The Ethical and Legal Status of the Foetus

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THE ETHICAL AND LEGAL STATUS OF THE FOETUS
The difficult question of when life actually begins has often led to several complicated and controversial decisions worldwide. Does life commence at twenty four weeks’ gestation, when a foetus can continue to exist outside the womb or twenty two weeks, because of recent advances in bio-medical healthcare? Can this timeline be brought down to eight weeks, when an embryo is deemed a foetus or should life simply begin from conception, as Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists believe? Abortion and foeticide (any act that causes the death of the foetus, including foetal homicide) are the two most commonly debated aspects of foetal law and ethics (Chervenak & McCullough, 2009). Abortion law differs significantly around the world. In Canada abortion is available with no legal constraints. In Ireland, abortion is illegal except when the mother’s life is in immediate danger while in Chile, abortion is illegal with no exceptions for the mother’s life (Zampas & Gher, 2008). Abortion in Australia is governed by state law rather than national law and there are large inconsistencies in these laws between states and territories (Philips, Eltherington, de Costa, & Woods, 2012). Many of these laws originated during the formation of the Australian states at the end of the 19th century although most have undergone various levels of reform since then (Peterson, 2010). Thus far, abortion has only been officially decriminalized in Victoria and the ACT. Legal statutes of all other states have declared abortion legal only if the risk to the mother’s life is greater than it would be if the pregnancy is not terminated. The upper limit of gestation to justify abortion however varies from state to state - up to twenty three weeks in the Northern Territory, up to twenty two weeks in Queensland and possibly up to twenty eight weeks in South Australia (Peterson, 2011). South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have also...
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