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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Does a foetus have a right to life?
3D image of foetus at 23 weeks
A woman whose pregnancy was mistakenly terminated has lost her battle at the European Court.

The European Court ruled that the six month old foetus was not a human being and therefore did not have a right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last month in Britain a new type of ultrasound scan produced vivid pictures of a 12 week-old foetus and Prime Minister Tony Blair has hinted that the legal time limit for abortions could be re-examined.

Do you agree that a foetus is not a human being? Was the ruling correct? Should the time limit for abortions be cut? Send us your views.

This debate is now closed. Thank you for you comments.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

This law has to be changed because it is an insult to a woman's motherhood. I am amazed that the judges presiding over the case would be so insensitive to the woman's feelings that lost her baby. Life, as many have said begins at the very moment conception and a six-month foetus is a human being possessing all the senses and waiting to be born. It is true to say that laws made by Man are not eternal and should be broken when found imperfect as in this case.
Saqib Khan, London, UK

In matters of conscience and morality many good people will disagree honestly. Until society forms a clear consensus lawmakers need to stay away from this. This case should have been a clear case of medical negligence, nothing more. My own view on foetuses is that they have no right to life until they can survive being born.
Geoff Taylor, Bury UK

Human life is sacred
Glenn, Colorado Springs, USA
Are we not all dependant on our environment to sustain our lives? A pre-born baby requires the womb for life. Babies require food and care from others, or they will die. Even adults require air, water, and food from a source outside of themselves. Human life is sacred. The facts are plain. This baby was accidentally killed by an incompetent doctor. This story speaks as clearly on the quality of socialized medicine as it does the sanctity of human life.
Glenn, Colorado Springs, USA

A foetus is not conscious. It is not self aware. So why the fuss? It is not like its been alive and gained any memories or formed any thoughts of its own. Its just a blank slate> I wish people would stop letting their religious and emotional feelings get in the way.
Ian, Heywood, UK

Not a human being? What species do they think it was, and based on what evidence? What bigoted, mind-blowing incompetence!
Alistair, Dallas, USA

Past is past. The legal, medical and political experts should now form "foetus" laws, similar to those for animals. Such laws should cover issues like time limit for abortion, punishment for mistakes by medical workers, right to live etc. Law is better than ethics in cases like these.
Ganesh Bikshandi, Champaign, USA

I am pro-choice but this court case seems to have side-lined the issue that this was a mistake. The doctor should be made responsible for his error, which has nothing to do with the foetus' rights but the right of the mother to carry a child to full term if she is willing and able. I do believe that the time limit should be reduced as late terminations can cause huge medical problems for some women who are not made aware of the real consequences of abortion.
Julia, Nottingham

The doctor still killed a helpless human being waiting to be born
David, San Clemente, USA
Although unintentional, the doctor still killed a helpless human being waiting to be born. Only denial and insanity could view this reality any other way. Excusing it away is madness.
David, San Clemente, USA

If a foetus does not have a right to life then why aren't all foetus's killed? Also, if a foetus is not a living human being then why does one have to kill it? Why not wait for the foetus to be born and then find out if it really is a living human being?
Michael Berryman, Orlando, FL USA

I find it curious that there are dozens of laws carrying serious penalties for anyone tampering with the eggs or disturbing the nests of "endangered" species of birds, yet we struggle with understanding what defines a human being. May I suggest that it all comes down to one's view of life. If we humans control the whole process and are accountable to no higher being, then fine, make a decision and get on with it. If however God exists and is the source of life... the picture suddenly becomes much clearer.
E. Kalmbach, Toronto Canada

My niece was born 3 months premature and survived how can they call a six month foetus not a human being.
Dave, Bristol

Comments like "to be human we must be capable of a separate existence, without outside assistance" makes no sense at all. A human being is not just some one who is capable of being born alive. Throughout our lives we have depended on outside assistance. A baby requires a mothers love and protection. A child is reared by his father and mother, and without parental assistance no baby has a chance of survival in this world. Although a foetus may not be born alive, it is nonetheless alive and growing in the mothers womb. I doubt that other animals have so clear a divide, as to whether it is an animal before it is born.
Dan, BC, Canada.

The selfish vigour prevalent in some that oppose abortion
Simon, England
Always an emotional subject, I'm of the opinion that a foetus is not a human being. It is something that has potential to become a human being and I'm afraid we can't elevate the rights of "what may be" over those of the mother. What does amaze me is the selfish vigour prevalent in some that oppose abortion; How many will actually take the time to check up on what becomes of the life of the foetus for which they campaign so bitterly? It's all about self gratification. What happens to the life they have "saved" or that of those around it thereafter is of no consequence to these people.
Simon, England

The doctor clearly made a mistake: no-one is perfect. In terms of the bigger debate: there is no such thing as "God", so don't lets cloud the issues by quoting medieval superstition. The real problem is lack of sex education - why cant people learn to use condoms or the pill? However, abortion is thoroughly a choice for the women who is pregnant. For thousands of years women have had pregnancy forced on them by men - now they need to be allowed equality in choosing whether to have a baby or not.
Andrew, London, UK

Life starts at conception. When the human baby was aborted, it died. To die, you must first be alive. Of course it has a right to live. God help us, where are we headed.
Robbie Hilton, Jacksonville, NC

This court ruling is a slap in the face of humanity
Gordon, Tacoma, USA
Life begins at conception. Therefore, an un-born baby has a right to life. This court ruling is a slap in the face of humanity.
Gordon, Tacoma, USA

It's such a tragedy and a horrible mistake by the doctor. It shouldn't be considered as an intentional abortion but more on the doctor's negligence to take due care in his profession.
Susan, Los Angeles, US

I believe that a foetus is unable to sustain life independently and therefore seems not to have the right to life. However, a newborn cannot sustain life alone either, and for some time. How can there be a difference between the two? What makes a life human? The ability to sustain life alone without others? By this analogy we can start massive slaughter without conscience.
Jean Robertson, USA

To be human we must be capable of a separate existence
Barry P, Havant, England
The only workable definition of a human being is still 'capable of being born alive.' To be human we must be capable of a separate existence, without outside assistance. Just because it is technically possible to link up an undeveloped foetus to massive machinery, at massive cost, does not make it a person, it makes it a laboratory experiment. As for the time limit for abortions, whatever limits are set must take into account the fact that unless some desperate women are able to obtain abortions they will seek unlawful abortion in the 'back street'. Whilst the pro life lobby have good ideals they ignore the simple fact that it is the woman who is pregnant who will normally end up with the unwanted, or severely disabled child.
Barry P, Havant, England

I always thought that life begins at the moment of conception which is given by God. Since when has the European Court taken on the role of acting on behalf of God. A developing foetus may not be an actual breathing creature, but clearly the individual has a human soul which is given by God and so must be a human being. There are clearly worrying times ahead for Humanity if the European Court believes it can decide on the right of life and death with individuals.
Gavin Lucas, Newport Pagell, UK

The time limit should be cut
Carolyn Price, Philadelphia, USA
Surely the foetus' right to life here is not the issue. It's the "mistakenly terminated" part that must have lead the woman to court. If a doctor mistakenly terminated the life of the child I was counting on raising, I believe I would have a good case, regardless of whether that foetus had rights of its own or not. And yes, the time limit should be cut. There's a huge difference between removing half a teaspoonful of dividing cells from the womb and suctioning out body parts in pieces.
Carolyn Price, Philadelphia, USA

Europe rejects foetal rights bid
08 Jul 04  |  Health
Q&A: Late abortions
01 Dec 03  |  Health
Europe's terms for terminations
02 Jun 02  |  Europe


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