary embolism. Moreover, hard as it is to say it, Husband is effectively dead, whereas Daughter still has a fighting chance; therefore, Daughter’s interests should prevail.
Wife, hoping to avoid a media circus, doesn’t directly address these points. However, her supporters come out of the woodwork and make several arguments in favor of disconnecting life support. They say that keeping Husband on life support is tantamount to making him an “incubator” and is contrary to his human dignity. They allude to the sexist history of men being forced into the role of the “family provider,” accusing the hospital of anti-male sentiment for now forcing Husband to be a provider of bone marrow to Daughter.
They also point out that Daughter’s condition has been deteriorating; the infection has reached her lungs, and every breath is painful. Even if she were to get the bone marrow transplant and survive, she would probably need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, her cancer could recur, she would be raised by a single mother, and her overall quality of life would be seriously compromised.
Which side would you take in the above scenario?
Wherever you come down on this hypothetical, I think (hope) we can all agree on the following points:
1) This is a tragedy. So is the Munoz case.
2) Wife is not a monster out to kill an innocent child; she is a greiving widow trying to navigate heartwrenching territory. The same goes for Erick Munoz.
3) The hospital and its supporters are not motivated by sexism or trying to be cruel. Neither are pro-lifers in the Munoz case.