The British National Health Service is encouraging pregnant women whose unborn child has some sort of lethal malformation to continue their pregnancy so that the organs of the children can be used for transplantation after birth. A unspecified number of clinicians apparently support this idea.

At a conference of the British Transplantation Society in Glasgow (Scotland), Dr Niaz Ahmad, of St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds (England), proposed the use of organs from babies born with lethal medical problems for transplants, since he believes that “they work, and they work long-term”.

According to those who propose this policy, anencephalic babies would be ideal for this purpose. As we know, these children are born without a brain, or with very little brain tissue. In British hospitals today, 230 anencephalic children are aborted annually, and only 12 brought to term. However, according to Dr. Joe Brierly of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, increasing numbers of women are deciding not to abort. Women who have made this decision could be counselled that donating their child’s organs could help treat other patients, although of course after certifying that the child is brain dead before harvesting their organs (The Scotish Mail, 6 Mar 2016).

This policy undoubtedly merits an ethical comment

It certainly does not appear to be ethically illicit at all if a woman knows that her child has medical problems that are very likely lethal, and decides to continue her pregnancy, give birth to the child and keep it alive until it dies; on the contrary, we consider it a generous and laudable act. However, we believe that pressuring the woman to continue her pregnancy with the sole objective of harvesting the organs of the baby is instrumentalisation of the mother and especially her child. One thing would be to advise her not to abort it, respecting the life of the child born until its natural death, and another very different thing would be to use that woman to carry a child with serious medical problems with the sole purpose of using it as a source of organs for transplantation.