Letter: Parliament must rule on birth ethics

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Sir: Heather Lawrence asks "Can it really be suggested that the rights of a foetus are greater than those of a child with a life threatening but curable medical complaint?" (Letters, 21 February). Talking of "rights" confuses the issue of whether the mother of a foetus which is about to be born and which is capable of living an independent existence owes a duty (whether to the foetus or society) which is proper justification for allowing doctors to perform a Caesarean operation without her consent, as in the Ms S case.

Whether or not such a duty is recognised is a matter for the courts but whether or not it should exist is a matter for Parliament. Undoubtedly very serious ethical issues are involved and judges should not be placed in the position of having to resolve them. Nine years ago Lord Justice Balcombe said: "It is intolerable to place a judge in the position of having to make such a decision without any guidance as to the principles upon which his decision should based. If the law is to be extended ... so as to impose control over the mother of an unborn child, then, under our system of parliamentary democracy, it is for Parliament to decide whether such control can be imposed and if so, under what limitations or conditions."

JOHN MITCHELL

Family Law Chambers,

Temple

London EC4

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