Abortion is the medical ethic of which I have investigated; a controversial topic to say the least. The above statement is one that definitely applies to the problems of abortion. However to understand how the statement can be applied one must come to terms with the definitions and aspects of abortion. Abortion can be defined as the intended termination of an unborn child, a foetus. The abortion act was introduced to the UK in 1967; however in Ireland the approach is still illegal. With abortion there is a criteria that follows: two doctors must certify and allow for the abortion to proceed and an abortion cannot go ahead if the method were to cause any lasting physical or psychological damage. In most cases an abortion can go under way if it protects the life of the mother.
The methods of abortion are also an important aspect to consider. There are various methods and treatments a woman can have to proceed with the abortion. For example a woman between 7 – 15 weeks can take a pill which induces the same consequences of a miscarriage; an early medical abortion. This contrasts then with the late term abortion which relies on surgery and surgical instruments being used to extract and exterminate the foetus inside the womb. Abortion is a medical ethic which provokes argument through its many aspects of ‘immorality’, ‘necessity’ and most importantly whether it is right or wrong. Firstly I will observe the topic of personhood.
Personhood is a seemingly important aspect of the abortion topic. Many moral and religious principles do indeed cause hindrance within this complex ethical world. Personhood looks at the idea of a foetus’ position and rights in our world; whether it should be granted ‘person status’ or not. This idea was developed by jack Mahoney who worked to define persons. Through this idea he came up with a criterion in which human life would need to fulfil to reach this ‘person status’. He looked at how a person needs to be able to display traits such as self –consciousness, emotions and rationality to be considered a person. When we apply these attributes to a foetus we can see how one would seem to display none of these traits, therefore a foetus, through this idea, is not a person. Religious principles are definitely a hindrance when observing this medical ethic through the religious idea of ensoulment.
Ensoulment is the belief that there is a stage in pregnancy where the foetus is ‘given’ a soul or in a way, a “passport for life”. So when looking at abortion, the termination of a foetus immediately becomes murder. Of course this would conflict with the belief that “thou shalt not murder” which can be seen in the bible. Principles in Hinduism may cause hindrance towards abortion in the light of ahimsa; the belief in reverence for all life. A moral principle may cause hindrance within abortion through ensoulment through belief in conflicting claims – the moral principle of logical correctness. An example of being the suggested ‘cut’ off point where a foetus ‘gains its soul’. St. Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas argue that ensoulment occurs on the 46th to 47th day of pregnancy whilst in Islam, Muslims argue for the occurrence on the 120th day. Here, we can see a set of highly varying dates which would question theists and atheists, “Which is correct?” Another aspect of the personhood arguments comes from the Sanctity of Life (SOL) and Quality of Life (QOL) argument. This is a highly disputed argument which many feminists and social activists may dispute over.
In our society recently there are ongoing pleas for the legality of abortion. A prime example, being Ireland versus the European Union. Of course, Ireland is a highly Roman Catholic country therefore their religious principles are of course a hindrance towards abortion. Their belief of women going “forth and multiply[ing]” conflicts with the reasons behind abortion. Their religious principles restrict them for acting ‘personally’. On the other hand, people within the EU care quite strongly about the right of the matter and are very ‘pro-choice’ when it comes to deciding the future of a mother’s life.
Many scholars and theists have opinions on the QOL vs. SOL argument, for example Aquinas, who draws much inspiration from the laws of nature, would see the religious principles cause hindrance because he sees it right for the natural cause of pregnancy or even in some cases, miscarriage. He wouldn’t agree with an induced miscarriage or termination. On the other hand theists like Joseph Fletcher would take an approach with the idea of love. Situation Ethics promotes the idea that an action should inflict the most loving thing. Therefore he would sympathise and take into account the woman’s choice of abortion in this case. I believe that the QOL vs. SOL argument is a very strong one indeed and one that won’t cease to exists as long as religious and moral principles remain in our world.
The next topic I will go onto investigate is the idea of viability. Viability is the view that at what point should an abortion be acceptable, or viable? The law in the UK has the cut off point of up to 24 weeks which, with moral and religious principles, causes hindrance to abortion. The hindrance being with moral principles and the cultural evolution. There have been cases where, whilst in the same hospital, women at 22 weeks are going into a premature pregnancy, however another women at 24 weeks is having an abortion. The problem here is that, with the aid of modern day technology, the premature baby will go onto live a completely ‘normal’, healthy life. Whilst the possible life of the 24 week foetus will lose its possible life. So, with certain moral principles like Mill’s Utilitarian approach of the harm principle and Bentham’s hedonic calculus, hindrances are indeed raised.
The amount of happiness, which Bentham’s Utilitarian Act observes, seems slightly undermined with the women having an abortion because the foetus’ rights aren’t’ taken into account. With the harm principle, one would think of the foetus’ possible life and would suggest alternatives for the woman deciding abortion. I think that however a woman’s choice should be taken over the idea of the foetus’ rights. This can be observed further with the idea of the double effect, a term which looks at the moral grounds of abortion. It promotes the idea that an abortion can occur if the woman’s life is in danger, for example, there has been case in the last couple of years where a 17 year old girl has become pregnant.
She’s of strong Catholic faith and lives with just her mother, who suffers from MS, whom she looks after on a daily basis. The girl had no clear route of which to take in deciding whether to keep the baby or not. It would involve giving up a lot of time for her mother for the baby or vice versa. Her local church took her problems into consideration and accepted her plea to have an abortion. This shows that sometimes religious principles may not always be a hindrance for, with the double effect, religious actually provides a solution to this medical ethic. I believe that this situation is one which may seem to originate from a religious principle (“thou shalt not murder”) as a hindrance, however the complication has its resolve through religion, therefore we can see how the statement is incorrect in some ways.
The next topic is indeed a hindrance through moral principles and may even originate from religious views. It encompasses the rights of the mother and also the rights of the foetus. Expressed by Judith Jarvis Thompson, she states that ‘every human is allowed access to basic human rights’; she goes onto express this view with the topic of abortion. She uses the literary technique of analogy which is a way of portraying the importance and severity of a topic. Her analogy looks a woman who is connected up to a famous violinist. The violinist is connected through the circulatory system and must stay connected to the woman to survive.
This is to present the idea of foetuses which need to stay attached and inside a pregnant woman; hindering all their capabilities. The analogy goes onto observe the idea of which life bears most importance; is it the famous violinist, who cannot do anything? Or is it the woman who’s granting life and stability? This is a vivid and strong addition to the argument of the rights of the mother for it presents the idea that women should have the choice of what to do with their bodies. A strong opposition this argument comes from Mary Anne Warren who echoes Peter Singer’s opinion that whose body or life bears more importance. The women shouldn’t have an abortion for selfish reasons which Thompson explained. Maybe it is more important that a woman has an abortion for the fact that it doesn’t bear as much importance on her own life.
The final topics of abortion which, through religious and moral principles, are a hindrance are the methods and approaches to abortion. This key aspect of abortion one that does result in much conflict. For example, in China, with the aid of the One Child Policy, many women have faced the consequences of this police. A woman who was pregnant with a child at 8 months was forced to have a late medical abortion. This would have been a highly controversial and severe event which of religious and moral principles would conflict with Bentham’s principles of Utility. This act could some appropriate as it is benefitting the majority’s decision, in China, of the policy. Whereas on the other hand, with religious principles such as karma in Hinduism or the mitzvots in Judaism the hindrance would arise in the supposed ‘immoral’ act of this abortion. In my opinion this case study is highly controversial as it provides the idea of immorality, with principles causing hindrance within the medical ethic.
Overall, when looking back at the statement, I think there is much truth and validity in the claim. However as I have investigated there were solutions that came from religious principles. But to conclude, this investigation has shown that medical ethics such as abortion will face challenges and hindrances with the presence of religious and moral principles and values.