Brain-dead women should not be surrogate mothers

by Emmaleigh Clegg

Recently, the idea of using brain-dead women as surrogate mothers has made national headlines. 

The basis of the argument, by a Norwegian professor named Anna Smajdor and first published in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, is that scientifically, a brain-dead woman is able to carry out a pregnancy to full term, which could be used to the advantage of doctors. It would be treated similarly to organ donation in that a woman would consent to be used as a surrogate mother before she becomes brain-dead. 

The fact that this is even a debate is a human rights violation and shows that, yet again, women are only being viewed for the potential within our wombs, rather than our bodies as our own. 

The 2023 article “New Horizons for Surrogacy: ‘Whole Body Gestational Donation’ by Michael Cook explains the original theory by Smajdor. The theory led to the idea that brain-dead women should be used as surrogate mothers.

 Essentially, women impacted by brain death, or vegetative states, would be kept alive- as long as they are gestating. This is seen as a “safer” means for reproduction, as pregnancy and birthing often cause complications for non-brain-dead women. 

Smajdor calls for all states and health services to consider adapting their policies and procedures to allow for whole-body gestational donation. 

“It could become another aspect of opt-out organ donation systems,” Smajdor writes. 

On the contrary, the idea of using brain-dead women as surrogate mothers has sparked massive controversy in the media with many people claiming that this is misogynistic and a human rights issue. Other critics even question if a healthy baby can be born if a mother is in a vegetative state. 

It also brings up several other ethical issues. The article, “Ethical Issues in the Surrogate Maternity Practice” by Rukiye Türk and Fusun Terzioglu expresses concerns such as how insemination should be performed, and argues that using this method of surrogacy could potentially “commercialize” the female body as a “breeding box.” 

In response to the backlash Smajdor received for her controversial theory, she claimed that her ideas are ethical because the surrogate mother is “just as dead as other donors.”

She also claims that if a male could carry out a pregnancy, the ethics of her theory would not be questioned. This is all coming from the same woman who, in a 2013 interview with Oxford Research Centre, claimed that compassion is not necessary in healthcare  

After doing research on both sides of this argument, it is my opinion that using brain-dead women as surrogate mothers is unethical and is a human rights issue. I believe that if this concept were to become a reality, even if it’s consensual, it would cause us to have to question the way we define human life. 

I also believe that surrogacy should be seen separately from organ donation. If I were to become brain-dead, I would want my organs donated in order to save multiple already existing lives. 

With whole-body gestational donation, life would be prolonged for at least nine months, and potentially even more. I believe that prolonging life for extended periods of time is unethical, and would cause people to see the surrogate mother as nothing more than an incubator for babies, instead of a human being. 

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