Advertisement

Legal Status of the Fetus

  • Margery W. Shaw
  • Catherine Damme

Abstract

When does life begin? There are two moments in time — the moment of conception and the moment of birth — which have most often been used to mark the existence of a new human being. The moment of birth is easily ascertainable and has often been cited by the courts to define the entry into human society of a “person” within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is a convenient landmark, but it is not universally accepted in the social or legal sense.

Keywords

Legal Status Judicial Decision Unborn Child Lower Court United States Supreme 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 1.
    W. Blackstone, Commentaries 130 (1762).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Burdettv. Hopegood, 24 Eng. Rep. 485 (1718).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Halev. Hale, 24 Eng. Rep. 25 (1692).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Marshv. Kirby, 21 Eng. Rep. 512 (1634). Wallisv. Hodson, 26 Eng. Rep. 472 (1740) is in accord with the Marsh holding more than a century later.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Stephen E. Segal, Wrongful Death and the Stillborn Fetus — A Current Analysis, 7 Houston L. Rev. 449 (1970).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Dietrichv. Inhabitants of Northampton, 138 Mass. 14, 52 Am. Rep. 242 TSup. Jud. Ct. 1884 ).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    William L. Prosser, Law Of Torts 356 (3D Ed. 1964 ).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Polquinv. Macdonald, 135 A. 2d 249 (N.H., 1957 ). The Supreme Court of New Hampshire stated that if the fetus was viable at the time of injury and could have lived apart from its mother if the mother died, then recovery may be allowed, even if such a “child” dies in the womb.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Carrollv. Skiff, 202 A. 2d 9 (Pa., 1960 ). Plaintiff-father sued physician for negligently destroying an allegedly “viable fetus” in utero at ten weeks. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania stated it was not the legislature’s intent to provide relief to estates of unborn children. Since the estate of the unborn fetus is nothing, it cannot take property by descent or devise unless it is born alive.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Keysv. Construction Service, Inc., Et al, 165 N.E. 2d 912 ( Mass., 1960 ). The court held that if the fetus is so well developed in its mother’s womb that it is capable of sustaining life if parturition occurs and if the child is born alive and then dies, a cause of action exists.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Panagopoulosv. Martin, 295 F. Supp. 220 (S.D.W.V. 1969 ). A stillbirth resulted from mother’s injury during the eighth month of pregnancy. The court held that if death occurs in utero, a viable fetus should be considered a person, for biologically speaking, it is. Damages were awarded solely for sorrow, mental anguish and bereavement, since pecuniary loss is purely speculative.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Statev. Dickenson, 275 N.E. 2d 599 (Ohio, 1971). A viable fetus died in utero from placental hemorrhage incurred in an automobile accident caused by a drunken driver. The court found that the child must be born alive to be a person within the meaning of the vehicular homicide statute. The Dickenson case here construes the Ohio vehicular homicide statute; generally the courts have held that the killing of an unborn child is not a homicide under other statutes, a notion rooted in common law principle that the fetus must be born alive, independent of its mother, before it could be subject of a homicide. Leading cases which uphold this view are Clark v. State, 117 Ala. 1, 23 So. 671 (Ala., 1878); Keelerv. Superior Court of Amador County, 2 Cal. 3d 619, 817 Cal. Rptr. 481, 470 P. 2d 617, 40 A.L.R. 3d 420 (Cal. 1970); Passleyv. State 194 Ga. 327, 21 S. E. 2d (Ga., 1942); Abramsv. Foshee, 3 Iowa 274 (1856); Morganv. State, 148 Tenn. 417, 256 S.W. 433 (Tenn., 1923). An excellent annotation on this subject can be found in 40 A.L.R. 3d 444 (1971).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Allairev. St. Luke’s Hospital, 56 N.E. 638 (Ill., 1900). Recovery denied for prenatal injuries resulting in limb deformities. The court reasoned that the child is part of the mother during pregnancy and only severed at birth. A long line of cases followed the Dietrich and Allaire rationale, e. g. Gorman v. Budlong, 49 A. 704 (R.I., 1901); Nugentv. Brooklyn Hts. Ry. Co., 139 N.T.S. 367 (N.Y. App. 1913), appealdismissed, 102 N.E. 1107 (1913); Buelv. United Rys. Co. of St. Louis, 154 S.W. 71 (Mo., 1913); Lippsv. Milwaukee Electric Ry. & Light Co., 199 N.W. 916 (Wis., 1916); Drobnerv. Peters, 133 N.E. 567 (N.Y. 1921); Stanfordv. St. Louis-SF Ry. Co., 108 So. 566 (Ala. 1926); Magnolia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Jordan, 78 S.W. 2d 944 (Tex. 1935); Newmanv. City of Detroit, 274 N.W. 710 (Mich., 1937 ); Berlinv. J.C. Penney Co., 16 A. 2d 28 (Pa., 1940).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Bonbrestv. Kotz, 65 F. Supp. 138 (D.C.D.C. 1946). This was the first case allowing for recovery for prenatal injuries not resulting in death. Cases which followed the Bonbrest precedent include Ammanv. Faidy, 114 N.E. 2d 412 (111., 1953); Woodsv. Lancet, 102 N.E. 2d 691 (N.Y., 1951); Stegallv. Morris, 258 S.W. 2d 577 (Mo., 1953); Tursiv. N.E. Windsor Co., Ill A. 2d 14 (Ct., 1955); Von Elbev. Studebaker Packard Corp., 15 Pa. D. & C. 2d 635 (1958); Raineyv. Horn, 72 So. 2d 434 (Miss., 1950); Tuckerv. Carmichael & Sons. Inc., 65 S.E. 2d 909 (Ga. 1951); Damasiewiczv. Gorush, 79 A. 2d 550 (Md., 1951); Mitchellv. Couch, 258 S.W. 2d 901 (Ky., 1955); Mallisonv. Pomeroy, 291 P. 2d 225 (Ore., 1955); Worgenv. Greggo & Ferrara, 128 A. 2d 557 (Del., 1956 ); Polquinv. Macdonald, 135 A. 2d 249 (N.H., 1957).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hornbucklev. Plantation Pipe Line, 93 S.E. 2d 727 (Ga., 1956 ).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Bennetv. Hymers, 147 A. 2d 108 (N.H., 1958 ).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Smithv. Brennan, 157 A. 2d 497 (N.J., 1960 ).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sinklerv. Kneale, 164 A. 2d 93 (Pa., 1960 ).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Daleyv. Meier, 178 N.E. 2d 691 (111., 1961) and Sanav. Brown, 183 N.E. 2d 187 (111., 1962 ).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Annot., 40 A.L.R. 3d 1222 (1971).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Jorgensenv. Meade-Johnson Lab. Inc., 336 F. Supp. 961 (W.D. Okla. 1972J:Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Morganv. U.S., 143 F. Supp. 580 (D.C.N.J. 1956 ).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jorgensenv. Meade-Johnson Lab. Inc., 483 F. 2d 237 (10th Cir. 1973 ). This holding, which recognizes a cause of action for damage to the sperm or egg resulting in an injury to the infant could have far-reaching consequences. A library search for a case of radiation to the gonads prior to conception, resulting in a genetically-defective baby, was unproductive. But as physical and chemical mutagens in the environment increase (e. g., industrial hazards, drugs, food additives, and air pollutants) the possibility of suits for preconception injury becomes more likely.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    La Bluev. Specker, 100 N.W. 2d 445 (Mich., 1960). In a similar case, Weaksv. Mounter, 493 P. 2d 1307 (Nev., 1972). the court relied on the La Blue reasoning.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Annot., 22 A.L.R. 3d 1441 (1968).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Zepedav. Zepeda, 41 111. App. 2d 240 (1963). In another case involving wrongful life by reason of illegitimacy, an infant was conceived when her mother, a mental retardate, was raped by another patient in the state hospital. The child claimed the state was negligent in allowing her conception. But the court concluded that there are strong policy and social reasons against providing such compensation. Williamsv. New York, 223 N.E. 2d 849 (App. Ct. 1963); cert, denied, 379 U.S. 945 (1964). In Pinkneyv. Pinkney, 198 So. 2d 52 (Fla., 1967), the court similarly denied a cause of action for wrongful life brought by a bastard on the grounds that such a tort could only be created by statute.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Jacksonv. Anderson, 230 So. 2d 503 (Fla., 1970 ).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Terreyv. Garcia, 496 S.W. 2d 124 (Tex., 1973 ).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Colemanv. Garrison, 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2013 (1974). In accord with Coleman is Aronoffv. Snider, 292 So. 2d 418 (Del., 1974 ).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Gleitmanv. Cosgrove, 227 A 2d 689 (N.J., 1967 ).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Stewartv. Long Island College Hospital, 296 N.Y.S. 2d 41 (1968).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Jacobsv. Theimer, 18 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 222 (1975).Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Blair L. Sadler, The Law and the Unborn Child: A Brief Review of Emerging Problems, in Early Diagnosis of Human Genetic Defects - Scientific and Ethical Considerations. Fogarty International Center Proc. No. 6, a symposium sponsored by the John F. Fogarty International Center for Advanced Study in Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, May 18-19, 1970, pp. 211–218, U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    C.J.S. Abortion § 14 (1936) note 48.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Id., note 49.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Id., note 50.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Id., note 51.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Id., note 52, note 52.5Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Id., note 47.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Raleigh-Fitkin Hospitalv. Anderson, 201 A 2d 537 (N.J., 1964). A strong precedent had been established in Jehovah’s Witnesses cases where a court exercises its powers of parenspatriae by ordering transfusions to children when the parents refuse. See, for example, Statev. Perricone, 181 A 2d 751 (1962).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Babbitzv. McCann, 310 F. Supp. 293 (E.D. Wis., 1970). In Rosenv. La. State Board of Med. Examiners, 380 F. Supp. 1217 (E.D. La. 1970 ). The court came to the opposite conclusion, announcing that embryonic and fetal life may be protected by the state from destruction by another. In protecting the right of the fetus to survive, on the basis of equality with human beings generally, the state is not violating the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the mother.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Abelev. Markle, 351 F. Supp. 224 (D.C.Ct., 1972 ), judgmentvacate?, 41 U.S.L. Week 3462 (U.S.) rehearing denied, 41 U.S.L. Week 355 ( U.S. April 17, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Cheaneyv. State of Indiana, 285 N.E. 2d 265 (111., 1972 ).Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Griswoldv. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    McGarveyv. McGee-Womens Hospital, 340 F. Supp. 751 (W.D. Pa. 1972 ).Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Roev. Made, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Footnote 54, at page 157 sets forth the difficulty of applying Fourteenth Amendment rights to the non-viable fetus: When Texas argues that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other State are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists. (Saving the mother’s life is a typical exception). But if a fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother’s condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment’s command? “There are other inconsistencies between Fourteenth Amendment status and the typical abortion statute. It has already been pointed out, in 49 supra that in Texas the woman is not a principal or an accomplice with respect to an abortion upon her. If a fetus is a person, why is the woman not a principal or accomplice? Further, the penalty for criminal abortion (in Texas and in most states) is significantly less than the maximum penalty for murder…If the fetus is a person, may the penalties be different?”Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Doev. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973).Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    See especially Tribe, Laurence H., Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law, 87 Harv. L. Rev.(1973), and State Restrictions on Abortion as Violation of Due Process Right of Privacy, Harv. L. Rev. 75 (1973).Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Joseph Fletcher, Humanness and Abortion, in The Ethics of Genetic Control: Ending Reproductive Roulette, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc. (1974).Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Doev. Israel, 358 F. Supp. 1193 (D.C.R. I. 1973 ).Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Amer. Med. Assn. News, June, 1974.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Coev. Gerstein, 376 F. Supp. 695 (S.D. Fla. 1973). In a similar case a husband brought an action to enjoin his wife from having a voluntary abortion. The Massachusetts Supreme Court said “No”, reasoning“… the state cannot interfere with the woman’s abortion decision before the fetus is viable…” Doev. Doe, l Fam. L. Rep. 2019 (Nov. 12, 1974); see also Washingtonv. Koome, 43 U.S.L. Week (U.S. Feb. 2, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Legislative Briefs, 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2067 (Nov. 26, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Houston Post, § A, p. 12, Col. 2 (Feb. 1, 1975 ). A U.S. District Court judge in California ordered the Department of Agriculture to give a pregnant woman extra food stamps to feed her unborn child after her attorneys argued she needed better nutrition.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Burnsv. Alcala, 43 U.S.L. Week 4374 (U.S. Mar. 18, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    In the last two years six federal courts of appeals and 18 federal district courts have considered the question of whether the fetus is a “dependent child” under 42 U.S.C. 606(a), thus entitling the pregnant woman to AFDC benefits. Most of the lower court decisions have leaned heavily in favor of eligibility. See Keller v. Mixon, 372 F. Supp. 51, 371 F. Supp. 1379, 42 U.S.L. Week 2492 (U.S. Mar. 26, 1974); 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2034 (Nov. 12, 1974); Lukhard v. Doe, 493 F. 2d 54, 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2035 (Nov. 12, 1974); Hooker v. Carver, 43 U.S.L. Week 2057 (U.S. Aug. 13, 1974); 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2036 (Nov. 12, 1974); Brian v. California Welfare Rights Organization, 11 Cal. 3d 237, 520 P. 2d 970, 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2036 (Nov. 12, 1974), 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2053 (Nov. 19, 1974); Parks v. Harden, 1 Fam. L. Rep. 2116 (Dec. 17, 1974.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margery W. Shaw
    • 1
  • Catherine Damme
    • 1
  1. 1.Medical Genetics CenterThe University of Texas Health Science CenterHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations