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Moral Status of the Foetus

By Lou-Williams Oct 18, 2014 911 Words
The argument that I have chosen to discuss in this essay is the extreme liberal view. My aim is to show that this argument is false by critically examining and evaluating the argument and the consequences of the extreme liberal view. I am concentrating on the extreme liberal view because I find it to have many more consequences than the other three views. I also find it to be quite a controversial view that I’m sure is not widely held in society. The extreme liberal view states that “the foetus is, in most if not all morally relevant respects, like a piece of tissue or a bit of the human body” (Hursthouse, 1987). The extreme liberal view in standard form looks like this:

An unfertilised ovum has the same moral status as a piece of tissue. Working forward from the unfertilised ovum, there is no point until birth that the developing ovum comes to possess a different moral status. The foetus has the moral status of a piece of tissue right up until birth.

The first premise appears to be uncontentious. Unfertilised ovum in large numbers are lost in a variety of ways every day. However there is no cry of outrage by society or scientists spending millions of dollars researching ways to try and save ovum lost in these ways. Unfertilised ovum are lost approximately every 28 days by most females once puberty is reached until the commencement of menopause. Unfertilised ovum are also lost through In Vitro Fertilisation procedures and scientific research. It would be unrealistic to place the same moral status on an unfertilised ovum as you would to a fertilised ovum because if you held that the first premise was untrue it would almost be impossible to prove. Therefore the first premise would have to be true.

The second premise does not take into consideration the fertilisation of the ovum or the change of moral status once fertilisation occurs. An objection to premise two is the acorn analogy by Finnis (1974, 112 – 113) who holds that when a tree sprouts from an acorn it signifies the beginning of a life, and therefore so does the fertilisation of an ovum. Finnis (1974) describes fertilisation as a catastrophic event that involves the creation of something completely new (Finnis, 1974). You cannot possibly hold premise two to be true when fertilisation is described as the beginning of life and the time when the ovum becomes morally significant. Therefore the second premise would have to be false.

The conclusion that the foetus has the moral status of a piece of tissue right up until birth has to be false. You can use the blue/green analogy by Hursthouse (1987) as an objection to this conclusion. When a blue object fades to green from being left in the sun for too long, you cannot pinpoint the exact moment that it changed colour, but you are aware that a significant change has occurred. The same can also be said to discount the theory that the foetus has the same moral status of a piece of tissue right up until birth. This is because even though you cannot see the exact moment when natural fertilisation occurs and the ovum becomes a foetus, the fact is that a significant change to the moral status of the foetus has occurred before birth. An exception to this, of course, is due to the advancements in medical science and in In Vitro Fertilisation technologies, it is possible to see the exact moment of conception through a microscope.

The consequences of this view mean that a woman can choose to terminate the foetus right up until birth for any reason at all. If you were to follow the extreme liberal view it would mean that termination could be carried out for reasons of vanity or convenience such as: The pregnancy might make you put on weight.

The pregnancy might interrupt your career.
The pregnancy might interfere with your sex life.
You may not believe in contraception.

The extreme liberal view means that you can have an abortion of convenience on command. Whilst this may hold true to the extreme liberal view, it is not necessarily morally right or socially acceptable to have an abortion for the reasons set out above. If abortion of convenience on command was viewed as not being morally right, it could have a negative impact on the way people treat you and negatively impact on your relationships within your family, with your peers and the wider community. It seems unlikely that abortion of convenience on command would ever be accepted in society for trivial matters such as vanity.

The argument can be further reduced from the standard form down to a logical form to show the validity of the argument: p = the view
q = the consequences
If p then q
Not q
Not p
It shows that the view is unacceptable and therefore it is a false argument which is modus tollens.

This essay has set out to show how the extreme liberal view is an unacceptable view by using the objections, consequences and analogies to critically examine the argument and to support that the view is unacceptable.

Hursthouse, R.
1987 Extracts from ‘The moral status of the foetus’ Chapter 2 of Beginning lives, Blackwell/Open University.

McLean, G.R.
2014 Applied Ethics, PHL101 Study Guide, Faculty of Arts. Charles Sturt University.

McLean, G.R.
2014 Applied Ethics, PHL101 Readings, Faculty of Arts. Charles Sturt University.

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