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Abortion- status of embryo & personhood

Philosophers Peter S and Michael Tooley say the embryo is not a human yet, it has potentiality but without that expectation it will become human you can abort it

  • Some may it is wrong to make a comparison between failure to realise potential and the prevention of potentiality
  • Rejecting the potentiality for the embryo is not personal judgement

Personhood- ability to make decisions and be a social being

  • Locke claimed we are sentient which gives us the ability to make choices and have a social nature
  • Principle of reciprocity- giving and taking from a relationship (SENTIENT BEINGS HAVE THIS)
  • Locke says foetus' dont have this. They are not rational and lack conscience
  • Weakness- Disabled people are like this, are they not sentient?
  • Strength- Even those with severe disability have an awareness of the situation.

Bentham- even animals are sentient

Singer & Tooley- personhoold scale is on consciousness. The foetus may experience pain but not understand it.

  • Principle of moral equvilance- if a human finds it morally okay to kill a sentient being with the same characteristics- it is okay
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Theories on abortion

Status of human body

  • Locke says the concept of body ownership comes from personhood
  • Without the right to owning your body, personhood would not happen
  • Body is there for self improvement because of REASON. Woman had the right to have a child.

Quality of life theory

  • Helga Khuse says certain qualities like sentience and awareness make meaningful lives
  • Disputes on what defines QofL
  • QofL can be asessed by proffesionals, but is this right?
  • Arguements on whose QofL is being assesed. The wider population or the individual?

Sancity of Life theory

  • Humans made in the image of God
  • Very special 'breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'. Human life is sacred
  • Some Christians see personhood when the foetus is physically independant.
  • Anti abortion christians see all abortion as a sin. 'Formed you...'
  • Criticsm- all life, even animal life is sacred. The mothers life is sacred.
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Ensolument & Liberal Christians

Ensolument- When foetus takes on human characteristics

  • Some say 40 days (Jesus' 40 d/n time)
  • Quickening- when num feels foetus
  • RC say ensolument happens at conception

Criticsms- only dependant on ensolument concept.

  • Some reject ensolument
  • Many fertilised eggs concieved and then aborted naturally- does this show God's omni benevolence?
  • How can we know the precise moment of ensolument?

Abortion in Liberal Christian thought

  • Joseph Fletcher said abortion can be the neccesary evil as it depends on the situation and the application of love
  • Dependant on the amount of agape
  • Criticsm- how can quality/quantity of agape be measured? It is subjective. The love criteria is too simplistic. What about the later consequences?
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Natural law

Nature is organic and made up on inter related organs working towards eudomonia

  • Procreation has function, purpose and end
  • The end is creation but also universal eudomonia as mother feels satisfied, society also benifits.
  • Nature creates foetus and  when personhood is realised the foetus fulfils its telos.
  • To break it is wrong

Abortion is wrong because it breaks 2 of the primary precepts

  • Preservation of life
  • Procreation 


  • Is there a teleological framework to life? We should be concerned with now and not the illusionary future.
  • Does the womans right to her body outweigh the foetus' right to life?
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Kant's approach

  • Do not treat anyone as a means to an ends
  • Principle of universalisability- act in accordance with maxims of a universally legaslative member of a merely possible kingdom of ends
  • Consider duty ,reject happiness and love for moral decision making.
  • Place importance of the individual and immortality of the soul

Preserve life- it is a moral duty to preserve life.

  • This should be carried out unless the mothers life is in danger

Principle of Extreme duty- brining up a child in hard circumstances is against instinct.

  • Happiness plays no part. The woman has a duty to her husband and family
  • No love or sympathy, even in **** you should do your duty
  • Critics say life is not an endurance test.

Universalisability- Abortion fails to test universalisability

Means to an ends- do not treat foetus as a means to an ends regardless of situation

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  • Utilitarians are divided on what they say
  • They all agree the consequences of an act are vital yet there is no absolute value on human life and if abortion benifits the maximum people

Preference utilitarians- What is in the best interest of those involved

Rule -Want a rule of thumb

  • Takes into account the number of consequences from abortion
  • Must consider the physical/pyschological effects, long term effects if abortion were/were not applied
  • Must take doctors/nurses accounts to maximise benifits
  • Must also considere the population and the welfare of the population

Criticsm- It is impossible to get a rule of thumb on abortion

Act - Prefer to judge each case on merit (criticsm- can't asess long term benifits & rejects HC which is about the happiness for a max of people)

  • Peter Singer- Preference said unwanted pregnancies would give theory of replacibility where general happiness would advance. Strenghts- general good, status of foetus as not yet a person
  • Weakness- not possible to define personhood, foetus has right to happiness as well. Large rates of abortion send out signals every year that human life is not valuable
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