Feb. 27, 2007
The penultimate question with regard to issues of life is "what does it mean to be human?" Courts have effectively sidestepped that question in cases like Roe v. Wade, opting to address questions of privacy instead.
However, courts can't forever avoid the issue, and a court in Brooklyn, New York has decided that a 7-year-old girl has the right to sue the city for injuries she received when she was still in the womb:
Sarah Elizabeth Leighton was only a 14-week-old fetus when a toilet at a Brooklyn public school collapsed, injuring her schoolteacher mom.
The fall in January 1999 ruptured Esther Portalatin-Leighton's placenta, and Sarah was born prematurely, less than four months later, the family contends.
Sarah's learning disabilities and asthmatic symptoms are the direct result of her early birth, which was caused by the ruptured placenta, her parents argue.
City lawyers tried to get the case dismissed before trial by arguing that the child had to have been able to survive outside the womb at the time the injuries occurred in order for her to recover damages.
Well, Sarah has survived outside the womb, and she can now claim the injuries sustained when she was a 14-week old fetus. Whatever the merits of the case, the fact that court now recognizes "fetus Sarah" as the "girl Sarah" is a step toward justice.
The court, of course, made sure not to draw parity with abortion issues:
"Abortion cases are genuinely distinguishable from the [Leighton] case since fetuses which are aborted are not born alive," Brooklyn Appeals Court Justice Gloria Goldstein wrote.
However, the panel did offer conception as a line of demarcation, saying that "as long as the injuries occurred after conception and the child was born alive, she could make a claim." It almost sounds absurd (after all, what injuries can one sustain before conception?), but it does lend considerable recognition to the notion that personhood begins at conception.