By Elizabeth O’Brien
SEOUL, July 13, 2007 ( – On July 9 the Supreme Court of South Korea stated that a human fetus is not a human person until the morning that the mother goes into labor, JoongAng Daily reports.

The ruling was based on a case that took place in 2001 when a 37-year old pregnant woman gave birth to a stillborn baby two weeks overdue. When the woman experienced no labor pains at the natural time, she was advised by a midwife to wait past her delivery due date. They finally delivered the baby through Caesarean section, but the child had already died from brain damage. The mid-wife was charged with “negligent injury,” and later “negligent homicide.”

According to JoongAng, the court ruled that the child was separate from the mother’s body, and therefore the midwife could not be charged with “negligent injury.” She was also not guilty of “negligent homicide,” for, as the final ruling stated, “The mother did not have labor pains, which is the beginning of childbirth, thus the unborn baby cannot be recognized as a human being.”

The decision was in accordance with past court rulings in 1982 and 1998, which stated that an unborn child could only be ruled a person after labor begins. Commenting on the present legal position, Presiding Judge Park Si-hwan declared, “Right now, it is too early to change Korea’s legal point of view that an unborn child is not a human being.”

The ruling has raising an outcry from Catholics throughout the country, AsiaNews states. Fr. Lee Dong-ik, professor of medicine at the Catholic University of Korea and a member of the Bioethics Committee at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, called it an “extremely shocking and deplorable verdict.” He said, “Every country has slightly different legal grounds on when to consider an unborn a human being, but no country has such a definitive ruling that an unborn baby is not a human being.”

Calling the ruling a “social defeat”, he continued, “We are living in an era in which a 21-week unborn child can be saved with an incubator. It is unacceptable to see a verdict where a 42-week unborn is not considered a human being”.

Korea is in line with Canada and Germany’s position that an unborn baby is not considered a human person. Abortion can merit a punishment, however, of up to one year in prison. In 2002 France also ruled that an unborn baby is not a human person.

At present, Canada has no legal punishment when the murder of a mother causes the death of her unborn child. In the United States, however, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), declares that all children “in utero” are considered a second-and distinct-victim of violence in the case of the mother being injured.
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