In the British newspaper, The Telegraph, a scientist at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, Dr. James Mumford, referred in an opinion column to the results of a recently published study relating to the viability of premature babies.
More and more premature babies born at 23 weeks are surviving. In 2006, 19% of babies born at 23 weeks survived. Last year, in the neonatal units in Bristol, all foetuses born at 23 weeks survived. Obviously “Good news” for Dr. James Mumford, who is still, however, carrying out research. Current legislation in Great Britain allows an abortion to be carried out up to the 24th week of pregnancy. This legislation, which dates back to 1967 (see the Abortion Act) in fact considers a fœtus to be viable after the 24th week. So “why should doctors terminate the life of a fœtus that is sufficiently developed to be able to survive outside the womb?” queries Dr. James Mumford. This is a question that has also been raised by numerous human right defenders, some of whom are calling for the maximum length of time for an abortion to be reduced to 20 weeks. Dr. James Mumford explained that the question was even more pertinent 47 years ago and pointed out that legislation is based on the “viability” criterion, i.e. a fœtus was “likely to be born alive“, to establish this limit.
The concept of “viability” is a “legal concept“. And science is showing that, in reality, this can change. What are the consequences? Should “dependence” be considered rather than viability? Some people such as Australian Peter Singer advocate extending this limit to beyond birth when “children display signs of self awareness (I exist)”… On the contrary, Dr. Mumford believes that the other route is more reasonable, admitting that “this won’t happen overnight“. “Social reform in this area calls for us to rethink our whole attitude to the unborn child“.