Doctors keep brain-dead pregnant woman on life support until baby's birth

Photo from CNN
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 8:00am

A brain-dead pregnant woman lies on a hospital bed. Doctors want to keep her on life support until they can deliver her baby. An anguished husband waits.

At first glance, the case of Robyn Benson of Victoria, British Columbia, appears to bear similarities to that of Marlise Munoz in Texas -- except for two key differences.

In Munoz's case, her husband wanted her taken off a ventilator and the hospital acknowledged the fetus she carried was not viable.

But Benson's situation is different.

Here, both her husband, Dylan, and the doctors are trying to keep her on a ventilator until they can deliver the baby via a C-section. And the life inside her is growing normally.

"We go see her every day and she is doing so much to grow our son," Dylan Benson told CTV. "Her brain is not alive, but she still is."

The Benson family ordeal began shortly after Christmas.

Robyn Benson complained of a "terrible, terrible headache" and sent her husband out to get some Tylenol. When he returned, she was unresponsive, but still breathing.

At the hospital, doctors discovered she suffered a brain hemorrhage. She was later declared brain dead.

Now, Dylan Benson is in an unimaginable position.

He's counting down the days to the birth of his son -- and the death of his wife.

A much different case

The Munoz family, on the other hand, had nothing to look forward to.

Their case, which played out internationally, sparked a wrenching two-month legal debate about who is alive, who is dead and how the presence of a fetus changes the equation.

Erick Munoz found his wife unconscious at their home on November 26. A blood clot in her lungs had killed her. She hadn't been breathing for about an hour. At the time, she was 14 weeks pregnant with the couple's second child.

But unlike the Bensons, the fetus Marlise Munoz was carrying was described by family attorneys as "distinctly abnormal," with multiple deformities including a possible heart problem.

Munoz fought a Texas law that says "you cannot withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient," eventually winning a lawsuit and the right to remove Marlise from life support in late January.

He said he knew his wife wouldn't want to be kept alive artificially.

A community rallies

Five weeks have passed since Dylan Benson found his wife unconscious. The odds are getting better for the boy he's named Iver.

"The doctors have said that he now has higher than an 80% of survival and that increases with every day that passes," Benson said.

Doctors hope Robyn Benson can carry the boy seven more weeks when she will be about 34 weeks pregnant. The baby will then be healthy enough to be delivered.

The community has rallied to support the Bensons in a online fundrasing campaign that began over the weekend.

The Baby Iver Fund has already raised more than $75,000, double the original goal of $36,000 with 88 days left.

The money will be used to be pay for bills, baby supplies, daycare, housing, food, transportation and an education fund for Iver.

"She was my rock," Dylan said in a blog post.

"It is very difficult to know that our son will grow up never meeting his wonderful mother, and that we will have to say our goodbyes to Robyn within hours of seeing Iver for the first time."

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