Erlangen baby

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An Erlangen baby is the name given to a process at the University Hospital Erlangen in which a pregnant woman who was brain dead was treated in intensive care for several weeks in 1992 in order to enable her to carry the child to term. Despite all efforts, the fetus died.

The case sparked much discussion about the legal and ethical aspects of this practice.


On October 5, 1992, an 18-year-old had an accident with her car on a country road; at this point she was fifteen weeks pregnant. In the accident she suffered a traumatic brain injury ; the left eye socket and skull bone were shattered. She was flown by rescue helicopter to Erlangen University Hospital , where she was diagnosed with brain death on October 8th. Since the woman's internal organs were still functional and the fetus was uninjured in the accident, the doctors continued the intensive care measures to save the life of the unborn child.

In the weeks that followed, the condition of the brain-dead pregnant women worsened. For example, the injured eye had to be removed because of an inflammation. Finally, on November 16, the child died of a spontaneous abortion in the 19th week of pregnancy. The intensive care measures were discontinued on the same day.


The case sparked heated discussions in the German public. The focus was on the question of the right to die with dignity . The doctors had only unnecessarily prolonged the young woman's dying process, even though the chances of the fetus surviving for months were slim. Alice Schwarzer described the case in Emma as an "Erlangen human experiment". On the other hand, the Hersbruck District Court , which had been called on to appoint a carer , found in its decision of October 16 that the right to life should be “ weighed up between the postmortem protection of the dead woman's privacy and the unborn child's independent right to life” go ahead.

The behavior of the doctors in their decision-making was also criticized: Instead of contacting the hospital's ethics committee , a small group of people decided on how to proceed. The parents of the brain dead also felt they were poorly informed and ignored by the doctors, which led the father to contact the Bild newspaper on October 9 .

Because of the widespread public debate about the case, the Society for German Language put the term Erlanger Baby in twelfth place in the vote for Word of the Year 1992.

Criminal law aspects

The doctor and author Julius Hackethal charges against the doctors at the University Hospital indication for injury , poisoning and maltreatment of charges . However, there was no criminal behavior.

On the other hand, the termination of the life-support measures could have been punishable: The termination of pregnancy on a brain-dead woman is also punishable according to § 218 StGB . In the opinion of the Federal Constitutional Court , the child developing in the womb is protected as an independent legal asset in accordance with Article 2, Paragraph 2, Clause 1 of the Basic Law . The unborn child does not lose this quality through the brain death of the mother.

Bringing the body to death of the pregnant woman could therefore have been an abortion by failure ( § 13 StGB) if the doctors had thereby violated their duty to guarantee . The decisive factor is whether it would have been reasonable to continue the rescue attempts. The child's chances of survival are particularly important here. If further treatment had only delayed the death of the fetus, or if the baby had likely not been viable after birth, stopping life support would not have been a criminal offense.

It is controversial whether, from a legal point of view, turning off the devices after brain death has been established in a pregnant woman actually constitutes an abortion through omission. D. Giesen expresses concerns. For Switzerland, Niggli / Riklin reject this.

Similar cases

15 years later, the therapy was successful in a similar case: In 2008, Erlangen-based doctors succeeded in continuing the pregnancy of a 40-year-old who had fallen into a coma after a heart attack. After 22 weeks, in the 35th week of pregnancy, a healthy boy was delivered by caesarean section.

According to the Erlangen University Hospital, there are fewer than 30 known cases of pregnancy in patients in a vegetative state or with brain death (as of October 2009).

In 2018, a woman in the United States who had been in a vegetative state for 14 years became pregnant as a result of rape and gave birth to a child in the same year.

In August 2019, a brain-dead woman gave birth to a healthy girl in Brno, Czech Republic. The 27-year-old mother suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in the 16th week of pregnancy.


  • Eric Hilgendorf : Between human experiment and saving unborn life - the Erlangen pregnancy case . In: Legal training , year 1993, p. 97, ISSN  0022-6939
  • Eric Hilgendorf: Pseudo arguments in the abortion discussion - using the example of the Erlangen pregnancy case . In: Neue Juristische Wochenschrift , year 1996, p. 758, ISSN  0341-1915
  • Monika Gruber: The criminal law problem of the “Erlanger Baby Case” . In: Claus Roxin (Ed.): Medical criminal law - in the field of tension between medicine, ethics and criminal law . Boorberg, Stuttgart 2001. pp. 175-198. ISBN 3415027910
  • Herbert Tröndle, Thomas Fischer: Criminal Code and ancillary laws . CH Beck, Munich 2005. Commentary on § 218 StGB. ISBN 3406539009
  • Oliver Tolmein : Dead, but not dead? Marion P. and the progress of medicine. In: When is a person a person? Ethics astray. Hanser Verlag, Munich, Vienna 1993. ISBN 3-446-17560-1 ( PDF , 53 kB)
  • Life in the corpse . In: Der Spiegel . No. 43 , 1992 ( online ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ NJW 1992, 3245 = FamRZ 1992, 1471
  2. Word of the Year. In: Website of the Society for the German Language. Retrieved February 13, 2018 .
  3. Lit .: Gruber
  4. BVerfGE 39, 1
  5. Lit .: Tröndle, Fischer
  6. Dieter Giesen, Jens Poll: right of the fruit / right of the mother in the embryonic and fetal phase from a legal point of view. In: Legal review. Issue 5, 1993, p. 177, doi : 10.1515 / juru.1993.1993.5.177 .
  7. Niggli / Riklin. Abortion offenses (PDF; 266 kB)
  8. Erlangen: vegetative coma patient gives birth to child. In: Spiegel Online . October 9, 2009.
  9. a b 18 month old boy is developing well . In: Focus Online . October 14, 2009.
  10. ↑ Suspected rape: coma patient got baby - nurse arrested . In: Spiegel Online . January 23, 2019 ( [accessed March 27, 2019]).
  11. Brain-dead woman gives birth to child in the Czech Republic