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Considering the Ethics of Abortion

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B. Medical Ethics Contents Medical Ethics is an area of great concern in the modern age, though several of the issues have been of concern for centuries. Abortion and euthanasia are not new issues, for they were known in ancient times. An early Christian writing, the Didache a text written in 54 CE, condemns it. However, issues pertaining to embryo research are new, as are those concerning transplants. New technology tends to throw up new ethical problems, as human power extends into areas where it was once absent. The central moral question is basically: if I am able to perform an action, why can I not perform it? In the modern world this question might take the specific form of whether or not any advance in technology is morally legitimate. Does the fact that a new technology is developed automatically confer legitimacy on its use? The answer to the questions above must be in the negative. For example, the atomic bomb was a skilful technology, but it produced great evil and suffering. German firms produced gas chambers for the Nazis, but we would not applaud them for the quality of their technology, however effective or advanced for the time it was. There is no escape from these examples by saying that they are extreme cases; they are, but they clearly exemplify a general principle that developments in technology are not necessarily or per se morally legitimate. Thus it is essential that any kind of technology be evaluated to ascertain whether its use is morally acceptable. a) Abortion When discussing the question of abortion from the standpoint of religious ethics it is important to emphasise that several moral claims must be taken into account: 1. The mother of the child (and also the father) 2. The child 3. The deity or ultimate reality, however he/she be conceived. For religious people all life is lived in and under God. ...read more.


It may also be detrimental to the well being of her other children, should she have any. The Roman Catholic Church argues that a serious attempt should be made to save both lives and that the option that provides the best possible route to this goal should be taken. Christianity has also been known to apply the principle of double effect, developed by the Mediaeval Scholastics and generally accepted in ethics today. This is as follows: if an action has two effects, one good, one bad, you may perform it if your intention is to achieve the good effect, and the good effect outweighs the bad one. In health of mother cases this principle might operate as follows: a pregnant woman finds that she has cancer of the uterus. The uterus must be extracted to save her life, even though the foetus inside will die. The double effect principle is generally taken to indicate that she should have the operation. However, if the child survives there should be reasonable attempts to save its life. 2. Handicapped foetuses Currently British law allows the abortion of a foetus found to be handicapped up to birth, on the grounds that handicapped people live such unhappy lives that it is reasonable to let those who are responsible for them terminate their pregnancies. Another ground is that looking after handicapped children is very demanding on parents in terms of time and emotional energy to the level that some parents cannot cope. Some parents also fear what will happen to the child when they are gone and feel that it would be better were the child to die before they do. No major system of religious ethics accepts widespread or easy abortion of the handicapped, because generally they regard the handicapped as having a place in the world. The Indian religions regard the conditions that befall a person in this life as the karmic consequences of actions in their previous life or lives, and as they believe that karma accrues ...read more.


Thus in religious ethics property claims can never overrule God?s rights or permit anything that he does not. All claims that abortion is a purely private matter and therefore a matter of choice (e.g. a woman?s right to choose) rest on the belief that there is a certain area of life that is properly beyond the reach of the state. In this view the womb would be a private space belonging only to a woman. How do religious ethics regard this claim? Certainly there is a credible case to be made for the statement that the state?s reach is limited and that its laws cannot intrude beyond a certain point. If there is to be any sense at all to the idea of freedom there must be areas of life beyond the proper scope of the state. Yet religious believers would also argue that God is above all rules and that there is no area of life that is not subject to him. The implications of this idea are that while the law of the state may be limited in its reach, the moral law is not. This might lead us to the conclusion that in some cases abortion may be permissible in law but not, according to religious ethics, moral. Religious believers would therefore have to ask themselves how far they could work to ban abortion. Might they not feel that at a certain point they must leave the matter to individual conscience? Some religious believers accept this position, but there are others who argue that abortion can never be a matter of private conscience because a life is being wrongly taken. Activity 58: ?Abortion is a matter of personal choice and no one ought to interfere with it. It is a matter of private conscience.? ?Abortion involves taking a life, so it can never be a purely private matter. Aborting a foetus is murder.? ?At a certain point in time abortion becomes murder and therefore a public matter, but until this point it is a matter of personal choice.? Discuss the views above. Which do you think is the most credible? ...read more.

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