Monday, 5 November 2007

Foetal viability

Rebecca, in the comments to the last post, points out this interesting article in the Times about foetal viability:

"Couples who have difficulties conceiving can seek fertility treatment. At the same time, contraception is freely available to couples who want sex without producing a baby. Can this be right? As a society we value babies so much that we are prepared to allow - and fund - IVF. So how can we sanction - and fund - the deliberate prevention of babies being conceived? We can't have it both ways. Contraception should be banned.
You should therefore be baffled at the prevailing official view that the time limit for abortion should depend on the age at which premature babies can be saved. Some campaigners are calling for the abortion limit to be cut from 24 weeks to 20 weeks because an increasing proportion of babies born before 24 weeks' gestation can survive. Dawn Primarolo, the Health Minister, argues that survival rates for babies born at less than 24 weeks remain very poor, and therefore the abortion limit should be kept as it is. While she disagrees with the campaigners about the facts regarding the survival of premature babies, she has not questioned the notion that the abortion limit should be reduced when medical advances lead to a substantial improvement in the viability of premature babies.

This is nonsensical. The capacity of medicine to save a premature but much wanted baby is a completely separate matter from whether or not a woman should be permitted to abort a viable but unwanted pregnancy. In so far as ethics should determine a time limit on abortion, the relevant question is at what stage, if at all, a foetus should be regarded as a person, and in particular the extent to which it has a developed brain and can experience emotions. The state of ncubator technology cannot answer that question, any more than progress in IVF technology should determine whether contraception should be permitted."

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