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

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

Chief Justice W.H. "Dub" Arnold cited a 1999 law that changed the definition of a person in the state's criminal code to include a living fetus 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 after she was admitted to the hospital. Her husband, Philip, charged in his suit that the medical personnel were negligent in her care.

Arnold said the state's courts had relied on common law that did not provide any protection for an unborn child until 1999 legislative action that 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."

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