Story highlights

Woman, 18 weeks pregnant, has been on life support since December 3

Her family had appealed for her treatment to be stopped so she could die with dignity

Doctors had refused out of concern for the constitutional rights of the unborn child

No need for prolonging "a process described as verging on the grotesque," justice writes

CNN —  

Ireland’s High Court ruled Friday doctors can withdraw life support in the case of a clinically dead woman who is 18 weeks pregnant as there is “no reasonable prospect” her unborn child will survive.

The court earlier this week heard the woman’s family had appealed for her treatment to be stopped, saying they wanted her to die with dignity.

However, doctors refused to turn off the life-support machine as they were concerned about the rights of the unborn child.

Under the Irish constitution, the unborn have the same right to life as the mother. Abortion is illegal except in cases where the mother’s life is at “real and substantial risk” due to medical complications or the threat of suicide.

The woman – in her 20s with two other children – was put on life support on December 3 when she was pronounced clinically dead after suffering serious brain trauma.

A panel of three High Court judges ruled Friday the life support can be withdrawn.

They found the medical evidence in the case shows the prospects for a successful delivery of a live baby are virtually nonexistent.

Justice Nicholas Kearns announced the decision. He said: “To maintain and continue the present somatic support for the mother would deprive her of dignity in death.

“It would subject her father, her partner and her young children to unimaginable distress in a futile exercise which commenced only because of fears held by medical specialists of potential legal consequences.”

Kearns continued: “Highly experienced medical practitioners with the best interests of both mother and unborn child in mind do not believe there is any medical or ethically based reason for continuing with a process described as verging on the grotesque.

“The court is therefore satisfied, in the circumstances of this case, that, in the best interest of the unborn child, it should authorise at the discretion of the medical team the withdrawal of ongoing somatic support being provided for in this tragic and unfortunate case.”

Lawyers representing the unborn child said they would not lodge an appeal.