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The Law and Ethics of MedicineEssays on the Inviolability of Human Life$
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John Keown

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199589555

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199589555.001.0001

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The scope of the offense of child destruction

The scope of the offense of child destruction

(p.172) Chapter 7 The scope of the offense of child destruction
The Law and Ethics of Medicine

John Keown

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the scope of the crime of child destruction, contrary to section 1 of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. The section punishes the destruction of a child “capable of being born alive”. The chapter considers three competing interpretations of this phrase. The first would protect any unborn child which would be capable after birth of exhibiting any sign of life. The second would protect only viable unborn children. The third would limit protection to the child in the process of delivery. Drawing on the parliamentary debates and contemporary Home Office materials, the chapter suggests that the middle interpretation is the most plausible. It concludes by raising the question, in the light of the relaxation of the law by the Abortion Act 1967 and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, whether the law, by attaching moral significance to viability and birth, is ethically defensible.

Keywords:   child destruction, scope, capable of being born alive, Abortion Live, unborn child, viability

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