Gauteng court action over foetus burial vs medical waste

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At what point should a foetus be legally considered human? That issue will come before the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) in November when an NGO, Voice of the Unborn Baby, will argue to have the law changed.

The law states that after a miscarriage, foetuses under 26 weeks must be disposed of as medical waste. This, notes a Sunday Times report, is because a foetus is only considered ‘viable’, or able to survive outside the womb, from that point. But the NGO argues that parents have a right to bury their unborn children no matter how far into the pregnancy the miscarriage occurs.

To bury the foetus, a death certificate must be completed for a burial notice to be issued.

The Departments of Health and Home Affairs are contesting the application. Both argue that a child before 26 weeks is not viable to survive therefore does not require a death certificate or burial.

Voice of the Unborn Baby was founded by funeral director Sonja Smith after she had to watch a hospital employee search through medical waste for miscarried triplets. She said that denying parents the right to bury a dead child stripped them of their constitutional right to equality, dignity and privacy. In joint papers, the departments argue that Smith is not bringing the case in the public interest but has ‘a strong financial interest’. ‘Given that the deponent is … managing director of a funeral home, it is doubtful if she genuinely acts in the interests of the members of Voice of the Unborn Baby,’ they said.

Sunday Times report (subscription needed)

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