The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled that a viable fetus is aperson in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The Thursday (May 10) judgment overturned a circuit court ruling inwhich a judge decided in favor of a Pine Bluff, Ark., hospital andseveral doctors in a suit brought by a man whose wife and unborn childdied during birth procedures.

Chief Justice W.H. "Dub" Arnold cited a 1999 law that changed thedefinition of a person in the state's criminal code to include a livingfetus at least 12 weeks old, the Associated Press reported. "Given this amended definition of `person,' the Legislature plainly affords protection to unborn viable fetuses," Arnold wrote.

Evangeline Aka and her unborn son died in 1995 about 30 hours aftershe was admitted to the hospital. Her husband, Philip, charged in hissuit that the medical personnel were negligent in her care.

Arnold said the state's courts had relied on common law that did notprovide any protection for an unborn child until 1999 legislative actionthat defined a fetus as a person in some cases of criminal law. "The relevance of the Legislature's response, by statutorily defining person in the criminal context to include a fetus, cannot be understated," he wrote. "The expressed public policy of the General Assembly justifies a break from precedent."