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The English Fetus and the Right to Life

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image of European Journal of Health Law

Following the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998 in English law, there was speculation as to whether the English legal position that the fetus has no right to life is compatible with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Vo v. France provides an opportunity to reflect on the current English and ECtHR approaches to the fetus. The problems of finding a fetal right to life, which Vo sidesteps, are noted. At the same time, the "all or nothingness" of rights language is not without difficulties and troubled the judges in Vo. In particular, the idea that the fetus has no right to life gives the impression that neither English nor ECHR law values the fetus. In this light, we find English and ECtHR judges trying to express a concern for the fetus which does not undermine a pregnant woman's legal interests. This article considers these issues and highlights the importance, in a highly genetic age, of developing ways of valuing the fetus without invoking the language of rights and thus without affecting the current legal balance of interests in the maternal-fetal relationship. The idea of valuing the fetus in this way is briefly explored with particular reference to aspects of selective abortion.

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/content/journals/10.1163/1571809043418324
2004-12-01
2016-12-06

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