In re A.C.

573 A.2d 1235 (1990)

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In re A.C.

District of Columbia Court of Appeals
573 A.2d 1235 (1990)

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AC (defendant) had completed treatment for leukemia and was in remission when she became pregnant. When AC was 25 weeks pregnant, her physicians found a cancerous tumor in her lung. AC was given a terminal prognosis. AC was admitted into the George Washington University Hospital (hospital) (plaintiff) the following week. AC informed the physicians that if her gestational period reached the 28-week mark, the physicians should do everything possible to save the fetus, even at the expense of AC’s life. However, there was no discussion regarding whether AC consented to the physicians taking all possible measures to save the fetus before the 28-week mark. When AC’s pregnancy reached 26 weeks, she had to be heavily sedated and the fetus was suffering oxygen deprivation. The hospital filed a petition in superior court, seeking a declaratory order from the court as to whether the hospital could perform a cesarean section to save the life of the fetus without AC’s direct consent. The court held a hearing at the hospital. Some physicians testified that AC would not have wanted to deliver the baby before 28 weeks because the baby was at an increased risk for certain handicaps, but other physicians believed AC would have consented to the cesarean section. The court authorized the procedure on the ground that the fetus was viable and the state had an interest in protecting the potential life. Shortly after the decision, AC had a period of lucidity, during which she first consented to the cesarean section but then changed her mind and withdrew consent. The court declined to stay the order authorizing the cesarean, and the surgery was performed. Both AC and the baby died. A few months later, the court heard the case en banc. The court held that interference with a mother’s bodily integrity is permissible if it gives a potentially viable fetus a chance at life. Three years later, AC’s personal representative sued the hospital. The representative argued that the state should not have subordinated AC’s right to bodily integrity to the state’s interest in preserving the potential life of a viable fetus. Though AC’s specific case was moot, the court agreed to hear the appeal because similar situations were likely to occur in the future.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Terry, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Belson, J.)

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