Making a dead woman pregnant? A critique of the thought experiment of Anna Smajdor

Erwin J.O. Kompanje*, Jelle L. Epker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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In a thought-provoking article – or how she herself named it, ‘a thought experiment’ – the philosopher-medical ethicist Anna Smajdor analyzed in this journal the idea of whole-body gestational donation (WBGD) in brain-dead female patients, as an alternative means of gestation for prospective women who cannot or prefer not to become pregnant themselves. We have serious legal, economical, medical and ethical concerns about this proposal. First, consent for eight months of ICU treatment can never be assumed to be derived from consent for post-mortem organ donation; these two are of an incomparable and entirely different medical and ethical order. Moreover, the brain-dead woman is very likely to be medically unfit for high-tech surrogacy and the brain-dead state poses a high risk for deficient embryo/fetal development. Second, from a scarcity perspective, occupying an ICU bed for eight months appears to be unjust. The costs for eight months of ICU treatment are far too high compared to the costs of surrogacy for a living, selected, and healthy woman. Neither insurance companies nor prospective parents will want to pay these exceptionally high costs for a dead woman if a living surrogate mother can be hired for a considerably lower amount. Third, there is an increased risk for harm of the child to be in WBGD. And finally, WBGD risks violating the brain-dead woman’s dignity and harming the interests of her loved ones. In short, there is simply no need for brain-dead women as surrogates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-351
Number of pages11
JournalTheoretical Medicine and Bioethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2023

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© 2023, The Author(s).


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