IN HIS analysis of the recent C v S abortion case, Simon Lee appears more confused and muddled than the Appeal Court judges and the Law Lords. (March 6). Although he correctly points out that the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 was passed to cover a loophole (in relation to the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which he forgot to mention), he then proceeds to a completely mistaken understanding of the word "viable". Viable, in relation to human beings (including fetuses), means living and capable of maintaining life.
Most people realise that the viability of the fetus is best assured by remaining in the womb until the normal 9 months of pregnancy are completed. However advances in medical skills and technology have meant that babies born at 6 months have a reasonable chance of survival.
Many people do not realise that a fetus lives in a water environment in the womb and "breathes" by means of a natural lung by-pass machine (the placenta and umbilical cord) from an early stage of pregnancy. To suggest that the fetus is not viable because it does not breathe through its lungs is illogical — it is like suggesting that patients undergoing cardiac surgery are not viable because they "breathe" through an artifical heart-lung by-pass machine, instead of their own lungs.
Indeed, in regard to breathing as being the test whether a human being, in or out of the womb, is alive, one can only ask where Simon Lee, the judges and the Law Lords have been for the past five years? It has been debated so many times in the various media that surely most educated people know by now that it is not breathing (or heartbeat) but brain function, in particular brain-stem function, which determines whether a human being is alive or not.
As a fetus is fully formed by three months, and thus has a functioning brain and brainstem from that time, it is quite clearly alive long before 24 weeks. It is therefore capable of being born alive from at least 12 weeks although its survival out of the womb would be shortlived. The length of its extrauterine survival is irrelevant to the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929.
This legal case is a reminder to the legal profession that there are laws which provide protection to infants in the womb. It is also a reminder to the medical profession that this protection should be removed only in extreme circumstances of grave threat to the life of the mother. One may hope that our democratic institutions will amend the Abortion Act 1967 to make induced abortion legal only in this exceptional situation, for as GK Chesterton has indicated — "The basis of Christianity as well as Democracy is that a man is sacred".
Dr Patrick W Gill Neath General Hospital
,Neath, West Glamorgan