Abortion has been used throughout the world for thousands of years. Discuss.
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Background Abortion has been used throughout the world for thousands of years. In the UK abortion became illegal in the 19th Century when the penalty for 'procuring a miscarriage' was life imprisonment. Women trying to escape the burden of an unwanted pregnancy were forced to use unreliable and dangerous methods, including poisonous drugs, knitting needles, soap or lead solutions inserted through syringes, and blows to the abdomen. However many people were appalled by the number of women suffering and dying as a result of illegal abortion. Pressure for reform finally resulted in Liberal MP David Steel's Abortion Law Reform Bill, which became law on 27 October 1967 and took effect on 27 April 1968. This was amended in 1990 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which changed the upper limit from 28 to 24 weeks for most abortions, due to the fact that advances in medicine mean it is now possible to keep some babies alive born after about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Since 1967, there have been at over 20 unsuccessful attempts in Parliament to restrict the law, prompted by pressure groups opposed to legal abortion. However, recent polls show more than 80% of adults are in favour of abortion on request. Ethics The subject of abortion arouses fierce debate. People who are against abortion describe it as murder because they believe that a fertilised egg is a human being which possesses a soul from the moment of conception, and has the right to life under all circumstances. Pro-choice supporters see the fertilised egg as potential life, based on medical and scientific evidence that the fetus is not viable (ie capable of independent life) in the early stages of pregnancy and is still a part of its mother. In fact nature chooses not to allow all fertilised eggs to develop: it is estimated that as many as 25% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion or miscarriage.
However legal abortion is very safe, particularly when carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, continuing with a pregnancy is eight times more risky than having a legal abortion. Each year, 500,000 women in developing countries die from pregnancy or pregnancy-related illnesses (including illegal abortion) and even in Britain about 40 women a year die while pregnant or shortly after giving birth - only one of these deaths is due to abortion. Carrying on with an unwanted pregnancy can cause more long-term stress and suffering than having an abortion. Being refused an abortion has been shown to cause ongoing resentment towards the unwanted child which can last for years, with the child itself being more likely to experience a wide range of emotional and social problems. Factsheets on voluntary euthanasia The word 'euthanasia' comes from the Greek words 'eu' and 'thanatos', which together mean 'a good death'. Today, the meaning of 'euthanasia' has widened, to include how that good death is brought about. Specifically, 'euthanasia' is understood to mean a good death brought about by a doctor providing drugs or an injection to bring a peaceful end to the dying process. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the issue of euthanasia. In this section, you will find a series of factsheet pages which look at every aspect of this complex debate. What are the views of the major religions about voluntary euthanasia? What's going on in Holland? What do the public think? For teachers and students, all of these factsheet pages are available to download as PDF files, to make them easier to use. You are also welcome to photocopy them for teaching purposes. Once you have gained an overview of the subject, if you want to study the issues in greater detail, this site carries a number of academic articles on a variety of related subjects to read through The case for pdf/thecasefor.pdf pdf/thecasefor.pdfThe Voluntary Euthanasia Society was set up in 1935 by a group of doctors, lawyers and churchmen.
69% 27% Whilst most of the doctors who admit to having helped a patient to die seem to escape prosecution, some of them do, however, fall foul of the law. You can find a summary of all these cases in our law pages. What about the Hippocratic Oath? The Hippocratic Oath was established around 2,500 years ago in Greece. Some doctors use it as a guide to carrying out their work. Part of the Hippocratic Oath states: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect." A doctor who follows this oath also promises "not to give a woman a pessary to produce abortion." However, an abortion is now legal in some circumstances, and many doctors perform this operation. The Oath has been changed and updated to fit in with new attitudes and medical practices - it is not a code which cannot be altered. At the moment, the British Medical Association (BMA) is campaigning to update the oath. They argue that it does not reflect the reality of medical practice today. They want the code to recognise that keeping people alive is not the only aim of health care. As R Weir wrote in 1992: "The achievement of...appropriate medical goals is more important than a literal adherence to an ancient oath whose religious and moral framework is of such limited relevance to contemporary medicine that the oath is frequently altered when used in medical school convocations and increasingly replaced entirely by other kinds of oaths, including those written by medical students themselves." It is important to remember that the Voluntary Euthanasia Society was set up by a group of doctors and clergy in 1935. Today, the growing support of the medical profession for assisted dying will eventually help to change the law. NOTE: For those of you who are researching the subject of euthanasia in some detail, our site also carries an in-depth listing of opinion surveys from the UK and around the world.
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