Words of Wisdom:

"With great power comes great responsibility." - SoPhIsTiCaTeD_fOrD

Abortion - Essay 13

  • Date Submitted: 09/15/2010 02:15 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 51.1 
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MAIN ETHICAL ISSUES. The applied ethical issue of abortion involves a consideration of the
reasons for or against terminating the life of a fetus. Much has been written on the issue of
abortion both in the popular press and in the philosophical literature. The debate focuses on two
distinct issues: (1) whether a human fetus has a right to life, and, if so, (2) whether the rights of the
mother ever override the fetus's right. Often the issues are discussed independently of each other.
Discussion of the first issue, regarding a fetus's right to life, usually draws on the concept of moral
personhood. A being is a morally significant person when it is a rights holder, and we are under
moral obligation to that being. For example, I am a morally significant person and am entitled to
the right to life, which others have a moral duty to acknowledge. The problem for moral theorists
is to establish a criterion that explains why I am a morally significant person, and a fly or a worm
is not a morally significant person.
Some religious philosophers suggest that we are morally significant persons at the moment of
conception. Nonreligious criteria include, when we first take the human form (in the fourth month
of pregnancy), when our organs become differentiated, and when the fetus can survive outside the
womb (both around the seventh month of pregnancy). Some philosophers suggest more general
criteria such as when a being is self-aware or rational. These criteria are not exhibited until an
infant is one or two years old. The criterion of personhood selected has decisive implications on the
morality of abortion. If personhood is conferred on a being at the moment of conception, then, all
things considered, aborting a fetus is immoral. On the other hand, if we select a criterion such as
self-awareness, then, all things considered, aborting a fetus is not immoral. The challenge is in
providing reasons in support of one criterion over another.


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