Challenging the ‘Born Alive’ Threshold: Fetal Surgery, Artificial Wombs, and the English Approach to Legal Personhood

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English law is unambiguous that legal personality, and with it all legal rights and protections, is assigned at birth. This rule is regarded as a bright line that is easily and consistently applied. The time has come, however, for the rule to be revisited. This article demonstrates that advances in fetal surgery and (anticipated) artificial wombs do not marry with traditional conceptions of birth and being alive in law. These technologies introduce the possibility of ex utero gestation, and/or temporary existence ex utero, and consequently developing human beings that are novel to the law. Importantly, therefore, the concepts of birth and born alive no longer distinguish between human beings deserving of legal protection in the way originally intended. Thus, there is a need for reform, for a new approach to determining the legal significance of birth and what being legally alive actually encompasses. Investigating the law of birth is of crucial importance, because of the implications of affording or denying the subjects of new reproductive technologies rights and protections. A determination of the legal status of the subject of fetal surgery or an artificial womb will determine what can and cannot be done to each entity. Moreover, the status afforded to these entities will drastically impact on the freedoms of pregnant women.
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Archival date: 2019-07-20
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