Backlash over idea to use 'brain dead' women for surrogate pregnancies

pregnant woman
Backlash at 'brain dead women' as surrogates ideaGetty Images

An idea put forward by a professor to help those struggling with fertility issues has been met with major backlash: Professor Anna Smajdor suggested that 'brain dead women' could have their bodies used to house surrogate pregnancies for those unable, or unwilling, to carry a baby of their own.

Some objecting raised concerns that, should the hypothetical proposal ever be put in place in the real world, that women could have their bodies used without consent, however this is not the case put forward by Smajdor in her study (which was published in the medical journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics). Due to some viral tweets on the matter, some of which appear to be ill-informed due to poorly worded tabloid stories, it's certainly sparked a wider conversation on the ethics around surrogacy and organ donation.

The associate professor floats the idea of a set-up similar to the organ donor register, in that a woman would need to consent to having her body used for pregnancy prior to such a thing taking place. Smajdor calls her idea "whole body gestational donation" or WBGD – and says it is one "deserves serious consideration". The idea was also shared by the Colombian Medical College, who later backtracked and apologised for doing so.

In her paper, Smajdor argues that "we already know pregnancies can be successfully carried to term in brain dead women" and suggests "there is no obvious medical reason why initiating such pregnancies would not be possible", referencing the question of ethics within the world of surrogacy as it exists today.

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Continuing on, the professor said, "Since we are happy to accept that organ donors are dead enough to donate, we should have no objections to WBGD on these grounds. WBGD donors are as dead as other donors – no more, no less. Since we are happy to prolong the somatic survival of already pregnant brain-dead women, to initiate pregnancy among eligible brain-dead donors should not trouble us unduly.

"Of course, this proposal may seem shocking to some people. Nevertheless, as I have shown, if we accept that our current approach to organ donation and reproductive medicine are sound, WBGD donation seems to follow relatively smoothly from procedures that we are already undertaking separately."

The definition of brain dead (via the NHS) is "a person who is brain dead is legally confirmed as dead, they have no chance of recovery because their body is unable to survive without artificial life support".

Tweeting about the proposal from Smajdor, one person said, "Do we really live in a time where as a cis woman I have to state if I'm ever in a coma and ruled 'brain dead' I do not condone/consent/want my body to be used to grow babies as a surrogate? Denying my humanity and using me as a host? A strong no!"

Another, actor Nathalie Emmanuel, also commented on the proposal, tweeting, "Today, I saw a headline in the UK about whether women who are 'brain dead' could have their bodies used to grow babies in their bodies as surrogates without their consent. A second about prisoners in the US potentially being able to reduce their sentence by donating organs… We are done for. This is some dystopian… sci-fi… scary sh*t. This was too much for one day." [N.B: In Smajdor's proposal, consent would need to be obtained from women before any attempt at a surrogate pregnancy]

Colombian member of Congress, Jennifer Pedraza, described the argument as misogynistic, saying, "Women are not utensils to be thrown away after use, women have human rights, even if some people forget this."

Others raised concerns over how healthy a pregnancy via a surrogate in such poor health could really be.

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