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Foetal Personhood Laws - Community Forum (Part 2)

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    Our next speaker is Dr Philippa Ramsey.
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    Dr Ramsey is an obstetrician and gynaecologist
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    who has been in practice for 20 years.
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    Her speciality is obstetric and gynaecological ultrasound
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    and prenatal diagnosis of fetal abnormalities.
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    She's a visiting medical officer
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    at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Sydney Adventist Hospital
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    and she lectures in obstetrics and gynaecology
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    at the University of Sydney.
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    Philippa is an examiner in obstetric and gynaecological ultrasound
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    for the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of O and G
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    and she also runs a busy private practice
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    called Ultrasound Care at Newtown, Randwick, St Leonards and Wahroonga.
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    Welcome Philippa.
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    [applause and footsteps]
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    If you choose that…
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    Where do we have Philippa's—?
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    [inaudible]
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    Removable.
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    This one?
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    Yep. Just check that.
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    [inaudible]
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    OK, great.
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    [footsteps]
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    [cough in audience]
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    Thank you everybody for coming tonight.
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    I'm really heartened by the level of interest
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    in this really important topic.
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    And I want to thank you for inviting me to speak
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    except I have to admit that I haven't been invited to speak
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    I volunteered to speak because I feel so strongly about this.
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    So, uh, how do I go down?
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    So first of all I want to pay due respect
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    to those who have been the victims of crime
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    and to those who've lost their babies or miscarried their pregnancies
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    and who are still mourning them.
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    This talk is not about that.
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    I want to talk about the issues I have
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    with the proposed fetal personhood laws
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    and how it would change maternity provision
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    in this state and how it would impact
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    upon obstetricians and midwives
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    and the patients we look after.
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    So, I'll start with the small things.
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    First of all, I really disagree with the terminology.
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    Obstetricians and midwives are completely unanimous
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    about the words embryo, fetus and baby.
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    We call— we use embryo up until 10 weeks gestation,
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    which is 8 weeks of fetal development.
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    We use fetus after that, from 10 weeks until birth.
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    And after that until one year of age
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    we call the baby a baby.
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    And, uh, too, I've got to say,
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    obstetricians and midwives agree with that,
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    embryologists agree with that,
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    and even Wikipedia agrees with that.
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    [laughter]
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    So, uh, to rename the fetus an unborn baby
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    is really messing with our heads.
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    So the proposed law calls this, sorry, an "unborn child" from 20 weeks gestation on.
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    And I guess it's going to be a fetus before that.
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    But uh, this new label "unborn child" really messes with my head.
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    I think that the milestones of birth and death
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    are really clear and really unambiguous.
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    But if we rename the ch— the fetus to be
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    an "unborn child" it's as silly as
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    calling a newborn baby a "born fetus".
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    Or deciding that from now on
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    I want to be known as a "live corpse".
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    [laughter]
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    I just think it's, uh,
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    ridiculous and it just confuses, uh,
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    it confuses the issue.
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    But I understand the reason behind the new label.
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    Uh, because obviously, the phrase "unborn child"
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    is an elevation in status.
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    It's a promotion from fetus.
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    And this new label implies that this fetus
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    warrants the status of parenthood,
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    sorry, personhood, as if it's independent of the pregnant woman,
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    as if it's separate from the pregnant woman.
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    And I can promise you,
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    I've been an obstetrician for a long time,
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    and I can promise you that a fetus is
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    not independent and separate from the pregnant woman.
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    And I want to talk about three issues:
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    of pregnant women's lifestyles,
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    pregnant women's right to consent
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    to medical or surgical treatment for fetal conditions,
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    and the issues again of termination of pregnancy.
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    Just look at the picture.
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    The fetus is not independent
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    and separate from the pregnant woman.
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    And research shows that 1 in 7 Australian women
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    keeps smoking during pregnancy,
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    even though their health carers explain to them
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    that it is not good for the fetus,
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    that it causes fetal interuterine growth restriction,
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    that it increases the risk of stillbirth and neonatal problems,
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    even with all the knowledge in the world,
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    1 in 7 Australian women keeps smoking during pregnancy
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    because they are addicted.
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    And what about pregnant women who are addicted to illict drugs?
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    Or addicted to alcohol?
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    What about the pregnant woman who still
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    eats sushi and salami and pre-mixed salad
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    even though we advise them not to.
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    I can see you out there.
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    [laughter]
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    We know that this food might or could possibly harm the fetus
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    and still, it's not that easy.
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    We don't universally stop all behaviours
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    which could adversely affect the fetus
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    when we're pregnant.
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    Even though it may be a very wanted pregnancy
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    and a beloved fetus and beloved baby.
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    So if there is an adverse outcome,
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    the proposed law labels it, you know,
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    harming the fetus, grievous bodily harm to the unborn baby.
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    And it would be a criminal act under the proposed legislation,
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    except for a tiny exception,
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    and that is that it's OK for the pregnant woman to do it.
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    And when it comes to fetal procedures,
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    the fetus is clearly not independent and separate
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    from the pregnant woman.
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    Under those blue drapes
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    there are living breathing anaethetised women
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    who are allowing their body to be operating upon and traversed
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    to benefit their fetus.
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    Not to benefit them.
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    So if a paediatrician or a husband
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    wants a Caesearan section for this fetus
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    it has to be through the body of that pregnant woman.
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    So it would be great if fetal rights were
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    completely independent of women's rights.
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    And I love this graph, which I found on the Internet,
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    that shows the ideal situation.
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    Wouldn't it be great if the pregnant woman
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    had 100% of all of her pre-pregnant rights
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    continuing right through the pregnancy
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    despite the fact that some would like
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    to give the fetus the rights of personhood
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    in the third trimester or any time after 20 weeks gestation.
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    That the rights of the fetus should increase with gestational age.
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    But unfortunately this graph is
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    uh, a dream.
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    If a fetus has personhood, it has rights
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    equal to those of the pregnant woman
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    so for example if a paediatrician was advocating for the fetus
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    he may recommend that the obstetrician
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    perform a procedure on the fetus.
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    But as I've mentioned, it has to be via
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    the pregnant woman's body.
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    If the pregnant woman listens to all of the medical advice
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    and considers all of the evidence
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    and considers the impact on the fetus
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    and considers the impact on herself
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    and decides she doesn't want this procedure,
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    whose rights are going to be preeminent?
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    This fetus may want an operation on itself
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    or someone advocating for this so-called person
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    might want an operation on the fetus
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    um, but it has to be done through the mother.
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    So in reality if the fetus's rights increase
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    after 20 weeks gestation because it's been elevated to personhood
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    then by definition the mother's rights
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    to say no to these things
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    which may be beneficial for the fetus
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    by definition the mother's rights have to decrease.
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    But I feel that women must have the right
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    to choose what will or won't be done to their body.
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    Women must be the gatekeepers of their own body.
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    I mean we have been struggling for that for centuries.
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    And many women in many countries
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    are still not the gatekeepers of their own body.
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    They are still subject to rape in marriage, as an example.
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    And it's not illegal.
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    So I don't think we can get away from the fact
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    that conferring personhood on a fetus
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    impacts on the rights of the pregnant woman over her own body.
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    So what about when a pregnant woman
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    has a fetus who's found to have a lethal abnormality?
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    An abnormality that is going to lead to the death of that fetus,
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    either as a fetal demise in utero, a stillbirth,
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    or a fetal death during labour or soon after labour.
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    Or a pregnant woman whose fetus has a major fetal abnormality.
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    I counsel lots of women and their partners
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    in this situation every week.
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    And unfortunately there are really only two options.
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    The option to continue the pregnancy
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    or the option to terminate the pregnancy.
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    Fetal medicine has come a long way
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    but— and it's certainly come a long way with diagnostic tricks.
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    So we are now very good at diagnosing
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    all sorts of fetal abnormalities and
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    we know most of the prognoses for most of them.
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    But unfortunately fetal medicine hasn't
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    progressed to the stage where
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    some sort of fancy in utero treatment
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    is going to save lots of lives
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    or relieve lots of suffering.
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    There are actually very few fetal interventions
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    for major fetal abnormalities
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    and most of the lethal fetal abnormalities
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    are still lethal.
Title:
Foetal Personhood Laws - Community Forum (Part 2)
Description:

On September 26th 2013, Dr Mehreen Faruqi and the Greens NSW Women's Groups hosted a community forum on the legal and health implications on a foetal personhood before the NSW Parliament, the controversial Crimes Amendment (Zoe's Law)(No. 2). This clip features the second of three speakers, obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Philippa Ramsay.

It is a repackaged version of a Bill introduced by Reverend the Hon Fred Nile in the NSW Legislative Council earlier this year, seeking to grant legal personhood to a foetus.

Zoe's Law proposes to amend the Crimes Act 1900 to recognise the separate existence of the foetus of a pregnant woman that is of at least 20 weeks' gestation, thereby seeking to redefine what it is to be a "person" in NSW for grievous bodily harm (GBH) offences. This conceptual change to the law is both dangerous and unnecessary.

There is already adequate provision in the justice system to respond appropriately to criminal incidents involving the death of an unborn child. An offence of this nature causing destruction of a foetus already carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years. The same conclusion was reached by The Honourable Michael Campbell QC when he was asked by the then NSW Government to review the Crimes Act 1900 to assess current provisions.

On 6 September 2013, the NSW Bar Association, in response to the proposed legislation argues that there are "legitimate concerns" about the broader implications of the Bill. Once a definition of a foetus as a living person for the purpose of this Bill is adopted, "it would be difficult to resist its adoption in respect of other New South Wales criminal laws".

On 10 September 2013, the AMA wrote to NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner with their concerns that the Bill could have unintended impacts on doctors in areas from genetics to obstetrics with unintended consequences and flow-on effects in other areas of medicine.

The unfortunate truth is that this Bill is just the latest in a sustained attack on women's rights.

For more information, have a look at Dr Faruqi's SBS article: www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/09/27/comment-legislating-foetal-personhood-misguided-public-policy or visit her website: www.mehreenfaruqi.org.au.

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Video Language:
English
Duration:
16:29

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