Marlisa Munoz, futility and artificial uteri

The case of Marlisa Munoz is a clear example of a futile medical treatment. Ms. Munoz was pregnant when she died a sudden death at age 33, a great tragedy for her husband, family and friends. Though Ms. Munoz was pronounced brain-dead, the hospital continued to put her on life support, and doing so against the wishes of the deceased’s husbands and her family, because she was pregnant.

Given the early stage of gestation and the fact that the fetus had suffered an oxygen shortage as result of the sudden collapse of his mother, it is widely believed that the pregnancy was unlikely to come to term or that the fetus would have an abnormal development. In either case the continuation of the life support of Marlisa Munoz is a futile exercise, since neither she or her child could be saved.

In most of the civilized world, the moment of brain death is nowadays considered as the moment of legal death. Because brain death is irreversible and according to modern science a functioning brain is a prerequisite for human consciousness. The only valid reason to keep a brain-dead body on life support is for the removal of organs for the purpose of transplantation.

A similar case of medical futility is putting babies with anencephaly, a rare condition in which a fetus does not develop a brain, on life support. Since such being is born without a brain, we can hardly speak of a “person”. Also in this case the most meaningful purpose of keeping such being on life support is for organ transplantation. Any other application, is a waste of expensive medical equipment.

Such cases of medical futility are unethical, because the deprive resources which could be used to treat people who can be saved. It does not make sense to use medical resources to save those who are already dead, while others are dying unnecessarily.

But let’s return to the argument the hospital used to keep Ms. Munoz on life support, until the court ordered to halt this treatment. They argued that they intended to save Ms. Munoz’ unborn child. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we assume that the fetus could be brought to term as a healthy child. Then it would be better if we had a machine, an artificial uterus, to which the fetus could be transferred. Thereafter we could his brain-dead mother let rest in peace. This would save the husband, family and friends of the deceased a lot of emotional distress and legal costs.

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10 thoughts on “Marlisa Munoz, futility and artificial uteri”

  1. I agree, an artificial uterus would be great for these sorts of situations (and in the case of abortion, which you’ve talked about before). In this case, though, I think the pro-life position, at least for religious folks, is somewhat more stringent. Even if they moved the baby to the artificial womb, they’d still want to keep Ms. Munoz alive, as certain doctrines for some sects such as Catholicism (I think) maintain that all human life must be preserved for as long as possible.

    So while ectogenesis might solve the issue of the baby, the issue of the mother might still be contentious :/

  2. Madness personified.
    My brother died in a motor accident 30 years ago but was kept on life support until brain death was confirmed.
    We did the only sensible thing and authorized the machines to be switched off.
    A lady benefited from a kidney and another his eyes.
    This was not only the sensible thing to have done but the honorable thing and my brother was fully behind such a decision as he carried a donor card.
    For years we received a xmas card form one of the recipients who had traced the donor ( my brother).

    The trauma this family went through must have been horrendous.
    What was done for ‘religious motivation’ was disgusting.

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