The Pregnant Cancer Patient

Suppose a woman with cancer becomes pregnant.

Is she morally obliged to seek treatment? Let’s make it a “really hard” case and assume the baby is viable, and she COULD possibly save the baby with treatment, but the mom is just sick of treatment and she’s in Stage 4 and just wants to be allowed to die. She’s done fighting (I know the answer is encouragement, but I’m interested in the issue of whether she must seek treatment to help save her baby’s life.)

Is it morally obligatory to hook her up to machines at the end of her life to save the baby?

I’m having a discussion and I just need to be sure.

My hunch is that seeking treatment is not obligatory, because the Church tends to allow for nature to take its course without seeking treatment, but I wanted to double check.

Such as St Gianna Molla.


She is not obliged to seek treatment. Neither is she barred from seeking treatment.

I don’t understand your scenario.

If a woman has a viable baby, as in your scenario, the baby would be delivered. So, again, not understanding what you are trying to say here.

Picture a scenario where a pregnant woman’s cancer degenerates quickly into a stage 4 cancer. The baby is viable at say 22 weeks, but the woman is tired of treatment and she just wants to die. She could go for more treatment that COULD increase the likelihood of the baby’s survival, but she is dying and she is fed up.

I just want to know whether she must seek treatment.

Morally she would seek treatment as the baby is viable. She has a right to refuse treatment, but would be encouraged to stay well enough to deliver. This question has been asked in real life and the expectant mothers usually chose to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the unborn child. Peace.

That’s not how cancer treatment works.

Treating cancer involves lots of radiation, and radiation is especially bad for babies. Usually when cancer patients become pregnant they have to go off treatment for the duration of the pregnancy.

But if we switch cancer out for a more plausible disease, then the woman has both a moral and religious obligation to bring her child to term.

Unborn children aren’t part of their mother; they are their own human being with their own souls and bodies. They can feel pain and respond to stimuli, they have heart beats and brain waves.

I’m not an Oncologist but your scenario seems a bit backwards. Quite often this question is asked the other way around to favor the Pro-choice argument. What treatment could a woman with stage 4 cancer seek that would not kill the baby? Isn’t the preferred treatment for cancer still Chemo and Radiation? Which would be a death sentence for the baby. As someone else already mentioned the scenario is usually reversed and the woman refuses treatment for fear she will kill her unborn child, thus sacrificing her future life for the life of the baby.

There are some cancer therapies that are compatible with pregnancy.

Well the idea is to discuss the principles of autonomy and how far it goes. Does a woman with cancer have to seek treatment for the sake of her baby?

I feel this is different, and that, no, she should not have to continue treatment. She might instead seek natural methods, which would be far healthier for her and her child inside of her. I know others feel differently, but I am strongly opposed to these artificial ways of keeping a dying person alive. In a way, it is defying against nature. I, myself, would rather be just left to die than go through all of that. Especially if all it does is prolong a miserable life. I’m also not for being kept hooked up to machines either. Just let the person return to God. Why let them lie there, day in and day out? It was almost better in the days before they had any of this. Nature took its course and when it was time for you to die, you died. There is nothing wrong with that. It was natural, and in God’s timing.

My nephew’s wife learned that she had cancer, one week after finding out that she was pregnant. She was told that she can delay treatment until the second trimester. She had chemotherapy, once she hit second trimester. After, she had her baby, then had a double mastectomy. Unfortunately, she died six months, ago. She lived for four years. She went into remission twice, lasting about a year, each time.

She did not have radiation, but went through chemo while pregnant. Her baby was a decent size and born around due date. No complications with delivery. My great nephew is exceptionally smart. He seems very advanced for his age.

So, as OP mentioned there are some cancer treatment options that are compatible with pregnancy.

Name one. Name a cancer treatment that doesn’t involve radiation or anything else harmful to pregnancy.

When a woman is pregnant, her life and that of her unborn child should be treated as being of equal value.

As the child (in the early stages) will die without it’s mother, then she should be treated at least until the child is independently viable. After the child is born then the two individuals have the rights of adult and child.


There’s also a difference between harm and risk. Nothing is risk-free, though some things are riskier than others. There are women who have successfully treated cancer while pregnant, even with traditional cancer treatments, who have had healthy babies. If a woman has a cancer diagnosis, she should work together with all the medical professionals assigned to her care for an acceptable treatment plan.

It is a gross oversimplification to say that she either has to stop treatment or kill her baby first, and those seem to be the prominent narratives. There are, in many cases, other options.

The new, biological drugs which are not chemotherapy. Typically, the “inhibitor” class drugs. Chemotherapy often kills fairly non-selectively, but the inhibitor drugs target cancer cells much more closely. As medicine becomes more precise, the toxicity level decreases.

Examples? For blood cancers, there are Romidepsin, Belinostat, Alisertib (in trial), Opdivo (approved, but in trials for various cancers).

Radiation outside of the immediate area of the womb.


One is encouraged, via the positive precepts of the divine law, to act in favour of others. “Love your neighbour” and so forth. The extent that one must go to is not specified.

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