Is the foetus a person?

Is the foetus a person? – Notes are taken from internet sites such as Yahoo answers and my own knowledge 

Yes it is because…

  1. Life begins at conception – and ‘the body is the temple is the temple of the holy spirit’
  2. Judge – who is to judge what a ‘person’ is 
  3. Self- conscious – “Babies Remember Birth,” David Chamberlain, Ph.D., indicates there are pre-birth memories, indicating individuality.
  4. Size – A six-foot woman on life-support is a person; a six-inch foetus girl on life support is a person. Degree of energy-independence is not a determining factor.
  5. Location – A six-foot woman in a room or in Yosemite camping is a person; a fetal girl in a womb is a person. Location is not a determining factor of personhood.
  6. Age – A 60-year-old woman is a person; a fetal girl of six prenatal months is a person. Age is not a determining factor of personhood.

No it is not because…

  1. Birth marks the beginning of a true person because if you think that in the Genesis man was nothing until God gave a breath of life and so a baby is not a living human until it is born.
  2. Personhood – the embryo/foetus does not have the seven criteria which gives it equal rights as the mother (rationality, self-awareness, ability to act intentionally, biographical considerations as opposed to biological considerations, ability to establish relationships, sentience, ability to communicate)
  3. Rights – Whose rights are more important those of the mother or the embryo – a real person vs a potential person
  4. Ectopic pregnancies and disabilities – double effect because the mother is not only at risk and suffers extreme pain the foetus is likely to never develop into a full and proper human being so why keep the pregnancy?
  5. Image of God – God is said to be the giver and take of life and if we are made in the image of God shouldn’t we be allowed to do the same.
  6. Viability – The embryo isn’t even viable till 24-weeks so how this embryo who relies on the mother have greater rights than the mother.
  7. Ensoulment – Many including theologians like St Augustine believe that when the embryo ‘quicks’ i.e. starts to move (which is at about 16/17 weeks) the embryo has been ensouled so before that the embryo is just another animal.
  8. Peter Singer – He believes that a human being is a “person” weeks after birth and a shrimp’s life is more important than a foetus.
  9. Aboriginal people – They believe it is only a person once it is named.
Advertisements

The Status of the Embryo

AS Ethics 

The Status of the Embryo and Abortion

The status of the embryo is extremely important when exploring the morality behind abortion because it implies whether abortion is an act of murder or not. There are several suggestions of the status of an embryo:

  1. Personhood 
  2. Natural Law/Christianity
  3. Aboriginal People
  4. Ensoulment 
  5. Science (viability)
  6. Kant
  7. Judith Jarvis Thomson

Personhood – Life begins when develop into a person

Personhood essentially suggests that when a human being is a person acts such as abortion become murder otherwise they are acceptable. This is a secular approach to medical ethics and is a subjective one too (that is perhaps one of its problems). 

Mary Anne Warren was an American writer and philosopher who died last year (2010). She put forward a criteria and said to be a person you don’t have too meet all the criteria but at least a few and because a foetus does not meet any of it, abortion is not murder because the foetus is not a person.

Criteria

  1. Consciousness – foetuses are not aware of objects and events external or internal to the  being and are not capable to feel pain.
  2. Reasoning – Foetuses cannot solve new and complex problems
  3. Self-motivated activity – they are not capable of activity independent to genetic or direct external control 
  4. The capacity to communicate – the foetus does not communicate
  5. Self-awareness – babies are not aware of themselves.

Furthermore, she rejects the idea  of the foetus as a potential person, a being which would develop these characteristics. She said predicting the potential person a foetus would develop is difficult and there remains a chance it would still not meet these criteria and hence using this argument does not work, she said following a criteria is better

Conclusion: Abortion is acceptable as a foetus is not a person

Evaluation

Problems:

  1. Even young babies are not self-aware.
  2. Later foetuses have the ability to feel pain and communicate by kicking.

Responses:

  1. But they have the ability to communicate and engage in reasoning.
  2. There is no evidence for this and it is arguably just a perception of the mind.
  3. Sperm has the potential to be a person yet no-one sees it as a human its the same with a foetus.

Natural law /Christianity

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.

Evaluation

Strengths

-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.

Weaknesses 

  • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.
  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people believe life only begins once a person is named. A name is what distinguishes a person from a bunch of cells so unless the foetus is named abortion is arguable acceptable.

Ensoulment

This links to the Christian belief that ensoulemt happens at conception so life begins at conception and any form termination is immoral as it is killing. 

St Augustine, another theologican offers another way to approach this matter. He suggests that when the embryo ‘quicks’ i.e. starts to move, the embryo has been ensouled so any point after this (after 16/17 weeks) makes abortion murder but before that it is fine.

Science – Viability

The embryo isn’t even viable till 24-weeks so the mother has greater rights than the embryo and should be able to grant an abortion before this point. The human fertilisation and embryology act, suggests that after 14 days when the primitive streak begins to appear the foetus is now a human in its own right.

Kant

Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong.

Judith Jarvis Thomson

Thomson puts forward an analogy

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. … To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.’  – taken from Wikipedia

But you still have the choice whether you want to do this or not, not to give a choice would be violate your human rights – so the same way not to offer abortion would be to violate your human rights.

Some points:

  • The foetus is not a separate individual like the violinist it is a part of the women’s body.
  • Isn’t the choice with contraception not abortion?
  • Would unplugging the violinist be the same as killing him? Is an abortion the same as killing?

Euthanasia: Sanctity of life vs. Quality of life

Sanctity of Life and Quality of Life in relation to euthanasia.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia literally translates from the Greek as “good death” but it is more commonly defined as the intentional premature ending of life. There are four types.

 

Euthanasia can be one of two types; voluntary and involuntary

 

Voluntary = When individual requests for their life to be prematurely ended

 

Involuntary = When the individuals consent is not taken into account – even if the individual can make a consent.

 

There are two methods of terminating a life than can be classified as euthanasia

 

Active – this is when deliberate drugs are given to bring death

 

Passive – this is when drugs and other machinery on which the individual is reliant are withdrawn in order to hasten death.


What is the Sanctity of Life (SoL) argument?

The SoL argument states that human life is valuable in itself. According to SoL all life is worthy of RESPECT and REVERENCE and is intrinsically worthwhile. This implies all life is equal and we have a duty to protect it.

Ties with Christianity…

Christians sometimes use this argument to found some of the their ethics (particularly medical ones) because ‘the body is the temple of the holy spirit’.

Catholicism

 

The SoL principle is crucial to the catholic position. According to Natural Law any form of euthanasia should not be allowed because it conflicts the first primary precept of life – to live the supreme good. However, now it is recognised that not everyone can handle suffering physically and psychologically, it is impractical to assume that. So even though ‘suffering has a special place in God’s plan of salvation’ and it conflicts the primary precept, the Doctrine of double effect can be used to justify some acts. If the intention is to reduce pain by giving medication not to end the individuals life it can be justified as moral. The church distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary means and euthanasia is an extraordinary means which can occasionally be used.


Evaluation


Strengths

– Avoids ‘group’ pressure and power of using euthanasia for selfish reasons
– Includes Christian teachings of love and compassion

Weaknesses 

– Outdated – not practical for a world where world population is exponentially growing.

– It is unclear then when this extraordinary means can be utilised.

 

Quality of Life

 

The Quality of Life principle essentially uses the ideas about Personhood to argue when people are considered persons and their life is worthwhile living.

 

Daniel Maguire

 

Maguire who is a professor of Theology argues that saying that God creates life and can only destroy it implies that we are his property. He says that we intervene to save and preserve life  and there is no real difference between than and euthanasia because they both have the goal of ending life with a good death. 

 

Peter Singer

 

Singer says we should move away from the SoL ethic because it is leading to people having a low quality of life. An individual can judge them self whether euthanasia is appropriate and if they are in a position where they can’t consent someone else must do it for them depending on the quality of their life which could be measured medically. 

He puts forward five new commandments which he believes we should abide by:

1. Human beings do not possess equal worth

2. Accept responsibilities for the consequence for our actions

3. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted

4. Do not discriminate on the basis of species

5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

Number 5 obviously tells us how Singer feels towards euthanasia.

Evaluation

 

Strengths

– By focusing on the quality of life, we are approaching the topic more practically  in the 21st century.

 

Weaknesses

-Individuals in Permanent Vegetative State and other forms of suffering can be sometimes seem as a life not worth living. But this has further implication such as that many disabled and handicapped people have a life which is also not worth living – this does not sit well with the vast majority of people.

Peter Singer and Preference Utilitarianism

Singer says that actually pleasure, whether higher or lower, is not the most important things, the interests of the individual are. Even though he believes that all humans do not possess equal worth, he says that everyone’s interests are equal. Essentially when make a moral decision we need to way out what action will result in the most interests being satisfied.

Three examples

Killing

Murder would be wrong because the person’s interest of being alive is not be met and is being overrun by the murderer’s interests . However, on the same basis voluntary euthanasia is moral because it satisfy the interest of the individual requesting it – even if they are not thinking straight. 

Racism

He would say that racism is wrong because of two reasons (i) fails to acknowledge the interests of the individual and (ii) gives greater value to the racists interests.

Dam

In this book Practical Ethics, Singer gives the example of a hydro-electric dam that is going to be built. He explores some of the interests that would be met and other violated as a result of this e.g. create jobs, provides cost effective power, destroy natural beauty, endanger species. He said by looking at preference we protect minority groups. 

In terms of medical ethics he is in favor of persoonhood and the Quality of Life argument. He says the Sanctity of Life is old and should not be used. He gives five principles which make the Quality of Life argument which he believes should replace the old Sanctity of Life argument and that is:

  1. All humans do not possess equal worth
  2. Only bring children into this world if they are wanted
  3. Respect one’s wishes to live or die
  4. Humans are not a superior life form to animals
  5. We should take responsibility for out actions