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Dissertation: A Fetus By Any Other Name: How Words Shaped the Fetal Personhood Movement in US Courts and Society (1884-1973)

The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was a significant event in the story of fetal personhood—the story of whether embryos and fetuses are legal persons. Roe legalized abortion care in the United States (US). However, the story of fetal personhood began long before the 1970s. People have been talking about embryos, fetuses, and their status in science, the law, and society for centuries.

Format: Essays and Theses

Subject: Reproduction, Ethics, Legal

Women’s Right to Know Act (2019) by Americans United for Life

In 2019, Americans United for Life, hereafter AUL, published a model legislation, called the Women’s Right to Know Act, in their annual publication Defending Life. The goal of the model legislation, which AUL annually updates, is to help state governments enact enhanced informed consent laws for abortion. The Women’s Right to Know Act requires physicians to provide specific information to women before they may consent to having an abortion.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Publications, Reproduction

Commonwealth v. Luceba Parker [Brief] (1845)

The Court settled the question left open from the case of Commonwealth v. Bangs that it must be proved a woman was "quick with child" in order for abortion prohibitions to have any effect in Massachusetts.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Bonbrest v. Kotz [Brief] (1946)

This influential opinion was copied throughout the United States allowing civil actions and wrongful death claims on behalf of children who suffered injuries while a viable fetus. The case essentially overruled the opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in Dietrich v. Inhabitants of Northampton (1884). However, the ability to sue was usually limited in two ways: the fetus had to be viable, and a child had to be born alive to have a claim. These two restrictions have recently been removed in many jurisdictions.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Dietrich v. Inhabitants of Northampton [Brief] (1884)

This influential opinion by famed jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was copied by courts throughout the United States. For over sixty years, courts refused to recognize a cause of action on behalf of a child who died before or after birth as a result of injuries suffered in the womb because the fetus was considered legally a part of its mother and thus did not possess personhood. This policy changed after the decision in Bonbrest v. Kotz in 1946.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal

Park v. Chessin (1977)

The New York Appellate Court ruled on 11 December 1977 in favor of Steven and Hetty Park and against Herbert Chessin for the wrongful life of the Parks' child. In a wrongful life case, a disabled or sometimes deceased child brings suit against a physician for failing to inform its parents of possible genetic defects, thereby causing harm to the child when born. Park v. Chessin was the first case to rule that medical personnel could be legally responsible for wrongful life. Further cases such as the 1979 case Berman v. Allan and the 1982 case Turpin v.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Summerfield v. Superior Court [Brief] (1985)

Arizona joined the majority of states that recognized wrongful death claims on behalf of a viable fetus, regardless of whether the child was born alive or died in the womb by expanding the definition of "person" to include a viable fetus.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Smith v. Cote (1986)

The case of Smith v. Cote (1986) answered two important questions concerning law and childbirth: does the State of New Hampshire recognize a cause of action for what is defined as wrongful birth, and does the State recognize a cause of action for what is classified as wrongful life? In the case of Smith v. Cote, damages were permitted for wrongful birth, but not for the action of wrongful life.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Disorders

Paretta v. Medical Offices for Human Reproduction [Brief] (2003)

The court decided a child of in vitro fertilization born with cystic fibrosis does not have the right to sue for wrongful life even in the presence of demonstrable acts of medical negligence because to allow such a case would grant the IVF child rights not possessed by naturally born children. The decision in Paretta has not been publicly tested in other jurisdictions.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Jeter v. Mayo Clinic Arizona [Brief] (2005)

In Arizona, statutes that protect persons, such as the wrongful death statute, will not be interpreted by the courts to grant personhood status to frozen embryos. The legislature may grant such protection in the statute if it chooses to do so by explicitly defining the word person to include frozen embryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Turpin v. Sortini (1982)

The Supreme Court of California reversed the Superior Court of Fresno County's decision to dismiss the Turpins' claims in the case Turpin v. Sortini on 3 May 1982. The case was based upon a wrongful life claim, in which a disabled child sues physicians for neglecting to inform its parents of potential genetic defects, resulting in harm to the child when it is born. The Turpin case determined tha a physician could be liable for failing to inform parents of potential birth defects in the fetus.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

China's One-Child Policy

In September 1979, China's Fifth National People's Congress passed a policy that encouraged one-child families. Following this decision from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), campaigns were initiated to implement the One-Child Policy nationwide. This initiative constituted the most massive governmental attempt to control human fertility and reproduction in human history. These campaigns prioritized reproductive technologies for contraception, abortion, and sterilization in gynecological and obstetric medicine, while downplaying technologies related to fertility treatment.

Format: Articles

Subject: Ethics, Legal, Reproduction

Litowitz v. Litowitz [Brief] (2002)

Pursuant to an express provision of the embryo disposition contract they both signed, a husband and wife had to petition the court for instructions because they could not reach an agreement about what to do with frozen embryos when they divorced. The trial court awarded the pre-embryos to the husband and the Court of Appeals affirmed this decision. However, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the pre-embryos should be thawed out and allowed to expire because the dispute had not been resolved within a five year time frame prescribed by the Cryopreservation Agreement.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

The Baby Doe Rules (1984)

The Baby Doe Rules represent the first attempt by the US government to directly intervene in treatment options for neonates born with congenital defects. The name of the rule comes from the controversial 1982 case of a Bloomington, Indiana infant Baby Doe, a name coined by the media. The Baby Doe Rules mandate that, as a requirement for federal funding, hospitals and physicians must provide maximal care to any impaired infant, unless select exceptions are met. If a physician or parent chooses to withhold full treatment when the exceptions are not met, they are liable for medical neglect.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Social Implications of Non-Invasive Blood Tests to Determine the Sex of Fetuses

By 2011, researchers in the US had established that non-invasive blood tests can accurately determine the gender of a human fetus as early as seven weeks after fertilization. Experts predicted that this ability may encourage the use of prenatal sex screening tests by women interested to know the gender of their fetuses. As more people begin to use non-invasive blood tests that accurately determine the sex of the fetus at 7 weeks, many ethical questions pertaining to regulation, the consequences of gender-imbalanced societies, and altered meanings of the parent-child relationship.

Format: Articles

Subject: Reproduction, Ethics, Legal

Davis v. Davis (1992)

In Davis v. Davis (1992), the Supreme Court of Tennessee decided a dispute over cryopreserved preembryos in favor of Junior Lewis Davis, who sought to have the preembryos destroyed over the objections of his former wife, Mary Sue Davis. The decision in Davis, although not binding in other states, suggested a framework for resolving similar disputes in the US. That framework established that courts should follow the wishes of those who contribute their sperm and egg cells, or gamete providers, to create preembryos.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal

Whitner v. South Carolina (1997)

In the case Whitner v. South Carolina in 1997, the South Carolina State Supreme Court defined the concept of a child to include viable fetuses. This allowed grounds for prosecution of a pregnant womanÕs prenatal activity if those activities endangered or could potentially endanger the fetus within her. The case brought the issue of fetal rights versus pregnant womenÕs rights to light.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

Litowitz v. Litowitz (2002)

In a dispute over the allocation of cryopreserved preembryos, the Supreme Court of Washington resolved the case of David J. Litowitz v. Becky M. Litowitz (2002) by reaching a decision that neither party wanted. David Litowitz sought to find adoptive parents for two cryopreserved preembryos created during his marriage to Becky Litowitz when the couple was attempting to have children using in vitro fertilization (IVF). Becky sought to implant the preembryos in a surrogate in an effort to parent a child.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990)

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 established the legal framework that governs infertility treatment, medical services ancillary to infertility treatment such as embryo storage, and all human embryological research performed in the UK. The law also defines a legal concept of the parent of a child conceived with assisted reproductive technologies.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction, Ethics

Buck v. Bell (1927)

In 1927, the US Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell set the legal precedent that states may sterilize inmates of public institutions because the court argued that imbecility, epilepsy, and feeblemindedness are hereditary, and that the inmates should be prevented from passing these defects to the next generation. On 2 May 1927, in an eight to one decision, the US Supreme Court ordered that Carrie Buck, feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded mother and herself the mother of a feebleminded child, be sterilized under the 1924 Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. Buck v.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology (1984), by Mary Warnock and the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology

The Report of the Committee of Inquiry
into Human Fertilisation and Embryology, commonly called the Warnock
Report after the chair of the committee Mary Warnock, is the 1984
publication of a UK governmental inquiry into the social impacts of
infertility treatment and embryological research. The birth of Louise
Brown in 1978 in Oldham, UK, sparked debate about reproductive and
embryological technologies. Brown was conceived through in vitro
fertilization (IVF), a process of fertilization that occurs outside of

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Legal, Ethics

Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act (1921)

In November 1921, US Congress passed the National Maternity and Infancy Protection Act, also called the Sheppard-Towner Act. The Act provided federal funds to states to establish programs to educate people about prenatal health and infant welfare. Advocates argued that it would curb the high infant mortality rate in the US.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Outreach

Davis v. Davis [Brief] (1992)

This case was the first of its kind to address questions of personhood in the context of in vitro fertilization of a human embryo. It laid a foundation for future cases to work from: specifically, this case established the importance of prior written agreements for disposition of frozen embryos. This was also the first court decision to borrow the word "pre-embryo" from bioethics to describe the in vitro embryo. This terminology has been copied by many states.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

“Women’s Right to Know” Informed Consent Informational Materials

As of 2021, twenty-eight US states have informed consent laws for abortion, which is a medical procedure to terminate pregnancy, often called Women’s Right to Know laws. Those laws often require the state government to develop informational materials that healthcare providers must give to women before an abortion. Informational materials generally include information about the process of fetal development, accompanied by illustrations or pictures, risks and effects of abortion, and alternatives to abortion.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal

Woman’s Right to Know Act in North Carolina (2011)

The North Carolina state legislature passed The Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2011, which places several restrictions on abortion care in the state. The Woman’s Right to Know Act, or the Act, imposes informed consent requirements that physicians must fulfill before performing an abortion as well as a twenty-four hour waiting period between counseling and the procedure for people seeking abortion, with exceptions for cases of medical emergency.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction

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