Dr. Anna Smajdor, an associate philosophy professor at the University of Oslo who works in the field of "reproductive ethics," admitted that her controversial entry in the Journal of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics is "undoubtedly disturbing," but still promotes the idea of using the bodies of brain dead women as surrogates for "prospective parents who wish to have children but cannot, or prefer not to, gestate."
In the article, "Whole body gestational donation," originally published in November, detailed Smajdor's thoughts on the parallels between organ donation and what she suggests as the next key in human reproduction.
"I suggest if we are happy to accept organ donation in general, the issues raised by whole-body gestational donation are differences of degree rather than substantive new concerns," the philosopher wrote.
"As with many Brain dead women could be used as incubators under Norwegian reproductive philosopher's plan, commissioning parents may prefer to create an embryo for implantation using their own gametes or those of donors. Thus, impregnation could be a surgical affair, preceded and followed by appropriate hormonal therapy to ensure maximal chance of success."
She did specify that the practice would require written consent from the women to be used as surrogates beforehand, after which "embryos would be placed in the woman's uterus and gestated to term."
When people are considered to be brain dead, they no longer have any brain functions and will be unable to regain consciousness or even breathe without life support machines. They are legally considered dead, despite their heart still beating. To be able to carry an embryo to term, the surrogate would have to be kept alive by machines, which Smajdor admitted that there could be ethical issues with.
"Prolonging ventilation and somatic survival in brain-dead patients is undoubtedly a disturbing prospect," she wrote. According to the professor's entry, whole body gestational donation "involves treating the patient's dead body as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself."
Smajdor went on to say that the "patient" then becomes treated just as any other "organ donor."
"The patient moves from being the focus of medical concern, to being a repository of tissues that can be used to benefit others. The prolongation of the ventilation period exacerbates our awareness of this," she wrote. "Yet this is already a part of our organ donation process."
The philosopher went on to float the idea of men being used as gestational donors, but didn't expand on how exactly that would biologically work.
"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 prospect of male pregnancy is not, as many would imagine, fanciful, or a piece of science fiction," Smajdor wrote, claiming that "the liver is a promising implantation site" for males, because of its "excellent blood supply."
Nathalie Emmanuel, an English actress from Game of Thrones, expressed her horror at the prospect.
"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 organ" she wrote.
A Massachusetts bill that would allow inmates to donate organs for reduced prison time has also come under fire recently. The "Act to establish the Massachusetts incarcerated individual bone marrow and organ donation program," sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Judith Garcia and Carlos Gonzalez, would shave between 60 days and a year off an inmate's sentence if they donate, Action News Jax reported.
Feminist activist Dr. Charlotte Proudman also spoke up against the prospect of using women as human incubators, writing, "Only in a woman-hating society, would using brain dead women as living wombs be up for discussion. This is how it starts, how it ends is legislators making this law."
Another English actress, Amanda Abbington of BBC's Sherlock, also expressed her shock at the Norwegian philosopher's idea.
"That's a hard and fast no from me and hopefully anyone else with one or more brain cells. Won't let females have abortions but let's stick a foetus in a brain dead woman and we're all good with that? Yep. I am completely done. IS there another viable planet or..?" she wrote.
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