07/12/2007, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA

Supreme Court: until labour the foetus is not a human being

Joseph Yun Li-sun
Shock sentence in South Korea: a foetus of 42 weeks, weighing over five kilo’s, “is not a human being”. A priest, professor of medicine at the Korean Catholic University, speaks of a “social defeat” for his nation

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Korea’s highest court ruled yesterday that an unborn child cannot be considered human until the moment the mother goes into labour, thus clearing a midwife of negligent homicide charges. The verdict has provoked bitter debate in the country while the catholic community speaks of “the shocking and deplorable verdict”.

According to Fr. Lee Dong-ik, professor of medicine at the Catholic University of Korea and a member of the Bioethics Committee at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, “Every country has slightly different legal grounds on when to consider an unborn a human being, but no country has such a definitive ruling that an unborn baby is not a human being”.

In 2001, the mother, visited a childbirth facility in Seoul and consulted with a midwife as the birth date approached, but she felt no labour pains. The date passed, and the midwife told the mother to wait for two weeks. While waiting, the fetus died of cerebral damage. A Caesarean section was performed to remove the 5.2-kilogram stillborn child. The prosecution pressed the negligent injury charge against the midwife because the mother underwent surgery only after the baby died. In the appeals trial, prosecutors added a new charge of negligent homicide. The Supreme Court upheld an appeals court acquittal of a midwife and rejected the prosecution’s argument that the midwife had committed negligent homicide because surgery was performed too late, ruling that the unborn baby was not a human being, thus no homicide took place.

The most controversial point of the sentence, which one judge defined as “very difficult”, is that in which the Court establishes that “even if caesarean surgery was possible the mother did not have labour pains, which is the beginning of childbirth, thus the unborn baby cannot be recognized as a human being,”.

For Fr. Lee, this sentence “is a social defeat: We are living in an era in which a 21-week unborn child can be saved with an incubator.  It is unacceptable to see a verdict where a 42-week unborn is not considered a human being”.

 

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