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Family's ordeal as court to decide fate of brain-dead mum


The Four Courts

The Four Courts

The Four Courts

The High Court will outline its decision on St Stephen's Day in the case of a brain-dead woman who is 18 weeks pregnant.

The court heard the woman's father wants the life support machine turned off and this application is being supported by her partner and father of the unborn child, as well as her extended family.

Harrowing details of the case were outlined yesterday.

The court heard that the woman's body had make-up applied to the face for the purpose of a visit by her two children who had been brought to see her in a Dublin hospital before she "joined the angels".

The court was told there was no reasonable prospect of survival for the unborn child of the woman who was declared clinically dead on December 3 when the baby was at 14 weeks gestation.

The woman is being kept alive until the legal position of the unborn is decided by the court.

Consultant obstetrician at the Rotunda Hospital Mr Peter McKenna told the court that to continue a life support treatment for a corpse in order to sustain the unlikely viability of an unborn baby in its womb would be going "from the extraordinary to the grotesque".

Mr McKenna was giving expert evidence to a three-judge division of the court hearing an application for the discontinuance of life support for the "deceased" mother.


The consultant told the court that if the fatal brain trauma suffered by the mother was to have happened at 24 weeks gestation he would try to sustain the pregnancy for a couple of weeks in order to deliver the baby.

"I would be firmly of the view that the appropriate decision now is not to continue with the support," Mr McKenna said.

He said that even if they knew the mother's wishes were to remain on life support they would seriously have to consider whether it was appropriate or not to carry out those wishes.

The woman in her 20s, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was referred to several times in the day-long hearing as brain dead and deceased.

An obstetrician leading the medical team treating the woman told the court he would have great concern about the unborn's chance of survival.

The doctor said the woman was deteriorating rapidly. Infection had become overwhelming over the last few days.

"We have all the signs of a perfect storm and it is getting worse," he said.

"To give the baby an opportunity of surviving we must continue treatment as long as there is a heartbeat.

"We have to do what we must by law."

The Divisional Court of the High Court, consisting of the President, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Caroline Costello, will give its decision on St Stephen's Day after hearing oral legal submissions today.

The father of the pregnant woman told the court his daughter was dead and the family had been told the chances of the unborn baby's survival was minimal.

They wanted her to have dignity and be put to rest.

The woman's partner and father of the unborn child said he supported that view.

Lawyers for the HSE told the court yesterday it was not practicable to vindicate any right to life of the unborn child and its decision was based on medical evidence.

The HSE believed the appropriate declaration by the court was for the discontinuance of life support and this was lawful in the circumstances.

The court was told the woman had been admitted to hospital in late November suffering from headaches and vomiting. On November 29 she had become unresponsive. Following tests her time of death had been recorded as 5.20pm on December 3 last.