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Legal and Ethical Issues Concerning Abortion in the United Kingdom

Samantha can legally have an abortion if she meets the legal requirements stipulated in the United Kingdom abortion Act of 1967. According to this Act, a certified medical doctor can legally conduct an abortion. In addition, two doctors will be needed to examine Samantha and certify that she meets one of the conditions stipulated in the abortion Act. The following are the conditions stipulated by the abortion act. Firstly, a woman can be allowed to have an abortion if the pregnancy poses a health risk to her or any of her children. Secondly, a woman is allowed to have an abortion if the pregnancy poses risks, which can result in permanent injury to the mental and physical health of the woman. [1]

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The abortion Act also allows women to procure an abortion if the pregnancy poses danger to the health of the woman. The act allows abortion when the fetus is deformed, and if left to develop to maturity, it would have serious mental and physical abnormalities. Lastly, abortion can be legally conducted when the woman is imperfect or falls pregnant at an age of below sixteen, or if the pregnancy was because of rape. Subsection three of the abortion Act prevent “backstreet” abortions, by stipulating that abortions can only be conducted in hospitals run by the secretary of the state or the ministry of health, or a place approved by the Act. [2]

From the provisions of the abortion Act, it is evident that Samantha does not meet most of the requirements in the bill. Samantha’s pregnancy has not been examined by a medical doctor and declared a danger to her health or the fetus she is carrying. Samantha is seventeen years old and her pregnancy was not because of rape. Samantha can get a legal abortion, if a medical doctor, through the provisions of subsection four of the abortion Act, declares that she is unfit to continue with the pregnancy. [3] Subsection 4 allows a medical doctor to undermine the requirement for a second opinion, and the restriction on places where abortions can be conducted. The doctor can declare Samantha unfit because the pregnancy is already causing mental distress to her.

Ethical Issues

Samantha will also face ethical issues concerning abortion, which will greatly influence her final decision. The ethical issues concerning abortion are normally based on two aspects. One of the aspects concerns the moral status of the fetus, while the other is related to the rights of the pregnant women. Those considering that the fetus has moral status, advocate for the abolition of abortion, and equate it to murder. Those who give precedence to the rights of pregnant women, on the other hand, maintain that women have the right of choosing whether they want to be mothers or not. [4]

Samantha should also know that as a woman she is ethically obliged to the fetus. Some argue that a fetus has the potential of becoming a person and therefore should not be destroyed. Those who view abortion as a norm, are of the view that it is unethical to interfere with the rights of women to control their bodies. Allowing women to exercise bodily autonomy is a fundamental ethical requirement, of any free and democratic society. Pro-choice groups have also maintained that it is unethical to bring an unwanted child into this world. Therefore, abortion is seen as the only ethical way of dealing with this problem. [5]

Proponents of abortion suggest that an embryo developing in a womb can only be considered human after it has acquired certain features. For example, embryos normally indicate symptoms of a heartbeat after twenty-one days. Therefore, according to pro-choice groups, if a fetus is destroyed before it develops human features it does not amount to destroying human life. Hence, proponents of the rights of pregnant women would encourage Samantha to have an abortion if her pregnancy was still in its early stages. However, those who view a fetus as having a moral standing claim that this argument is misleading because cells, which form a fetus are living, and are likely to feel pain after twenty-four weeks if destroyed. They also add that it is unethical to inflict trauma and pain on potential lives. [6]

From the above discussion, it is evident that abortion and the ethics surrounding it is a complex issue. This is because in trying to answer one ethical question, another automatically arises from it. Some base their ethical consideration from a secular view, while others based theirs on religious values. [7] Gradualists view that according a fetus respect at its various stages of development , as opposed to determining whether it is a human or not, can provide a solution to the ethical debate. However, from a legal perspective, the moral standing of the fetus is considered insignificant.[8]

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Should the United Kingdom Legalize Assisted Suicide?

The United Kingdom should not legalize assisted suicide. Assisted suicide refers to the practice of providing an individual with voluntary means of ending his or her life. Legalizing assisted suicide may lead to the abuse of the law by certain individuals, and medical practitioners[1]. The suicide act of 1961, states that it is illegal to help another person commit suicide. Despite the provisions of this act, some doctors in the United Kingdom still help patients commit suicide by giving them painkillers and withholding treatment. Doctors normally do this to patients who are terminally ill after consulting with their relatives[2].

The pressure to legalize assisted suicide in the UK can be seen in the Purdy vs. director of the public prosecution case, which took place in 2009. In this case, Purdy a forty-five-year-old woman, who was suffering from terminal multiple sclerosis, wanted to know whether her husband would face persecution if he assisted her to travel to Switzerland to procure assisted suicide. Purdy’s concern was based on the fact that the director of public prosecution had failed to stipulate specific guidelines, which indicate conditions under which an individual can be prosecuted if he or she takes part in assisted suicide. Purdy argues that this failure violated her rights as stipulated in article 8 of the suicide act. Article 8 guarantees respect for a private and family life.

A second case that demonstrates the increasing pressure to legalize assisted suicide is that between Nicklinson and the ministry of justice, which took place on 8th February 2012. In this case, Nicklinson has suffered from a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to move. Nicklinson and his family wanted to procure an assisted suicide with an assurance that the doctor that will perform the procedure will not be prosecuted. Nicklinson and his family-based their claim under the provisions of article 8 of the suicide act[3].

The UK director of persecutions published directives indicating situations under which laws outlawing assisted suicide should be applied. The director of public prosecutions stipulated that assisted suicide could be allowed if they were carried out on compassionate grounds, and consented by the individual involved. The UK laws render assisted suicides illegal, while the director of public prosecution has introduced selective prosecution. This has been seen as a violation of the rule of law by the United Kingdom commission on assisted suicide. [4]

The commission recommended that an individual who is at least eighteen years, suffering from a terminal illness, and whose mental capabilities are not impaired by any conditions, should be granted assisted suicide upon request. The commission also added that if assisted suicide were to be legalized, requests for such services would have to be certified by at least two medical doctors, who will take the legal responsibility of such an act. Despite the pressure and recommendation to legalize assisted suicide in the United Kingdom, the parliament has rejected the seventh attempt to legislate laws legalizing assisted suicide. [5]

The ethical issues surrounding assisted suicide are normally based on moral controversies. Proponents of assisted suicide maintain that all individuals have the moral right of deciding what they would like to do with their lives if they do not harm others. Free choice also gives rights to individuals to end their own lives. Proponents of assisted suicide also argue that it is unethical to watch another human being suffer. Terminal illnesses impair the functioning of humans making them live undignified life. Therefore, we must end the excruciating suffering of fellow humans. [6]

Proponents of assisted suicide support arguing that the practice has the potential of reducing the cost of health care. Currently, the cost of health care in the United Kingdom is high; allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives will eliminate the cost incurred in providing medicine to these patients. These proponents also argue that legalizing assisted suicide will help solve the shortage of medical personnel currently faced in the UK.[7]

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Opponents of assisted suicide have argued that society is morally obliged to preserve and protect lives. Hence, allowing people to aid in the destruction of other people’s lives is a violation of the basic societal duty of protecting lives. Furthermore, opponents of assisted suicide argue that allowing assisted suicide on the grounds of companion or mercy could be a slippery slope towards bigger problems. This is because this can lead to a situation whereby society will be calling for the termination of lives viewed as unworthy. In addition, relatives with terminally ill patients may persuade the patient to opt for assisted suicide against his or her wish. [8]

Its opponents equate assisted suicide to the devaluation of life. This may put infants born with a severe deformity in danger because its life will be terminated without their opinions be known. Assisted suicide can interfere with the rights of others especially the medical practitioners involved. Medical practitioners might be persuaded to cooperate in assisted suicide against their wish. [9]


The legal and ethical issues surrounding abortion in the United Kingdom are complicated. Samantha may have trouble obtaining a legal abortion, but if she presents her case on the basis that she is unfit to be a mother, she might be considered. Handling ethical issues surrounding abortion will depend on her standing, whether she is pro-choice or pro-life. The UK should not legalize assisted suicide because it will lead to devaluation of life whereby certain individuals in society would be deemed unfit to live. However, special provisions can be made for those who need to be assisted suicide.


Bonnie, S, Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2011.

Baili, Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice & Ors [2012] EWHC 304 (QB), England and Wales High Court (Queen’s Bench Division) Decisions. Web.

Currie, S, Abortion, Green Haven Press, San Diego, CA, 2000.

Emily, J, Medical Law: Text, Cases and Materials, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2009.

Herring, J, Medical Law and Ethics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2008.

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Jussim, D, Medical Ethics: Moral and Legal Conflicts In Health Care, J. Messner Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1991.

Keown, J, Abortion, Doctors and the Law: Some Aspects of the Legal Regulation of Abortion in England from 1803 to 1982, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002.

Moreno, J, Arguing Euthanasia: The Controversy over Mercy Killing, Assisted Suicide, and the “Right to Die”, Touchstone, New York, 1995.

Pozgar, GD, Legal and Ethical Issues For Health Professionals, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, MA, 2010.

Stauch, M, & Wheat, K., Text, Cases & Materials on Medical Law, Routledge, Madison Ave, NY, 2002.

Steinbock, B, Life before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2011.

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