Investigations Paper-Abortion Model Answer

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Describe and evaluate a significant moral controvesy in medical ethics, with reference to a topic which you have investigated. (50 marks)

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die” Ecclesiastes 3. The medical ethics topic I chose to investigate was abortion, or the ‘intentional destruction of the foetus within the womb’. Abortion has, and continues to be an issue that divides opinions worldwide. Since its legalisation in Britain in 1967, it can be performed on any woman if she wants it and if it is agreed that it falls under the criteria of the 1990 human fertilization and embryo act by two doctors. According to the BBC, in 98% of procedures carried out each year, mental health concerns are cited as the reason. The law states that a woman must face a greater risk to her mental or physical health by pursuing an unwanted pregnancy than if she had an abortion. Despite this, they are seen to be quite commonplace, with one in five pregnancies now ending in abortion, 179,398 taking place in England and wales alone in 2012. There are a variety of religious and ethical responses concerning abortion which I will discuss, such as personhood, the sanctity of life, and the rights of the mother versus the rights of the foetus, as well as the morality of abortion concerning situation ethics and the views of ethicists such as Don Marquis and Judith Thomson.
When considering the morality of abortion, it is imperative also to determine whether the foetus is a person or not. This creates the ethical issue of personhood. Most would agree the killing of a new born child is completely immoral and unjust, and those who are opposed to abortion would make the case that abortion is equally as immoral and unjust because it is a living human, a person. It is important to be clear on the difference between ‘personhood’ and life. Jack Mahoney put forward a criterion to distinguish between the two. Sentience, rationality, emotions, freewill and continuity make a person out of a life, and as a foetus lacks freewill and rationality as it solely depends on its mother and lacks the ability to make choices of its own, he argues it technically is not a person. However it could be said that Mahoney is stating that severely disabled individuals are not ‘persons’ as they do not have freewill and may depend solely on others. Peter Singer makes the point that foetus’ are not ‘persons’ per say, or even beings with rationality or self-consciousness but potential human beings, clusters of cells that will eventually develop into people. Similarly, Mary Anne Warren agrees that personhood is defined in terms of ‘moral reciprocity’, or the ability to respect the rights of others. The foetus is incapable of this and so is regarded as a non-person. These ethical responses to personhood provide a clear and concise decision as it leads


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