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Describe and Evaluate a Significant
Moral Controversy in Medical
Ethics, with reference to Abortion
The topic that I have investigated is Abortion. This is defined as "the premature termination
of a pregnancy and foetus". There are two types of Abortion: Natural and Procured. Natural
Abortions occur without any human interference and are often called `miscarriages'. On the
other hand, Procured Abortions come about as a direct result of man's actions through the
planned medical intervention or the use of contraceptive devices or medical procedures.
Despite being a controversial and complex moral issue, Abortion is increasingly common in
the UK, with just under 200,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales during 2010i
prior to the 24th week of pregnancy, after which abortions are forbidden by law.
Abortion is perceived differently by many religions The Roman Catholic Church believes
that the Sanctity of Life is a moral absolute and describes Abortion as an "unspeakable
crimeii". Its' teachings, The Didache, says "you shall not murder a child by Abortion". By
contrast in Judaism, Abortion is not considered Murder as the foetus is not given the status
of a `full human'.
Many people in society are morally opposed to abortion. This was demonstrated in 2009,
when a doctor, George Tiller, who carried out `late-term' abortions, was murdered by an anti-
abortion activist in his home town in Kansas, USA. Several years earlier, in 1993, a previous
attempt was made to murder Tiller outside his Surgery, but it was unsuccessful. When
arrested, Tiller's killer: Scott Roeder said "I did what I thought was needed to be done to
protect the unborn children". However, there is a moral paradox as others say that Tiller was
a hero to his patients and pro-choice supporters, and was committed to women in need of
help. This illustrates the diversity and extreme issues that Abortion creates - conflicting
opinions resulting in the death of a man who some see to be innocent, whilst others see him
as a killer.
A primary driver of the significant moral controversy in Medical Ethics is the `Sanctity of Life',
and what this applies to. It goes without saying that killing an adult is wrong, and is legally
recognised as murder. Likewise, killing a child or baby is also recognised as murder. But what
about killing a foetus? Is it also regarded as Murder? The answer to this question differs
dramatically depending on who is asked...
Devout Roman Catholics would say that killing a foetus (abortion) is always wrong and is
intrinsically evil because every human being is "created in the image of God"iii. Whereas most
Methodist Christians agree that it is evil, they also believe that it can, on occasion, be the
lesser of two evils. An example of this would be if the mother's life was endangered by
continuing the pregnancy. Whereby Methodist Christians would say that the termination of
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Methodists are less absolutist with their views on Abortion as they say that you cannot
tell when life actually begins, but life is more likely as the pregnancy develops, therefore
earlier abortions are more morally acceptable.
In this context, Abortion is deemed to be acceptable up until the point that the foetus
develops into a `full' human being.…read more
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In this respect, the Quality of Life also links to Utilitarianism, described by original scholar
Jeremy Bentham as "the greatest happiness for the greatest numberv". Utilitarianism dictates
that if the majority of people that will be affected by an action are negatively affected, the
action should not take place. If we relate this to Abortion, we can say that if the majority of
people affected by an abortion are negatively impacted by it, the Abortion should not take
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Theology' and modern philosophers such as Albert Schweitzer's theory of `Reverence for
Life'. However, non-believers should not be too affected by the references to religion, as
Abortion is not specifically a religious issue.
Whether abortion is right or wrong is yet to be seen, however the criteria of Personhood put
forward by Mahoney does seem to offer a new angle on the age-old debate on Abortion,
with a more liberal view than those put forward by religion and philosophers.…read more