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A recent news story about a technically dead young mother who is being kept on life support to keep her 14 week old fetus has been causing great controversy. For those of you not reading the news, this woman had a blood clot which traveled to her brain resulting in her brain death. She was originally kept on life support so that doctors could assess her neurologically. However, after the assessment was made doctors refused to take her off life support because she was 14 weeks pregnant.

There are many issues and questions that arise with stories such as this, but I find myself asking a somewhat tangential question. If we are to take aside cost and the emotional toll on the family, what is the problem? I understand that in this particular situation it is impossible to pull the family out of the equation, but there are other similar situations in which most people are outraged over “disrespect” shown towards the deceased.

I am interested as to why this is. In a religious context I can understand; if one’s religion requires a certain type of burial, or there are specific timings associated with the burial, there can be a problem. But if the person is not religious or does not believe in these particular aspects of religion then what is the problem? The person is dead, whom are we disrespecting?

When I am dead I don’t really mind what happens to my body. I would hope that I can donate my organs and then give what’s left of my body to science, but once the utility is gone I couldn’t care less if people wanted to eat my body, dance on it, of stuff it and throw it off a cliff. My point, while made a little indelicately, is that in most of our Western belief systems we don’t believe the body has anything to do with us after we die, if we believe anything at all happens after we die.

Frankly, if I died in this way and could somehow support a life after I had died I would think that was great.

I think a lot of the time when we talk about disrespect towards the deceased person we are more commonly referring to disrespect towards the remaining living family and friends. Death, especially a sudden one, takes a very strong emotional toll on family and friends; additional stressors such as this only add more salt to the wound. It is terrible for the family involved, but I don’t see how it is terrible for the woman who has died. As has been made very clear, she is dead. Why does it matter to her?

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