The 22-week infant was found breathing a day after the operation. He died one day later in intensive care at a hospital in the mother’s home town of Rossano, in southern Italy.
The mother, pregnant for the first time, had opted for an abortion after prenatal scans revealed that the foetus had a cleft lip and palate, according to reports in the Italian media. The condition is treatable with surgery.
The baby – weighing just 11oz – survived the procedure, carried out on Saturday in the Rossano Calabro hospital, but was left by doctors to die.
He was discovered alive the following day – some 20 hours after the operation – by Father Antonio Martello, the hospital chaplain, who had gone to pray beside his body.
He found that the baby, wrapped in a sheet with his umbilical cord still attached, was moving and breathing.
The priest raised the alarm and doctors immediately arranged for the infant to be taken to a specialist neo-natal unit at the neighbouring Cosenza hospital, where he died on Monday morning.
The story has caused outrage in Italy, where many have called for the country’s abortion laws to be changed.
On Thursday, Archbishop Santo Marciano of Rossano-Cariati, criticised the “arbitrary superficiality” of hospital staff and said the Catholic country should reflect on its attitudes both to the unborn and to the disabled.
The prelate said the case should “lead civil society to reflect on the tragic character of abortion, in so far as it is the suppression of a human being, and in this case, on the illicit character of the definition ‘therapeutic’.
“In fact, it is not a ‘cure’ but reinforces the eugenic mentality that is spreading, and which not only increases recourse to abortion, but poses serious questions regarding the alleged benefit to the woman’s health and on the natural meaning of maternity,” he told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
“It also invites us to consider with what ease a person who is seriously malformed and simply undesired is treated inhumanly.”
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, a former senior Vatican official, said the law needed to be clarified to ensure that viable foetuses – those able to survive outside the womb – are protected by law.
“If the aborted foetus, in a voluntary or accidental way, is alive – also if it is at the limit of survival, at the age limit – the doctor is in the presence of a foetus that, because it is strong or because the dates were not properly calculated, fortunately, is living,” he said.
The doctor “is obliged to make it live”, the bishop told Vatican Radio, adding that “the law must clarify this”.
Italian police are investigating the case for homicide because infanticide is illegal in Italy.
The law means that doctors have had an obligation to try to preserve the life of the child once he had survived the abortion.
The Italian government has promised an inquiry.
Since 1978, abortion has been available on demand in Italy in the first three months of pregnancy but is restricted to specific circumstances – such as disability – in the second trimester. The government is considering a review of the working of the laws.