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Brain-dead Canadian woman kept on life support to save fetus

By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A 32-year-old Canadian woman who has been declared brain dead is being kept on life support in a Victoria, British Columbia hospital, with doctors working to keep her alive long enough to deliver her unborn son.

Robyn Benson was just 22 weeks pregnant when she complained of a headache and then collapsed on her bathroom floor, according to postings on a blog and fundraising site by her husband Dylan Benson. Her fetus, already named Iver Cohen Benson, has continued to grow in the womb.

"On December 28th, I lost my wife to a sudden hemorrhage of blood to her brain," Benson wrote. "Based on my decision, they are attempting to keep her body alive for up to 7 more weeks ... Incredibly, they have been successful in doing this for 5 weeks now."

The goal is to wait until the fetus reaches 34 weeks, giving the baby a greater chance of survival, according to Benson. He wrote that doctors plan to deliver his son via cesarean section and that the baby will spend his first few weeks in hospital.

That sets up a bittersweet deadline for the family, who will welcome a new baby and then take the mother off life support.

"It is very difficult to know that our son will grow up never meeting his wonderful mother, and that we will have to say our goodbyes to Robyn within hours of seeing Iver for the first time," Benson wrote. "She was my rock. She did so much for us, and I can't believe I won't get to talk to her again."

The tragic story differs from a controversial case in Texas, where Marlise Munoz, a pregnant brain-dead woman was removed from life support at her husband's request last month after a lengthy court battle. Her husband said Munoz had told him she did not want to be kept on life support. Unlike the Benson baby, which is healthier, Munoz's fetus had already suffered oxygen deprivation and appeared to have deformed lower extremities, according to court documents.

Texas authorities had fought to keep Munoz on life support in a case that sparked fierce debate over the rights of a fetus versus the right to die.

A spokeswoman for the Vancouver Island health authority confirmed that there is a patient named Robyn Benson in the intensive care unit at the Victoria General Hospital, but was not able to provide further details due to privacy issues.

The Benson family's plight has gripped people across Canada and around the world, with donations on their fundraising site topping C$85,000 ($76,700) early on Tuesday.

That has far exceeded the C$36,000 goal set by Benson, who had hoped to raise funds for bills, baby supplies and to allow him to more time at home with his new son after the birth.

"I just wanted to reach out and say thank you to each and every one of you that have read our story and to those who have donated and/or shared," he wrote on the site on Monday. "We are overwhelmed with the response from not only the community, but now the nation and beyond."

(This story has been refiled to correct spelling of deprivation in seventh paragraph)

(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and David Gregorio)

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