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‘Fetal containers’: Bioethicist proposes using women in vegetative states as surrogates

by | Jan 26, 2023

By Cassy Fiano-Chesser 

A bioethicist has argued for using women in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) as surrogates, calling it “whole body gestational donation.”

Anna Smajdor, of the University of Olso, wrote in the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics that women who are brain dead shouldn’t have their wombs going to waste, when people who want children can use them. “We already know that pregnancies can be successfully carried to term in brain-dead women,” she said. “There is no obvious medical reason why initiating such pregnancies would not be possible.

But the ethics of such a decision seems to have overlooked by Smajdor.

Though women with PVS could possibly recover, Smajdor argued this kind of surrogacy should still be allowed. “I suggest that – all other things being equal – it should be an option for anyone who wishes to avoid the risks and burdens of gestating a foetus in their own body,” she said, adding, “I suggest that brain stem dead men would also have the potential to gestate, meaning that the pool of potential donors is further increased – and that certain feminist concerns might thus be assuaged.”

The donor would have to give consent ahead of time, Smajdor said, but overall, she said government policies should support it. “States and health services should adapt their policies and procedures to allow for WBGD among other donation options,” she said. “If WBGD is viewed as a straightforward means of facilitating safer reproduction, and avoiding the moral problems of surrogacy, we should be ready to embrace it as a logical and beneficial extension of activities that we already treat as being morally unproblematic.”

Smajdor acknowledged the process is “straightforwardly the use of the body as a foetal container.” But like many apologists for surrogacy, she still argued it should be allowed if the donor agrees — despite the inherently exploitative nature of surrogacy.

Furthermore, in recent years, researchers have been able to restore brain function in a patient who had been PVS for 15 years, and have also found that as many as 20% of people declared PVS may actually not be PVS at all — and are fully aware of what is happening around them.

Though someone may have consented beforehand, there would be no way to ensure they still were willing to have their body used as an incubator, and it only further leads to the commodification of children — with women’s bodies forced to be the tools to create the products wealthy adults want.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Live Action News [] and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Bioethics