Home / News / Pregnant teenager dies in the Dominican Republic after cancer treatment delay, underscoring concerns about 'personhood' legislation
Pregnant teenager dies in the Dominican Republic after cancer treatment delay, underscoring concerns about 'personhood' legislation

Pregnant teenager dies in the Dominican Republic after cancer treatment delay, underscoring concerns about 'personhood' legislation

A pregnant 16-year-old leukemia patient died in the Dominican Republic after an abortion ban delayed chemo treatment, CNN reports (see video embedded below).

Doctors were concerned about giving her the chemo treatment because it could terminate the pregnancy, thus violating the Dominican Republic's constitution, which bans abortion.

She was admitted to the hospital in July but 20 days passed before she was given the therapy that could have saved her life.  A hospital official told CNN that her condition worsened Thursday evening.  She suffered a miscarriage Friday morning, followed by cardiac arrest.  Her body rejected a blood transfusion and she died a few hours later.

The teenager's mother is devastated, saying "They have killed her."

Doctors who treated the patient said that her chances of survival were slim when she was admitted due to the characteristics of her type of leukemia, even without taking into account the fact that she was ten weeks pregnant.

The case has stirred debate in the Dominican Republic about abortion, and whether the girl could have survived with chemotherapy treatment right after she was admitted to the hospital.  According to Article 37 of the Dominican constitution, "The right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death."  Dominican courts have interpreted this as a strict mandate against abortion. Article 37, which passed in 2009, also abolished the death penalty.


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In the United States, the "moment of conception" language appears in so-called personhood amendments that have been rejected by voters in Colorado and Mississippi.  "Personhood" is granted in these proposed constitutional amendments to fertilized eggs, or zygotes, and the language of these bills does not address the health of the mother, the reason for pregnancy (rape or incest), and have the potential to ban certain forms of birth control.  While proponents of personhood amendments say that critics are lying when they say the amendments could criminalize some common forms of birth control, Walter Hoye, a representative of Personhood USA, admitted to NPR's Diane Rehm in October 2011 that the birth control pill could in fact be banned under personhood legislation.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, support a federal personhood amendment that if passed, would create the same type of situation as has just happened in the Dominican Republic.  Planned Parenthood writes, "By defining a fertilized human egg to be a legal person, so-called “personhood” measures could allow the government to intrude into the private doctor-patient relationship, and could criminalize everything from common forms of birth control to IVF," and then provides a fact sheet showing Romney's express support of such personhood legislation over the years.  Ryan was co-sponsor of H.R. 212, the "Sanctity of Human Life Act," introduced in January 2011:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Sanctity of Human Life Act'.

SEC. 2. DECLARATION.

In the exercise of the powers of the Congress, including Congress' power under article I, section 8 of the Constitution, to make necessary and proper laws, and Congress' power under section 5 of the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States--

(1) the Congress declares that--

(A) the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person; and

(B) the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood; and

(2) the Congress affirms that the Congress, each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions.

SEC. 3. DEFINITIONS.

For purposes of this Act:

(1) FERTILIZATION- The term `fertilization' means the process of a human spermatozoan penetrating the cell membrane of a human oocyte to create a human zygote, a one-celled human embryo, which is a new unique human being.

(2) CLONING- The term `cloning' means the process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, that combines an enucleated egg and the nucleus of a somatic cell to make a human embryo.

(3) HUMAN; HUMAN BEING- The terms `human' and `human being' include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, beginning with the earliest stage of development, created by the process of fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent.

That same month, Ryan also co-sponsored H.R. 358, the "Protect Human Life Act" that would, in the words of The Huffington Post, "free anti-abortion hospitals from the legal responsibility of providing a life-saving abortion procedure to a pregnant woman who is dying."

Personhood USA's legal analyst, Gualberto Garcia Jones, lauded Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, writing on August 15, "In supporting Personhood, Congressman Ryan has taken a consistent pro-life position, one that is called for by the  Republican party's own platform.  Far from being extreme, Congressman Ryan has picked up the mantle of President Ronald Reagan in his support for a congressional declaration of personhood.  We are hopeful that as Ronald Reagan did before him, Congressman Ryan will use his position of influence to advocate uncompromisingly for the dignity and full legal personhood of the preborn."

About D. Beeksma

One of the growing crowd of American "nones" herself, Deborah is a prolific writer who finds religion, spirituality and the impact of belief (and non-belief) on culture inspiring, fascinating and at times, disturbing. She hosts the God Discussion show and handles the site's technical work. Her education and background is in business, ecommerce and law.
  • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

    This is what happens when you have so-called "Pro-life" laws. Two "people" die, instead of one. Better "one" dying than two, by terminating a pregnancy when the woman's life is in jeopardy. I'd asked just how stupid can humans get, but every time I ask such a question, I get shown.

    • Deborah_B

      Personhood proponents will probably say that the teenager would have died anyway because of the type of leukemia; nonetheless, there's a chance this could have ended a whole lot differently if the health care was focused on the mother, not the 10-week fetus. These types of things will happen across the board should personhood become law. Like you, I fail to see the logic in this supposed "pro-life" argument.

      • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

        Of course things like this will happen across the board, because "Pro-life" is actually pro-death. The extremists are notorious for going out and killing more than two at a time, by bombing women's clinics. I also agree, that if she had been treated sooner, she might have lived.

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