UPDATE: Fight for stillborns resisted

Voice of the unborn babies from the left are: Nicci Coertze-Kruger, Renaldi Ingram and Sonja Smith. Photo: Jason Milford

A legal battle for the rights of stillborn babies younger than 26 weeks has run into opposition.

Both the ministers of health and home affairs had given notice that they would resist a court application in this regard.

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The matter is being brought by a group calling itself The Voice of the Unborn Baby (Votub).

It was formed by businesswoman Sonja Smith, lawyer Renaldi Ingram and bereavement counsellor Nicci Coertze Kruger.

Votub has initiated legal action to compel the ministers of health and home affairs to amend some sections of the Birth and Registrations Act.

In its current form, the Act stipulates that stillborn babies younger than 26 weeks be regarded and treated as medical waste.

Votub contended that the Act infringed the right of parents’ constitutional rights and the right to privacy, dignity and equality.

The organisation said both ministers concerned had notified it that their departments would oppose the legal bid.

“We have assured unhappy parents in SA that we will persist in fighting the good fight by following the legal process with a view to have a hearing so that the courts can decide on the outcome,” said Votub.

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The matter was scheduled to have continued in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

Ingram said the matter was placed on the unopposed motion roll of the court.

“Due to the complexity, seriousness and sensitivity of the matter, the court advised the parties to approach the deputy judge president of Gauteng and request him to manage the court process and to issue a directive as to the continuation of the matter.”

Ingram said Votub was in the process to draft a request to the deputy judge president for his directive, to be sent to his office by Thursday.

“Whilst we welcome the fact that our case will eventually be heard in the courts of South Africa, this still means parents who had lost a baby pre-26 weeks of gestation, had no legal right to bury their babies,” said Ingram.

“We believe though that justice will be done when our case is eventually heard,” Ingram said. Votub had full and utter confidence in their legal team and was looking forward to a positive outcome of the case.

The High Court application was formally lodged at the High Court in Pretoria on 8 March this year.

Votub described its action as a fight for the rights of parents to say a proper goodbye to a stillborn child.

Parents should have a choice so that these foetuses were not automatically treated as medical waste. Current legislation determines that such babies be thrown away in red anatomical buckets as batches of common medical waste together with amputated arms, legs, tumours and other organs that are disposed of in an incinerator.

“Parents who endure pregnancy loss at any stage during their pregnancy, who suffered miscarriage or stillbirth, deserve the right to bury or cremate in a dignified fashion what they already perceive as their prospective babies.”

Votub said it had hoped that an agreement could be reached with the two ministers before the matter went to court, but nothing to this effect had materialised.

“We are therefore proceeding with the legal process and this ground-breaking case,” said Votub.

Inquiries for comment have been submitted to both the departments of health and of home affairs.

No reaction has been received by the time of going to print.

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Jason Milford

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