Foetus kept in corpse

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The Independent Online
BONN - A passionate ethical debate is raging in Germany about the decision by doctors to 'keep alive' a clinically dead woman so that her 15-week-old baby can be born in several months' time, writes John Eisenhammer.

The 18-year-old single woman, named only as Marion P, was killed on her way to work in a car crash a week ago. Her death certificate has already been filled out. But the foetus survived the crash unharmed and doctors at the University Clinic in Erlangen, having got the grandparents' permission, decided to keep the body functioning artificially.

Reports on the front pages of German newspapers about the doctors performing gymnastic exercises with the corpse, and playing music to it, so that the baby could develop under as normal circumstances as possible, have sharply divided the country.

In an opinion poll, 59 per cent of the respondents said that the woman should be taken off the machines that keep her body functioning.

Just 29 per cent favoured carrying on until the baby could be born by Caesarean section.

Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, a senior member of the Free Democrats, one of the parties in the ruling coalition, described the attempt to save the baby as an 'intolerable perversion of humanity'. There have been calls by the opposition Social Democrats for an emergency parliamentary debate on 'post-human motherhood'.

The church, too, is divided on the issue. The president of the Catholic doctors' association in Germany, Ursula Brandenburg, said the use of the mother as a 'breeding machine' was 'ethically most troubling'.

The head of the medical team, Johannes Scheele, said doctors and nurses constantly talk to the baby; recorded sounds are played in an effort to re-create a home environment. Each day the foetus receives seven different hormones, making up for the mother's normal dietary intake.