Abortion and the moral status of a human embryo are two of the most significant matters in bioethics. Nowadays, a plethora of ethical theories that either support or oppose the decision to terminate pregnancy exist, and they frequently contradict each other. The differences in views between purely scientific and theological perspectives may serve as an example of such a controversy.
The multitude of existing opinions and theoretical principles can be explained by the fact that each person selects an approach to resolving the abortion issue based on their values, beliefs, previous experiences, and knowledge. Considering this, in the present paper, the analysis of the theoretical basis in decisions about the fetus’s future and opinions regarding fetal abnormality held by four distinct individuals – Dr. Wilson, spouses Jessica and Marco, and the wife’s aunt Maria – will be conducted.
Dr. Wilson was the one who detected developmental abnormalities in the embryo and recommended Jessica and Marco to terminate the pregnancy. He substantiated his argument by the assumption that the child’s quality of life with a rare condition will be low, and he or she will likely be significantly dependent on the parents. Dr. Wilson’s suggestion reveals that the healthcare practitioner does not endow the fetus with moral status and mainly focuses on the potential adverse consequences of birth.
Considering that the pregnancy outcome may be negative for both parents and the child and can lead to suffering, he believes that abortion is an ethically acceptable action. He regards pregnancy termination as a “therapeutic” procedure aimed to minimize harm to the patient and maintain their well-being (Ştefan, 2014, p. 930). This perspective is in accordance with the utilitarianism theory, which suggests that “the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number” (McCombs School of Business, 2018, para. 1). Since the birth will potentially induce the suffering of at least three individuals (Jessica, Marco, and their child), the utilitarian approach justifies abortion.
Another person in the case study, aunt Maria, is very pious and, thus, adheres to the theological perspective. A religious perspective suggests that every creature is divine and that “life is the gift of God, and everyone should enjoy this gift unconditionally” (Ştefan, 2014, p. 932). Moreover, in some theological traditions and Christianity, in particular, it is believed that since God gives life, a person has no moral right to take it away from anyone else (Ştefan, 2014). Therefore, from aunt Maria’s position, abortion is a highly unethical act. The only possible way to handle the situation in a morally acceptable way within the religious dimension is to accept and endure all possible hardships in which the birth may result.
The ethical stances of Marco and Jessica in the case are less conclusive than those of aunt Maria and Dr. Wilson. It seems that Jessica equally shares some aspects of the perspectives held by them. For instance, she believes that life is sacred. Partially, this idea is in accordance with Noonan’s implantation theory, which suggests that “starting from conception, human beings contain all necessary and sufficient qualities for a full moral status” (Hostiuc, 2014, p. 102).
Based on this statement, an embryo has the same rights as an adult human. At the same time, Jessica understands that after the birth, her financial dependence on aunt Mary may increase, while the overall socioeconomic position may deteriorate. In this context, the decision to terminate the pregnancy would be consistent with the consequentialist, utilitarian theory. Since the child’s disorder will lead to unhappiness in the family, abortion is morally acceptable. Utilitarianism may be used to explain the husband’s perspective as well because his major concern is a negative effect of the child’s health condition on their economic security.
Overall, it seems that utilitarianism is an appropriate theory for resolving the issue of abortion because it considers the happiness of all parties involved in the case and aims to produce the greatest good. However, it has a major limitation since it is impossible to predict with certainty if the child will be unhappy, even if a rare condition would reduce his or her independence and functionality. It is also hard to tell if the parents would not be able to find a way to cope with the situation and become happy after all as well. Another important factor to take into account is that the fourth month of pregnancy is associated with organogenesis, which means that the fetus begins to take regular human shape and its nervous system begins to function.
Therefore, the fetus may feel, experience pain, and suffer, which means that the abortion would violate the non-cruelty principle. Thus, Peter Singer’s ethical theory should be considered by the parties in the case. The theory states that moral status is an attribute of sentience, “a state of minimal consciousness in which a being is able to have subjective perceptual experiences” (Hostiuc, 2014, p. 103). Since the embryo is capable of feeling during organogenesis, it would be unethical to terminate the pregnancy.
Overall, the discussed theories have strengths and weaknesses in influencing the decision of the involved parties. The theological perspective does not consider the happiness of individuals who are to deal with the child’s rare condition, whereas the utilitarian perspective does. Nevertheless, it is impossible to forecast whether the birth outcome will be definitely negative in the long term. A proper balance between the two theories is thus needed. Moreover, the consideration of the fetus’s sentience may be required as well because the right decision should minimize all suffering.
Hostiuc, S. (2014). The moral status of the embryo. Clinical and legal consequences. Gynecol.EU Journal, 10(37), 102-104.
McCombs School of Business. (2018). Utilitarianism. Web.
Ştefan, I. (2014). Arguments for and against abortion in terms of teleological and deontological theories. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 149, 927-935.