I'm for Frankenstein's baby
A brain-dead pregnant woman placed on a life-support system until her child
can be born alive has caused a political storm, which has united feminists
and religious bigots and left anti-abortion groups not knowing which way
Marion Ploch, aged 18, was killed on her way to work in a car crash in October.
Her death certificate has already been filled out. But the 13-week old fetus
survived the crash unharmed and doctors at University clinic in Erlangen,
Germany, are intending to keep Marion's corpse functioning artificially
until it is sufficiently developed to survive outside the womb. At this
point, expected to be next March, the baby will be born by Caesarian and
its mother's life-support will be turned off.
It's not the first case where a woman has been kept alive to have a child,
but it's the first time it's been tried from so early in the pregnancy.
In Finland in 1984, Marko Ylitalo's mother was kept alive artificially for
10 weeks before he was born. In Britain, too, Deborah Bell was on a life
support system for 5 weeks in 1986 before her daughter Nicola was born,
but doctors avoided controversy by postponing tests to confirm that she
was dead, so they could avoid the completion of a death certificate.
Doctors say it's technically not too difficult. As long as blood circulation
through the womb is adequate, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels controlled
and nutrients maintained, the pregnancy should progress - but until it's
been tried, they'll never really know.
The case has provoked outrage, uniting opposition across the political and
social spectrum. Nobody except the doctors seems to be in favour of the
'heroic intervention'. Opinion polls in the German yellow press showed that
80 per cent of readers thought that the life-support should be turned off.
There have been abusive phone calls and letters to the clinic, accusing
doctors of 'Nazi-style' experiments to produce 'Frankenstein's baby', and
the clinic walls have been daubed with graffiti.
Senior figures in the Free Democrats, members of Germany's ruling coalition,
have described the procedure as an 'intolerable perversion of humanity'.
The president of the Catholic doctors' association in Germany has condemned
the use of the woman as a 'breeding machine' and the Social Democrats have
called for an emergency parliamentary debate on 'post-human motherhood'.
Women's rights groups argue that the decision to sustain the pregnancy has
reduced women to the status of mere 'baby machines', and that Marion's right
to a dignified and peaceful death has been denied.
Personally, I'm on the side of the doctors. I'm sure critics are right when
they claim that the doctors are motivated by a desire to experiment rather
than by compassion - but so what? Medical science still has a lot to learn
about fetal development, and if this can provide some answers that will
be of benefit to pregnant women, so much the better. Marion is beyond caring
what happens to her body.
My only reservation about the 'Erlangen Baby Case' is the consequences it
may have for living pregnant women.
Professor Scheele, the responsible consultant, has justified his actions
with the argument that the fetus, 'was life. We couldn't and simply shouldn't
have pulled the plug'. It remains to be seen what consequences this approach
will have, as the German parliament braces itself this month to review its
abortion law yet again.
If it is accepted that Marion's baby has a right to life, then the
argument that women have the right to end unwanted pregnancies will be severely
Fortunately, perhaps, the anti-abortionists have been loath to take this
approach. In both Germany and Britain, the supposedly absolute moral principles
about the 'right to life of the unborn' are less than absolute when they
conflict with other traditional values. Those who argue that abortion is
unnatural, a sin against God and a medical aberration, are somewhat flummoxed
by the fact that in this case the maintenance of fetal life depends on 'anti-natural'
It's a sign of the anti-abortion campaign's unease that in Britain the Society
for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC)--who never usually miss the
chance of a headline - has declined to comment on Marion P. It seems rather
sick that SPUC is so coy in this case, where everyone concerned wants the
outcome to be a healthy child, when it has no compunction about trying to
force pregnant women to have babies that they don't want.
I find no contradiction between supporting doctors striving to push back
the frontiers of medical science, conceding to the desire of the prospective
grandparents to raise their dead daughter's wanted child, and supporting
the rights of living women to end unwanted pregnancies. Marion is dead and
her body no longer has any rights. Her fetus will not acquire any rights
until after it is born. No action in respect of either of them should be
allowed to prejudice the situation of living women. But neither should mystical
notions of what constitutes life and motherhood be permitted to interfere
with potentially useful medical developments.
Male rape 'could happen to any man, any time' according to the Independent.
I don't think so.
To read the papers over the past few months, you might imagine that London
in general, and the Underground in particular, is full of rampant homosexual
men, possibly riddled with HIV, forcing 'respectable' citizens into 'unnatural'
acts at knife-point.
Perhaps it's a little cynical to imagine that the sudden concern about 'male
rape' is a way of culling more funding for the Met. No doubt their new Male
Sexual Abuse Project, training 26 officers to act as 'chaperons' to help
male rape victims is motivated by genuine concern.
My genuine concern is that the impression left by the salacious reporting
of this newly discovered crime leads the world to believe that a straight
guy on the Underground has more to fear from sodomites than a gay man has
to fear from queer-bashers.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 50, December 1992