High Court in Ireland Rules an Unborn Baby Has a Right to Life

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A High Court judge has ruled that the word ‘unborn’ in the Irish Constitution means an “unborn child” with rights beyond the right to life which “must be taken seriously” by the State.

The Irish Times reports that  Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said that the unborn child, including the unborn child of a parent facing deportation, enjoys “significant” rights and legal position at common law, by statute, and under the Constitution, “going well beyond the right to life alone”.

The judgement was made in a judical review of a deportation order. mail App

Mr Justice Humphreys said many of those rights were “actually effective” rather than merely prospective.

He also said that Article 42a of the Constitution, inserted by a 2012 referendum, obliges the State to protect “all” children and that because an “unborn” is “clearly a child”, Article 42a applied to all children “both before and after birth”.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said that this was a significant ruling which confirmed that the unborn baby was deserving of all the rights and protections to which every other person was entitled. She added that the ruling was a blow to those who were seeking to discriminate against children before birth and who argued that the preborn child was not fully human or entitled to human rights.

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“This is an important ruling which provides useful clarity at a time when the media and abortion campaigners are arguing that preborn children should be denied even the most fundamental right – the right to life,” she said. “Mr Justice Humphreys has ruled that preborn children not only have a right to life, but that the State is obliged to ensure that all the rights accruing to every child are upheld for children before birth.”

“It is interesting that in his decision Mr Justice Humphreys dismissed as ‘entirely without merit’ the argument made by the State that the only relevant right of an unborn child was a right to life,” she said.

“This ruling reminds us that we are a human being from conception and that our human rights must be protected and upheld from that point,” said the Life Institute spokeswoman.

Advice to Pregnant Women During the Lambing Season

Q1: What are the main infectious hazards for pregnant women in contact with sheep?A1: Chlamydiosis (EAE), toxoplasmosis and listeriosis. There is also increasing evidence of risks to unborn children from exposure to Coxiella burnetii (Q fever). All of these agents are zoonotic (i.e. can be transmitted between animals and humans). They can cause abortion in sheep and other domesticated species and may harm pregnant women or their unborn children. 

Q2: What other organisms cause abortion in sheep?A2: Campylobacterand Salmonella can sometimes cause abortion in sheep and can occasionally infect people who have direct contact with infected sheep. More rarely in the UK, abortion may be due to Border Disease (which does not infect people) or be caused by tick-borne fever or various fungi (some of which can affect people too). In many cases the cause of sheep abortion when investigated is never identified. 

Chlamydiosis (Enzootic Abortion of Ewes (EAE))

Q1: What is Chlamydiosis?Q1: Chlamydiosis is an infection caused by Chlamydia abortus (formerly known as Chlamydophila abortus). Chlamydiosis is thought to be transmitted by inhalation of aerosols and dusts heavily contaminated with the organism. It can cause serious disease in the unborn child, leading to stillbirth or miscarriage. 

Q2: What effects does EAE have in human pregnancy?A2: The main effects are severe, sometimes life-threatening, disease in the mother, and stillbirth or miscarriage. 

Q3: Is there any risk of later consequences?A3: If the pregnancy survives the acute infection, there appears to be no risk of long-term problems. There is no evidence that this infection can result in abnormalities in the baby when it is born (congenital malformation). 

Q4: What are the symptoms of the disease in humans?A4: Human infection may be asymptomatic but, where symptoms occur, they are commonly of a flu-like nature with headache, chills, fever, joint pains and non-productive cough. Photophobia, vomiting, sore throat and myocarditis may also occur. In pregnancy, a more severe form of the disease may occur, the majority of reported cases occurring between 24 and 36 weeks. This is characterised by systemic illness with disseminated intravascular coagulation, renal and hepatic complications. It is these cases that are most commonly associated with stillbirth or miscarriage, which generally occurs 3-8 days after the onset of the symptoms. 

Q5: Who is at risk?A5: Only women who have close contact with ewes at the time of aborting or giving birth, with new-born lambs and with placentae or products of conception. Infection has also been associated with handling of clothing and boots contaminated by contact with infected animals.  By its nature the risk is limited mainly to those actively working with sheep and their immediate contacts. Although EAE is known to be present in the sheep flocks in some cases, it is often overlooked in the first year in which it arrives in a flock because comparatively few ewes abort at that stage and these are not investigated. Typically, it is introduced into a flock by infected breeding females. Some of these suffer abortion in the first year and infect much of the rest of the flock, but these secondary cases do not suffer abortion until the following year and often a diagnosis is not made until then. 

Q6: How is the infection acquired?A6: The route of transmission to people is not known with certainty. Inhalation of aerosols and dusts heavily contaminated with Chlamydia abortus appears to be the likely route of infection. The organism is concentrated in the uterus of pregnant sheep and the infected placenta and uterine discharges are the most potent sources of the infectious agent. Contact with aborting sheep, sheep at risk of abortion, dead lambs, placentae and contaminated bedding are thus considered to represent a risk for humans. 

Q7: How common is this infection in people?A7: Human infection with Chlamydia abortus infection from ewes appears to be very unusual. Very few reports of Chlamydia abortus in pregnant women in England and Wales are received each year by Public Health England’s National Infection Service (NIS). In routine laboratory testing, and hence in reports to PHE, no distinction is made between avian (now termed Chlamydia psittaci) and mammalian (ovine) Chlamydia abortus. The avian strain is not confined to psittacine birds but is common, for example, in feral pigeons. However, with the exception of one case, the severe form of the disease associated with human abortion has been due to the mammalian strain. 

Q8: What tests are available to confirm the diagnosis?A8: Diagnosis rests chiefly on clinical suspicion, and treatment should be started on that basis. Diagnosis is generally confirmed by serological testing but this requires testing of both acute and convalescent sera. The complement fixation test (CFT) does not distinguish between Chlamydia abortus and C. pneumoniae, and microimmunofluorescence or whole cell inclusion immunofluorescence tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis of Chlamydia abortus. Serological tests to distinguish avian and mammalian strains of Chlamydia may be available on a research basis. 

Q9: Is there any effective treatment?I Chlamydia abortus is susceptible to antibiotics. If you think you have been infected or are at risk, you should seek advice from your medical practitioner. 

Q10: Is there any vaccine?A10: There are no effective chlamydial vaccines for human use available at present. 

Q11: Are subsequent pregnancies likely to be at any risk?A11: Following enzootic abortion, sheep generally acquire long-lasting immunity and give birth normally in subsequent pregnancies. Very limited data suggest that this is also the case in humans. 

Q12: Is the infection common in sheep and goats in the UK?A12: Yes. EAE is the commonest cause of infectious abortion in sheep. C. abortus is a rare cause of abortion in cattle. Each confirmed case generally represents an outbreak in the source flock or herd and the total number of animals affected is therefore considerably higher. 

Q13: What are the manifestations of disease in sheep?A13: Characteristically, the production of dead or weak lambs in the last two or three weeks of pregnancy. 

Q14: Is a vaccine available for use in sheep?A14: Yes. A live vaccine is available.  It should not be handled by pregnant women or women of childbearing age. 

Toxoplasmosis

Q1: What is toxoplasmosis?A1: Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Infection in people and animals is usually asymptomatic or mild and self-limiting. When symptoms do appear, these are most commonly persistent acute fever with enlarged lymph glands. Very rarely, there may be severe infection involving the brain, muscle and eye. 

Q2: How is the infection acquired?A2: Routes of infection include contamination of cuts and grazes by soil, cat litter or faeces in which the parasite is present, and ingestion of tissue cysts in infected meat.  Consequently, women should ensure that, if they eat meat during pregnancy, it is well cooked. If contact with animals that have aborted or have recently given birth is unavoidable, open wounds (cuts, grazes etc,) should be covered with waterproof dressings beforehand and hands should be thoroughly washed after handling animals to prevent the possibility of infection. Transmission of the organism can also occur from hand-to-mouth contact with faeces of infected cats, contaminated soil or poorly washed garden or allotment produce. 

Q3: Who is at risk?A3: Pregnant women and individuals with a depressed immune system are most at risk from infection with Toxoplasma gondii.

Q4: How common is this infection in pregnant women?A4: In the UK, toxoplasmosis is thought to affect about two per thousand pregnancies each year, although the number of confirmed diagnoses is much lower. Less than half of these infections are transmitted to the unborn baby. Even when transmission occurs, the majority of babies (90-95%) have no symptoms. 

Q5: What effects does toxoplasmosis have on babies when the infection has been acquired in pregnancy?A5: Toxoplasmosis acquired for the first time in pregnancy may infect the foetus and this could lead to congenital malformation, however, the majority of babies (90-95%) have no symptoms.  Some affected babies may develop eye disease in later life. 

Q6: If one pregnancy is affected by toxoplasmosis, are subsequent pregnancies likely to be at risk?A6: No. Chronic or recurrent infection in expectant mothers is not associated with foetal infection. 

Q7: What tests are available to confirm the diagnosis?A7: Blood tests can be carried out to detect antibodies to the organism. Since these may reflect infection in the past, confirmatory tests have to be carried out to see whether the infection is recent. 

Q8: Is there any effective treatment?A8: Toxoplasmosis is generally a mild, self-limiting disease and does not usually require specific treatment when it occurs in normal, healthy people.  

Q9: Is there a vaccine available for humans?A9: No. 

Q10: Is the infection common in sheep and goats in the UK?A10: After chlamydiosis (EAE), toxoplasmosis is generally the second most common diagnosed cause of abortion in sheep in the UK.  

Q11: What are the manifestations of disease in sheep?A11: Abortion, often occurring in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy.  Full term lambs may be born dead or alive but weak, often dying within the first two weeks of life.  Mummified lambs, often one of a pair, may be seen. 

Q12: Is a vaccine for use in sheep available?A12: Yes. There is a live vaccine for use in sheep.  It should not be handled by pregnant women or women of childbearing age, as accidental self administration or ingestion may interfere with normal foetal development. 

Listeria

Q1: What is listeriosis?A1: Listeriosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This disease can cause serious disease in the unborn or newborn child. The disease may be transmitted by contact with infected animals or ingestion of contaminated food. 

Q2: What effects does listeria have in human pregnancy?A2: Infection may cause abortion or premature birth. Infection of the baby in the womb or during delivery may lead to septicaemia and meningitis with a 50-100% mortality. 

Q3: Is there any risk of later consequences?A3: Infection in the newborn may take the form of disseminated granulomatous disease involving many organs including respiratory tract, eyes and nervous system. 

Q4: What are the symptoms of the disease in adults?A4: Infection in pregnancy generally presents as a mild flu-like illness. 

Q5: How is the infection acquired?A5: Infection is acquired by ingestion and most cases are probably the result of consumption of contaminated food. If contact with animals that are or have recently given birth is unavoidable, careful personal hygiene precautions and thorough washing of the hands after handling animals should prevent any possibility of infection. 

Q6: How common is this infectionA6: There are up to 25 cases of listeriosis in pregnancy reported annually in the UK, but it is not known how many of these, if any, are associated with direct contact with animals. 

Q7: What tests are available to confirm the diagnosis?A7: The diagnosis may be made by culturing the organism from the mother’s blood or faeces. 

Q8: Is there any effective treatment?A8: Listeria monocytogenes is susceptible to a number of antibiotics. 

Q9: Is there any vaccine?A9:  No. 

Q10: If one pregnancy is affected by listeria, are subsequent pregnancies likely to be at any risk?A10: No. Chronic or recurrent infection in expectant mothers is not associated with foetal infection 

Q11: Is the infection common in sheep and goats?A11: There are generally 150-250 animal diagnoses per year in the UK. 

Q12: What are the manifestations of disease in sheep?A12: Abortion from 12 weeks of pregnancy onwards.  There may be occasional deaths in ewes. Encephalitis due to listeria infection may also be seen, but is not generally associated with abortion. 

Qv fever

Q1:What is Q fever?A1: Q fever is caused by the Coxiella burnetii organism, and is widespread globally among livestock and domestic ruminants. Sheep, cattle and goats are the most frequent source of human infection, although pets such as dogs and cats may also be a source. 

Q2: What effects does Q fever have in human pregnancy?A2: Q fever acquired during pregnancy is usually asymptomatic in the mother, although chronic infections may subsequently become apparent. Occasionally, acute Q fever in pregnancy, regardless of whether this is symptomatic or not, may result in an adverse effect on the fetus and may result in a premature birth, a low birth weight, or miscarriage. 

Q3: Is there any risk of later consequences?A3: Subsequent pregnancies may also be at risk due to the possibility of a chronic infection in the woman. 

Q4: What are the symptoms of the disease in humans?A4: Most people who are infected have no or very mild symptoms, but very rarely serious illness occurs. Symptoms appear 2-3 weeks after exposure and include a flu-like illness with prolonged fever, tiredness, headache, muscle pains and occasionally pneumonia or other complications. Some people develop chronic illness, with symptoms persisting for more than six months. Rarely, endocarditis (heart valve infection) may occur. This generally occurs in people who already have damaged heart valves or who have had heart by-pass surgery. 

Q5: How is the infection acquired?A5: Inhalation is the main route of transmission to people, either from direct exposure to infected tissues (e.g. birth products) or indirectly through contaminated materials. Humans are at greatest risk of exposure when animals are handled while giving birth. The birth fluids and placental tissues associated with both aborted and normally born young can contain large numbers of Coxiella burnetii organisms if the animal is infectedThey may also be present in faeces, urine or raw (untreated) milk. Contaminated bedding also poses a risk. Coxiella burnetii may gain entry to the body by transmission through cuts in the skin, and can sometimes be spread via tick bites. Only small numbers of organisms are required to establish an infection.  Person-to-person spread does not generally occur. 

Q6: How common is this infection in people?A6: The true incidence of Q fever is probably underestimated because many cases are mild or show no symptoms. The peak incidence of infection in people in the UK is associated with the spring/early summer lambing season. 

Q7: What tests are available to confirm the diagnosis?A7: Q fever is confirmed by blood testing to detect the presence of antibodies to Coxiella burnetii antigens.   

Q8: How is Q fever treated?A8: Women who develop Q fever in pregnancy may be treated with co-trimoxazole but professional medical advice should always be sought. 

Q9: Is there a vaccine against Q fever?A9: A vaccine is currently licensed for use in cattle and goats. However at present there is no licensed vaccine against Q fever available in the UK for people. 

Q10: Is it possible to identify animals with Q fever?A10: In mammals infection can result in late-stage abortion, stillbirths or delivery of weak offspring.  Most animals that are infected have no clinical signs, but such individuals can still represent a risk for people. Precautions on farms (and at other sites where animals are present and may give birth) relate to hygienic practices rather than specific action to minimise or eradicate this disease. 

Q11: Is the infection common in farmed animals in the UK?A11: A surveillance project was carried out in Great Britain in 2010. Results showed low seroprevalence, with estimates of 1.0% for sheep and 0.9% for goats, between-flock prevalence of 10.2% (sheep) and 2.97% (goats), and within flock prevalence of 10.2% (sheep) and 29.9% (goats). A similar survey was carried out in cattle in Northern Ireland in 2008. This demonstrated that 6.2% of cattle and 48.4% of herds tested positive, with 64.5% of dairy herds positive.

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