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Abnormal Fetus, Its Moral Status and Abortion Ethics

Abortion is a medical procedure that involves the surgical elimination of the fetus from a female’s womb with the purpose of ending a pregnancy. This procedure results in the fetus’s death. Although potentially dangerous to the woman, abortion has been advocated as a fundamental right in line with the agency over one’s body. However, there has been strong opposition to abortion based on the moral status of the fetus.

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According to religion, a child’s life is given by God; therefore, it is sacred, granting the child a moral status since conception. Other theories base moral status on human-centric qualities as well as and sentience capabilities. Many advocate abortion to prevent unwanted pregnancy and birthing of children with serious disabilities. The purpose of this paper is to analyze a case study related to abortion and various moral theories that have an influence on the recommended decision.

Short Summary

The case study involves four individuals: Jessica, who is a pregnant mother, Marco, who is the child’s father, Anna, who is Jessica’s aunt; and Dr. Wilson, who is Jessica’s treating physician. The family arrives at the hospital on Jessica’s fourth month of pregnancy in order to undergo a preliminary ultrasound scan of the fetus. It is discovered that the child has severe abnormalities, will be born without arms, and will likely develop Down syndrome as well.

The decision needs to be made on what is to be done with the fetus. The doctor proposes abortion as a viable option. Anna and Jessica are deeply religious people. Anna believes that abortion is a sin against God. Jessica is torn between wanting to preserve sacred life and being sentenced to a lifetime of socioeconomic struggle and undergoing an abortion. Marco will support his wife’s decision but looks favorable to abortion.

Moral Theories at Work

There are several moral theories, which can be used to bestow or remove a moral status from a living creature, be that an animal or a human fetus. Bioethics typically rely on the following frameworks to solve complicated moral questions:

  • Human properties theory. It utilizes a born human being as the golden standard for determining the moral status of beings (Sumner, 2014). Non-human beings, no matter how well-developed in their conscious and sentience capabilities, do not have moral status.
  • Cognitive theory. This theory bases a moral status not on the adherence to any particular species but rather on cognition, which includes perception, memory, understanding, and thinking (Sumner, 2014).
  • Moral agency theory. This theory is based on the capacity of a being to make moral decisions and differentiate right from wrong (Sumner, 2014).
  • Sentience-based theory. This theory revolves around the being in question showing the capability to react to stimuli as well as feeling pleasure and pain (Sumner, 2014). These motions demonstrate the presence of consciousness in the form of feelings.
  • Relationship theory. According to this theory, moral status is granted based on a relationship to something, be it a family, nation, or God (Sumner, 2014).

In the presented case study scenario, it is possible to understand which theories the individuals follow. Anna is a strict believer in the relationship theory, as according to her, the fetus’s life is sacred due to its relationship with God. Dr. Wilson’s views are based either on cognitive or human properties theory. At four months, a fetus can already feel pain (Lagercrantz, 2014), which excludes sentience-based theory out of the question. Jessica is torn between relationship theory and any of the other four theories, as any of them can be used to justify abortion. There is not enough information on Marco’s views to understand his position on the matter, aside from the fact that he sees an abnormal child as a hindrance to his family. His way of thinking is likely framed by utilitarian ethics.

Personal Take on the Problem

As a firm supporter of cognitive and utilitarian ethics, I will agree with Dr. Wilson and his assessment of the situation. I perceive other models as flawed since the human properties model is too narrow, and the sentience model is too broad, potentially giving moral status to various creatures, such as animals. The relationship theory, on the other hand, lacks a scientific basis to support its claims. If we use cognitive theory as a framework, the decision to perform an abortion would be favorable. Removing a fetus shall not be considered immoral, as the fetus would lack moral status to begin with.

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On the other hand, allowing it to grow into a human being would not only bring suffering to parents but to the child itself, as he or she would be released into this world malformed, thus overly reliant on parents and vulnerable to various dangers and prejudices of the outside world. This would result in great amounts of unhappiness for all parties, extended over a long period of time (Allan, 2015). Therefore, abortion is a preferable and utilitarian choice in comparison, as suffering generated from it would be short-term only. At four months of pregnancy, the fetus is not yet capable of major cognitive capabilities that could define it as a human being (Lagercrantz, 2014). However, should Jessica’s hesitation delay abortion, it would be too late to conduct the operation.


Allan, L. (2015). Contraception and abortion: A utilitarian view. Web.

Lagercrantz, H. (2014). The emergence of consciousness: Science and ethics. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 19(5), 300-305.

Sumner, L. W. (2014). Abortion and moral theory (2nd ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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