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Childbirth after brain death? Something wrong there

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 14, 2014

“Brain-Dead Woman Gives Birth To Son,” reads the news headline. It’s a nice story, on the surface, about life emerging from the shadows of death. But there’s something wrong with the headline, don’t you think?

A dead woman can’t give birth. Dead people can’t do anything. When you die, your bodily functions stop—even involuntary functions. Your body undergoes some purely physical changes—rigor mortis and all—but within a few minutes after death, all biological systems shut down. You stop breathing, your heart stops beating, and you certainly don’t perform exhausting feats like giving birth.

Maybe the headline was written to avoid a heartless announcement that doctors were able to remove a live baby from a dead woman’s body. Or maybe, far more likely, the woman’s body cooperated in the process of childbirth. But if her body was cooperating in any way, consciously or not, how can you say she was dead?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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