Women as wheelbarrows: Italian PM wants woman in coma alive as fetus container

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in consultation with the Vatican, is trying to overturn a court order to remove the feeding tubes from a woman who has been in a coma for 17 years and been assessed as having no hope of any recovery.

Why? Because she’s fertile.

The other day, Pavlov’s Cat referred to pro-life ideas that construct women as nothing more than “centrally-heated wheelbarrows“. The idea revolves around an ignorant, misogynistic mindset that says that a pregnancy is just something a woman carts around like a Tupperware container; that the impact on the rest of her life is nonexistent or irrelevant; that all woman have to do with an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy is “carry it for nine months” and then everyone would be happy.

This idea that women are no more than meat-containers is reinforced in the fetus-centric imagery of pro-life marketing. Recently, Catholicvote put out an advertisement purporting to show the real-time fetal ultrasound of Barack Obama (an obvious lie), and his mother was absent – reduced to merely a few uterine shadows on a sonogram. That advertisement is here (see RH Reality Check, Menstrual Poetry, Womanist Musings, Sociological Images, and Feministing for more commentary.)

[image description at footnote 1.]

There are many more examples of this flavour of woman-erasure. Pro-life propaganda often depicts an embryo or fetus floating in a black void, the woman not even existing as a uterus, but completely absent. Sufficient Scruples wrote in “You Are a Housing Project for Fetuses“:

Yep. Your uterus is the home of a fetus. Your cervix is merely the front door of its “apartment”, and your bodily organs are merely the walls, floor, wiring, and ventilation ducts of its abode. Acting on your own body, or having a doctor do so on your behalf, is equivalent to bursting down the door of someone else’s home. (I admit, I have no freaking idea what the binoculars are for.) […]

Amazingly enough, also, the cartoon manages to show the inside of a woman’s body without ever implying that there’s actually a woman present.

Now, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made it absolutely clear that he believes women are nothing more than fetal housing projects. And he has done so by trying to overturn a court decision in a right-to-die case. Eluana Englaro, age 38, has been in a coma for 17 years. Her condition is considered irreversible. Her father has won a decade-long court battle to remove her feeding tubes. The Guardian reports:

But in an extraordinary turn of events, the country’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, after consultation with the Vatican, has issued an emergency decree stating that food and water cannot be suspended for any patient depending upon them, reversing the earlier court ruling. On issuing the emergency decree, Berlusconi declared: “This is murder. I would be failing to rescue her. I’m not a Pontius Pilate.”

Justifying his campaign to save Englaro’s life, the prime minister added that, physically at least, she was “in the condition to have babies”.

His argument is not that her condition might be reversed, that she might regain some sort of consciousness one day. Not that this was not her wish. It isn’t coming from a disability-rights perspective or any notions of slippery-slope.

No, he thinks she’s a potential fetus container.

Never mind that impregnation by the usual means would be rape. Never mind that she cannot consent to insemination. Never mind that there is no one except him and the Vatican who wants to shove embryos or sperm into this unconscious woman. Her potential as a comatose incubator is the only thing that he thinks gives her existence any value.

Berlusconi apparently fantasises about a world with comatose women in rows, feeding tubes hooked up, the fetuses that will be their goldensons slowly cooking away until they’re cut out when the machine goes ping.

This is fucking horrifying.

Sadly, this is entirely consistent with the past behaviour of Berlusconi and the Vatican. They don’t believe women are even second-class people; we’re not people at all, just the bearers of chromosomes and wombs, receptacles who collectively get a bit uppity from time to time and have to be slapped down. And what better place to start than with women who can’t fight back.

Shakesville has more.


[1] Image description, from Sufficient Scruples:

If you can’t see it clearly in the reduced-size image, a cute pink fetus is lounging in a wingback chair, reading “Modern Fetus” magazine, inside a soft, red, squishy-walled apartment with the sign “Womb Sweet Womb” hanging on the wall. The fetus is plugged into the wall through an umbilical cord that terminates in an electrical outlet. Its baseball cap is hanging from a peg on the wall, a ventilator duct appears on the other wall, and – displaying a worrisome grasp of anatomy – a heart-shaped heart and other organs are visible through a huge gap in the side wall, next to a set of large, coin-operated binoculars like you find at outdoor public attractions. (?) A gloved hand is bursting through the screen door and slamming down the front door of the apartment, holding an “Eviction Notice”.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, law & order, medicine

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21 replies

  1. I just want to add here – it didn’t really fit in the post – that I do get it when women are kept alive when they’ve become severely injured while already in an established and wanted pregnancy, IF that was their wish. If I were a few months pregnancy with a much-wanted pregnancy and became comatose for whatever reason, and my partner wished it and the baby would be cared for, I would want the pregnancy continued to viability. I kinda wish I’d written a living will to that effect when I was pregnant, because what a horrible decision that must be for a family to have to make.
    This situation, however, is utterly different.

  2. Just when I thought I couldn’t loathe Berlusconi more, this shades of The Matrix business.
    Thanks for the post, Lauredhel, it’s really informative and well-researched on a topic I don’t know I’d have the intestinal fortitude to dig into otherwise.

  3. Jebus! This guy is a douchehound beyond belief. There aren’t words enough to describe how vile he is. YES, the thing that floored me was that to impregnate her in this condition would be rape or another violation. Ugh.

  4. I remember reading once, on one of the quiverfull blogs that I read, about a mother who spent ages searching for a book about pregnancy that didn’t mention what happens to the mother’s body during pregnancy at all — supposedly this was immodest. As you point out here, anti-choice fundamentalists simply want to erase women-as-people from the process of childbearing, because that brings up too many issues about personal autonomy that might lead to the conclusion that adult women’s lives and desires are more important than the life of a foetus that only has a life because it inhabits her body anyway.

  5. Berlusconi’s rationale that the woman was “in the condition to have babies” ignores the fact that consent by that woman to become pregnant is impossible – it would require rape.
    What would be the ethics of her guardian authorizing a tubal ligation or similar procedure to remove Berlusconi’s farcical objection?
    Mnd y, /d/ s brndd bds s “mt scks” tht cld b sd fr tstng xprmntl drgs btwn trls n rts nd txct trls n thr hmns. n fct, ‘d lk tht t b dn wth m f vr bcm brndd.
    [disemvowelled by me, because I found it offensive in this context, and didn’t want to look at it anymore. ~L]

  6. Dave Bath: So feel free to make a living will to that effect, and talk about it somewhere else. I really don’t appreciate your going in this direction on this thread.
    There is no evidence available that the woman concerned or her relatives wish this woman to be either an incubator or a experimental subject. Nor is she braindead, as far as I can tell, which would mean she was dead. She is in what is usually called a persistent vegetative state. The tubes aren’t being pulled because she’s dead already, they’re being pulled because she has no hope of any recovery of sentience and it has been determined that this was her wish.

  7. Beppie: Yes, Gawd forbid that women should be warned about such immodest subjects as vomiting and haemorrhoids and perineal tears and pre-eclampsia! The word would end if we controlled our own bodies, so obviously it would also end if we had any information about them. That makes me horribly sad.

  8. Berlusconi apparently fantasises about a world with comatose women in rows, feeding tubes hooked up, the fetuses that will be their goldensons slowly cooking away until they’re cut out when the machine goes ping.
    I think this is pretty horrific, but I also think this statement is a bit of a leap. In the spirit of not ascribing malice where stupidity will do, it seems altogether possible that this guy doesn’t fantasise about any such thing, but just believes that he clearly understands the wishes of the woman in question better than her family. I mean obviously, her father is delusional because all women would want to have a child by an possible means under any circumstances at all. (sarcasm off).
    Personally, if I am ever in a permanent vegetative state, I don’t actually care if they use me as a foetus container. Having said that, only my immediate family have the right to make that call, prats in any government clearly don’t. And I don’t expect my feelings to generalise. I fully appreciate that many people may find that concept utterly abhorrent, and that is a completely reasonable response. I am just wary of making a scheming devil out of an ignorant fool.
    Ariane’s last blog post..Tourist Tokyo

  9. it seems altogether possible that this guy doesn’t fantasise about any such thing, but just believes that he clearly understands the wishes of the woman in question

    I don’t think he’s given her wishes much of a thought. He just judges the value of her life by her reproductive potential.

  10. It seems that she has now been allowed to go peacefully. And I don’t think that Berlusconi is evil; just plain dumb. He doesn’t think through the implications of his statements.
    M-H’s last blog post..Thanks

  11. I don’t know about that as a defence, he’s constantly saying horrific things about women, and his ‘apologies’ consist of ‘Well, hey, I like to make jokes and stop getting your feminist knickers in a twist’. I understand that this time wasn’t a joke…but how much ‘idiocy’ do we excuse about women’s issues from a Prime Minister who’s been picked up on this stuff over and over again?

  12. Thanks, FP. Yes, it’s not as though this was a momentary or ignorant slip of the tongue; it’s part of a pattern of misogynist behaviour by Berlusconi that he’s been called out on over and over and over.
    This is the bloke who called Thatcher a “nice bit of pussy”. And thought that widespread street rape was a great opportunity to compliment the “pretty girls” who were bringing it on themselves.
    If it is “ignorance”? That’s no excuse for sexist behaviour, and it’s especially no excuse when you’re a head of fucking state who has immense power over women’s lives.

  13. I’m with fp–the state of women’s rights in Italy is dubious at its best, and I’m pretty damn sure Berlusconi knows full well what he’s saying, by now. He’s no W to spout awkward malapropisms, he’s a misogynist and is single-handedly doing a fine job setting Italy back.

  14. Surely what matters is that she is now at peace. I’m not excusing Berlusconi – he is a jerk, but he’s not our jerk, thank goodness. I just can’t waste energy on him.
    M-H’s last blog post..Finally, I found an angle

  15. I don’t believe in the concept of evil but the idea of the President and a Cardinal conspiring over the heads of the Supreme Court gives me goosebumps anyway. There was a lot of protest in Italy which is a good sign, I guess, but who knows what would have happened had she not died perhaps Berlusconi and the Cardianl would have succeeded.

  16. Berlusconi – or Il Douche, is just carrying on the fine tradition of Italian fascisti.
    The Italians had their chance to redeem themselves when he was voted out previously, so why they put the mongrel back in is bewildering.

  17. Su…it’s an interesting point about ‘evil’. It sort of takes away the choice, the specificity of actions. It makes it as if you’re ‘possessed’, as if you’re no longer human (and then distances the very human-ness of whatever action it’s used to describe).

  18. The Catholicvote ad is an outright fraud – obstetric Ultrasound didn’t exist until 1962, the year after Barack’s birth.

  19. Exactly my thoughts FP. It also gives people an excuse not to consider the reasons why a beautiful child will grow up to commit appalling acts and so absolves us from considering how we, society, may be complicit in the genesis of violence. So it can do both – absolve the individual and absolve the rest of us and neither should get off the hook.
    “Il Douche” – *snort*


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