Abortion & Euthanasia

Ethics AS

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  • Created by: mollie
  • Created on: 08-04-12 11:29


A question of choice, or a question of life?

Abortion raises a number of issues. The biggest question about abortion: is the foetus a human being? This affects the way you define abortion. It also affects the way you respond to abortion ethically. If you accept that the foetus is a person, abortion is a question of whether it is ever right to kill an innocent person. If a foetus is only a potential person, the sorts of questions you ask change.

Much of the debate hinges on this key question. Both might agree that it is wrong to kill an innocent person, but disagree about whether abortion is the killing of an innocent human being.

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For some people, the most important question about euthanasia is "Is it ever right to kill an innocent human being?" Deontologists believe we all need rules to live by, and everyone recognises the power behind the rule "Do not kill". Teleologists believe there are occasions when 'the end justifies the means'.

There are other issues raised by euthanasia however. If euthanasia was legal, what effect would this have on the elderly, people with disabilities, the terminally ill? It isn't merely a consequentialist consideration - weighing up the amount of anxiety caused by a change in law. It is about the way we view people. Are some lives worth less than others?

What if I believe in the sanctity of life, that all humans should be given dignity and respect - how should I respond to a dying person's plea to help them have a peaceful death?

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Ethical responses to abortion

Utilitarianism is teleological, concerned with ends or outcomes. Utilitarians would ask whether having an abortion brings about the greatest good. Having an abortion because of financial pressures, other family members' needs, education, work - any of these reasons may be justified by the hedonic calculus.

Utilitarianism challenged traditional views that abortion was an 'evil' act, arguing instead that the end justifies the means. Utilitarianism generally supports a pro-choice position, and Mill strongly believed in individual sovereignty: “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”

However, the pro-choice movement argument that a woman has the right to choose is not supported by classical utilitarianism. The concept of absolute rights is compatible with deontological ethics such as Kant or Natural Law, but not utilitarianism. Mill can be seen as arguing for rule utilitarianism, saying we should give freedom of choice to all people. Rule utilitarianism says that we should make rules that bring about the greatest good. I don't think this is Mill's point, however. Either way, a utilitarian response should accept that it may in some circumstances be right to deny a woman the right to choose to have an abortion if doing so would bring about the greatest good.

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