Pregnancy in women in vegetative states is rare, but not unprecedented

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By Elizabeth Chuck

The disturbing case of an Arizona woman who gave birth despite being in a vegetative state for more than a decade is not the first of its kind, experts told NBC News.

The woman, 29, delivered in December while receiving long-term care at Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix after a near-drowning incident. Authorities do not know who impregnated her and have opened a sexual assault investigation in search of her rapist.

The case echoes one from 1995, when a comatose 29-year-old woman was raped by a nurse’s aide at her nursing home near Rochester, New York. Staff discovered she was pregnant early on, a key difference between her and the Arizona woman.

Jeffrey Spike, an affiliate faculty member at the University of Virginia School of Medicine Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, served as an ethics consultant for the hospital treating the New York woman and spoke with her parents about whether they wanted to terminate the pregnancy. They decided against it, and the woman gave birth to a premature but healthy boy in March 1996, who was raised by his maternal grandmother.

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