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New Jersey high court rejects medical duty to say embryo is 'existing human being'

[JURIST] The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] Wednesday ruled [syllabus and opinion, PDF] 5-0 that New Jersey doctors do not have a duty to inform abortion-seeking patients that an embryo is an "existing human being." The court declined to use the case of Acuna v. Turkish to weigh in on the issue of when life begins, holding that

a physician has a common law duty to provide a woman with material information concerning the medical risks of terminating her pregnancy; however, there is no common law duty requiring a physician to inform a pregnant patient that an embryo is an existing, living human being and that an abortion results in the killing of a family member.
Rose Acuna sued Dr. Sheldon C. Turkish for medical malpractice, wrongful death, and emotional distress after consenting to an abortion that Turkish allegedly said would remove an embryo that was "only blood." After complications arose from an incomplete abortion, a nurse told Acuna that "parts of the baby" remained inside her; Acuna said she suffered emotional distress because she was not informed that the embryo was a "complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being." The court said that there is a clear lack of consensus among the medical community and the public whether the plaintiff's assertions are medical fact or moral beliefs. The US Supreme Court will decide later this month whether to hear a separate issue in the case concerning an equal protection challenge to the New Jersey wrongful death statute.

The ACLU called [press release] the New Jersey ruling a victory for abortion rights and free speech, commending the court's refusal to "turn doctors into ideological mouthpieces and subject women to non-medical moral judgments." Similar cases are pending in South Dakota [JURIST report] and Illinois. AP has more.

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