Abnormal Fetus and Its Moral Status


The moral status of a fetus has remained a contentious ethical over time, depending on prevailing theories. While some theories confer a varied level of moral status to a fetus, other theories assign intrinsic moral status (Brown, 2018). The independence between a mother and fetus complicates the determination of moral status. Since a fetus is dependent on its mother, it has limited moral status, which advances as it grows and gains independence (Brown, 2018).

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Moreover, cultural values and religious beliefs have a marked impact on the determination of the moral status of a fetus. In essence, health conditions and social environment are significant factors that determine the moral status of the fetus. Thus, this case analysis seeks to identify nursing theories that parties used to determine the moral status of the abnormal fetus and recommend the most feasible one.

Theories Used by Parties

All parties, namely, Dr. Wilson, Aunt Maria, Marco, Jessica, and the priest, used the theory of relationships, for each one of them has an obligation towards the fetus. In the case study, it is apparent that all parties ensure that they play their respective roles. While Dr. Wilson provides accurate information and professional solution, Aunt Maria offers social support and religious instructions. Marco and Jessica concentrate on the provision of parental care, love, and protection to their unborn baby. In the social system, the priest offers spiritual guidance to Marco, Jessica, and Aunt Maria for them to believe in God and manage difficulties in their lives.

Jessica, Marco, and Aunt Maria used the theory of human properties in supporting their pro-life decision of protecting the fetus. This theory holds that a fetus has a moral status because its components, such as genetic material, cells, and tissues, have human properties (MacKinnon & Fiala, 2018). The concern demonstrated by parents and the aunt indicates that they recognize the fetus as human despite the abnormalities diagnosed.

Dr. Wilson utilizes the theory of cognitive properties in determining the moral status of the fetus. According to this theory, humans have cognitive capacities that allow them to make rational decisions, communicate effectively, perform activities of daily living, and comprehend their existence (Potier & Reeves, 2016). In essence, the health condition of a fetus determines its moral status.

The theory of relationship determines the way Dr. Wilson, Aunt Maria, Jessica, Marcos, and the priest recommend protection of the abnormal fetus and their parents from poor quality of life. The theory of relationship bestows Dr. Wilson with a duty to inform Jessica about the condition of the fetus, advise and recommend abortion as the best medical intervention to avert suffering. In contrast, Aunt Maria, Marco, Jessica, and the priest recommend the pro-life action.

As a senior member of the extended family, Aunt Maria has an obligation to provide social support to Jessica and Marco to enable them to build their young family and handle challenges they face in life while depending on God. Marco and Wilson have the parental responsibility of protecting and improving the quality of life of the fetus. The priest forms part of the social system that provides religious beliefs, values, and virtues, which are critical in the protection of the fetus.

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The use of human properties theory makes Jessica, Marco, and Aunt Maria recommend the protection of the fetus. In their decision to confer moral status to the fetus, Jessica and Marco understand that the fetus has human attributes. In the case study, Jessica believes that the fetus is a consecrated gift from God with human properties. Additionally, Aunt Maria employed the human properties theory in assigning the moral status to the fetus. Being a guardian, Aunt Maria understands that the fetus has human properties because it is a product of conception. With the belief that life originates from God, Aunt Maria believes in prayer as a means of restoring the abnormality diagnosed in the fetus.

In the case study, Dr. Wilson utilizes the theory of cognitive properties in recommending abortion as a medically and scientifically sound solution. Lack of arms and increased chances of Down syndrome persuades Dr. Wilson to suggest abortion as a reasonable course of action. Based on diagnosis information, Marco and Jessica start using cognitive capacities for they predict that their child would be entirely dependent on them and increase their economic burden. Thus, cognitive disabilities deprive the fetus of its moral status because it would not live a quality life that befits humans.

Comparative analysis of the recommended courses of actions demonstrates that cognitive properties theory is the most feasible method of determining the moral status of the fetus. This theory supports abortion as the best solution because the fetus has cognitive disabilities, which would have a marked impact on its growth and development, resulting in a deprived quality of life. Potier and Reeves (2016) explain that Down syndrome is the primary cause of intellectual disabilities because it predisposes patients to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease due to excessive expression of amyloid genes in chromosome 21. Moreover, the absence of arms complicates the moral status of the fetus because it diminishes its quality of life.


In the case study, preliminary and definitive tests confirmed that the fetus has a significant abnormality due to undeveloped arms and the possibility of Down syndrome. While theories of the relationship and human properties recommend the protection of fetus and improvement of the quality of life, theories of cognitive properties recommend abortion as a scientifically and medically appropriate course of action. Critical analysis of recommended actions shows that the theory of cognitive properties is the most feasible one in determining the moral status of the fetus.


Brown, M. T. (2018). The moral status of the human embryo. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 43(2), 132-158. Web.

MacKinnon, B., & Fiala, A. (2018). Ethics: Theory and contemporary issues. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Potier, M. C., & Reeves, R. H. (2016). Editorial: Intellectual disabilities in Down syndrome from birth and throughout life: assessment and treatment. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10(120), 1-4. Web.

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