Page 4, 20th March 1987

20th March 1987
Page 4
Page 4, 20th March 1987 — The Law and a child's right to life

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Locations: Surrey


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The Law and a child's right to life

IN THE CASE of C v S an attempt was made to prevent Miss S from aborting the child she was expecting. It was contended that this abortion would be the crime of Child Destruction because the child she was expecting was "a child capable of being born alive" within the meaning of those words in the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929.

The evidence before the Courts was that the child, being then of a gestational age of more than 18 weeks, would not have been able to breathe if it had been born but nevertheless had the capacity to be born alive because, if born then and there, it would have had a heart beat and would have exhibited "real and discernible signs of life". The Court of Appeal ruled that a child in such a condition is not "capable of being born alive" within the meaning of the statute.

Simon Lee (Catholic Herald, March 6) informed your readers that the Court of Appeal was certain and convincing." Should he not have told them that the Court gave no reasons justifying its decision, saying that it would give "expanded reasons" at a later date and that it then decided not to do so?

He might also have explained why it was "wishful thinking" to expect the words of the statute to protect the child in question when the Lane Committee in its Report to Parliament in 1984 had so interpreted the statute and when a prestigious committee representing the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Medicine and the DHSS has reported in 1985 that the Act had been "widely misinterpreted to refer to survival and not to the capacity for live birth." Both these Reports were before the Court.

Further Simon Lee might have explained how the Court succeeded in ignoring the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926 passed only eighteen months earlier that the 1929 Act. That Lee also uses the phrase "born alive" and defines a stillborn child (ie one that is not

• SIMON LEE (Catholic Herald, March 6) contends that judges should not be criticised for `honestly and plausibly interpreting' the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, 1929, during the recent attempt by a student to prevent his girlfriend having a direct abortion.

One agrees with the right of judges to interpret law, but one also expects that particular interpretation of law be explained so that one is aware of the exact meaning of law. In this context, the Appeals Judges in the abortion case appear to have left themselves open to criticism.

They admitted in giving judgement against the father of the child that the public interest required a reasoned judgement in this case, and promised to provide such a judgement in respect of their interpretation of born alive) as one which does not breathe or "show any other signs of life". Simon Lee could perhaps have explained, as the Court did not, how Miss S's child could be said not to have the capacity to be born alive when if it had been born it would have had to be registered as a live-birth.

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, Simon Lee could have alerted your readers to an important consequence of the decision. If the decision is right it means that an aborted child which cannot breathe but shows other signs of life is a nullity which can lawfully be experimented upon during the two or three hours in which the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, 1929.

It now appears that they have withdrawn that commitment, and, it might be argued, have caused confusion over the meaning and scope of the Act. If, as Mr Lee suggests, laws should be changed in Parliament, is it not right that politicians should be clear concerning the exact terms of legislation in question? • It might be argued that in now refusing to give a reasoned judgement on this issue, the judges have made it extremely difficult for politicians and others to re-examine the Act in the light of new interpretations.

If this is the case, criticism of the judgement will inevitably continue.

Guernsey, Patrick Tansley Channel Islands these signs of life persist. This nullity can feel pain and must be registered as a live birth. Nevertheless the Peel Committee recommended to Parliament that, as it is non-viable (ie cannot survive), it would be wrong (sic!) not to make use of it. There are published papers detailing experiments on these "pre-viable" children.

Perhaps, you should ask Simon Lee to try again. If you do, ask him to use the word used in the 1929 Act namely "child" and not "foetus". Miss S was expecting a child not a foetus and the case was brought to try and preserve the life of that child.

Gerard Wright, QC Liverpool

• I HAVE read Simon Lee's article "Bad-mouth law, not judges" (Catholic Herald, March 6) with much interest.

Mr Lee is, of course, correct in stating that it is the foetus who has rights, and the parents who have duties. This, however, it needs to be stressed, must not cloud the fact that among those duties is the father's duty to protect his child's life by whatever means he can within the law.

It is also true that Catholic attitudes towards miscarriages, proper counseling, and baptisms and funerals of the stillborn or aborted child need to be clarifed and codified.

K P Platt National Association of Ovulation Method Instructors, Sanderstead, Surrey.

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