Ectopic pregnancy refers to any pregnancy that is implanted outside the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube. By the time an ectopic pregnancy has been discovered (usually by 7 to 8 weeks gestation) the embryo has died in the majority of cases. However, the supporting tissues for the pregnancy often continue to grow and can cause life-threatening bleeding, either through rupture of the fallopian tube or other mechanisms.
In a small number of cases a living embryo can be observed in the ectopic pregnancy. Unfortunately, this embryo will die in the near future if observation is continued, and the mother’s life remains in imminent danger from a life-threatening hemorrhage, before and after the death of the embryo. Continuation of such a pregnancy cannot result in the survival of a baby and entails a very substantial risk of maternal death or disability. Hence treatment is commenced to end the pregnancy surgically or medically. In certain cases, an additional benefit of early treatment may be preservation of fertility potential.
This scenario is somewhat analogous to the case of a woman who develops an intrauterine infection with an unborn child that is too early to survive outside the womb. There is no chance for survival of the child, either inside or outside the womb, but there is a very real, imminent danger of death or disability for the mother. In these cases delivery is effected to preserve the life of the mother. Regrettably, in each of these clinical situations the child cannot be saved. In either case the aim is not to kill the unborn child, but to preserve the life of the mother in a situation where the life of the child cannot be saved by current medical technology.
For these reasons the Doctors for Life Ireland recognizes the unavoidable loss of human life that occurs in an ectopic pregnancy, but does not consider treatment of ectopic pregnancy by standard surgical or medical procedures to be the moral equivalent of elective abortion, or to be the wrongful taking of human life.