Examine and comment on the view that religious and/or moral principles provide essential guidelines for medical ethics with reference to abortions.

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Examine and comment on the view that religious and/or moral principles provide essential guidelines for medical ethics with reference to the topic you have investigated

It is clear that medicine would progress faster without the restraining influence of moral and religious principles. An example of this is be a recent topic in the news today, that of three parent IVF. While this procedure is providing a possible solution to mitochondrial disease, some people argue that scientists are venturing too close to designer babies and cloning. This is seen as unnatural or by the Catholic Church ‘playing God’.  Catholics also believe that the discarding of an embryo during the procedure is the eradication of a (potential) human being. In 2015, the Anglican and Catholic Church warned MPs that it would be irresponsible to pass the new laws allowing the DNA of a ‘second mother’ to be used to repair the genetic faults in an unborn child. Bishop John Sherrington said “There are serious ethical objections to this procedure which involves the destruction of human embryos as part of the process. The human embryo is a new human life, and it should be respected and protected from the moment of conception.” Most people agree that nobody wants medicine and science to be entirely unrestricted, especially when one examines the inhumane consequences of Nazi experimentation during the holocaust in World War Two. Nazi physicians performed brutal medical experiments upon helpless concentration camp inmates. As a result of this, their scientific discoveries were deemed as scientifically invalid because of their disregard for humanitarian ethics. Arnold Relman, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, stated that the Nazi experiments were such a "gross violation of human standards that they are not to be trusted at all.”

Medicine and ethics should be inextricably linked together because the purpose of science is doing what is considered right. It is good to restrict medicine to some extent to avoid inflicting distress upon civilisation, however it should not be completely controlled, as it would delay beneficial discoveries to those who need them most. Therefore it is essential to explore some of the main religious and moral principles in order to ascertain whether or not they are essential guidelines for medical ethics. If one looks at the Hippocratic Oath in the field of medicine they will find the two key aims are to preserve life and to alleviate or prevent suffering. Despite these intentions working well together in most situations, when applied to abortion they easily contradict one another.

In order to decide whether moral or religious principles are essential, they need to be applied to a controversial issue within ethics, and in this case I will be discussing abortion. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or foetus. This is the medical ethic I will be discussing throughout my essay

Abortion is an extremely emotional topic that splits the public into two minds, pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-life activists believe that life begins from the moment of conception; therefore abortion is the killing of a human being. They sometimes draw their opinion from religious principles such as ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Exodus 20:13) The Sixth Commandment of the Bible’s Old Testament. However, pro-choice supporters believe that the foetus does not become a person until they are ‘viable’ outside the womb and so the mother’s rights outweigh that of a potential person.

One of the biggest questions that surrounds abortion is ‘when does life begin?’ There is some agreement between pro-life and pro-choice supporters that life begins at conception as embryology textbooks and pro-choice advocates concede that human life begins when the egg and sperm unite. “It is the penetration of the ovum by a sperm and the resulting mingling of nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the initiation of the life of a new individual.” Clark Edward and Corliss Patten’s Human Embryology, McGraw – Hill Inc., 30 This is further supported by the Bible, which states ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee… ‘ (Jeremiah 1:5) Since there is evidence from both sides that biological life begins at conception, surely the law would deem abortion as murder? But, David Steel MP introduced the bill into parliament that became known as the 1967 Abortion Act. This law was created to prevent dangerous back alley abortions taking place. However Dr Bernard Nathanson, joint founder of NARAL in the US admitted “We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the US. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000.’ It is likely that figures were exaggerated to try and gain MP’s sympathy and promote the abortion industry. But even though the sole purpose of the law was to stop backstreet abortion, between 1968 and 1988 there were 986-recorded abortions performed illegally and 293 prosecutions in the UK. Illegal abortion was scarcely being controlled or condemned by the government once the Act was introduced. But just because abortion takes place does not mean there is enough reason to make it legal. Murder and rape cannot be prevented and happen on a daily basis, however there is no suggestion that these crimes should be legalised in order to impede them. The law does not condemn abortion as murder up until a certain time scale because the foetus is deemed to not become a person until they are viable outside the womb, and this occurs at 24 weeks.

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John Locke’s famous definition of a person is ‘a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself, the same thing, in different times and places’. For Locke, memory was good enough to allow for continuity, the changing of cells did not alter the person. However, this notion gives justification for killing non-communicative humans because a person is being defined as a conscious rational being. Pro-abortionists define a person as a human being with the capacity of reason and choice, as this sets us aside from being merely an animal. But, the word ‘capacity’ is too subjective, it ...

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