Medicine and the Law

Late termination of pregnancy: when is it ‘lawful’?

Loane Skene, Paul Nisselle



A recent case in Victoria involving an alleged late termination of pregnancy for dwarfism has brought forth issues that lie at the heart of the abortion debate. Professor Skene explains the legal dilemma for doctors; Series Editor Dr Nisselle outlines the kind of referral letter and medical note entry that should be written when referring patients for (consideration of) therapeutic abortion.

Article Extract

In early July, three senior medical staff were suspended by the Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne after an allegation that they had terminated a pregnancy at 32 weeks. The mother was apparently suicidal after discovering that the fetus was likely to be a dwarf. The doctors were later reinstated and the hospital later prepared interim guidelines for termination of pregnancy. At time of writing, the State Coroner and the Medical Practitioners’ Board are investigating the matter. But the case raises important issues about the legality of late terminations, especially where the condition of the fetus is not of the most serious kind.