Personhood: When is a foetus a person?
Rights of the Foetus depend upon when life
1.Foetus not considered a life until actually born
2.Life begins at point of conception
3.Life begins when foetus achieves viability – point
of survival on own.
• 1991 abortion limit law changed to 24
• Because babies born at 24 weeks are
viable and can survive
• Therefore foetus should be given legal
protection if it possible to survive
• Medical science has moved on since
then so pressure to lower to 20weeks
When does life begin?
• Catholic Church
• attractive view as it is clear cut and marks a definite
moment when foetus deserves same rights as a
• Law says 24 weeks
• Some make a distinction between potential life and
• Heart begins to beat
• Signs of brain activity
• Anything after birth is murder
Argument around ‘Ensoulment’
Ensoulment: moment human gains a soul.
•happens at the moment of conception
•at the formation of the nervous system and
•at the first brain activity;
•or when the foetus is able to survive
independently of the uterus (viability)
•first breath after being born;
Sanctity of life/Personhood
• Christianity holds that all life is sacred.
• Implies reverence and respect
• Not all living cells are human e.g.
• Question is: what is needed to make a
person if not growing cells: brain,
feelings, looks human?
Pro Choice: - supporters
• Campaigns for legalised
characterises itself as pro
• Foetus is part of woman’s
• Until 24 weeks foetus is
unviable (cannot survive
• Not considered an
• It is a potential life
Mary Anne Warren
“On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”, 1973
Abortion morally permissible at any stage of the pregnancy and
under any circumstances.
•1) It is wrong to kill innocent human beings.
•2) Foetuses are innocent human beings.
•3) Therefore, it is wrong to kill foetuses.
She argues: what makes a human being?
•moral sense/ part of moral community.
Mary Anne Warren Continued
“the rights of any actual
outweigh those of any
1. Consciousness + capacity to feel pain;
3. Self-motivated activity
4. The capacity to communicate.
Warren claims that:
• any being who does not possess most of 1-5 is not
a human being.
• the more like a person a being is = stronger right to
• no stage of foetal development at which a foetus
resembles a person enough to have a significant right
• a foetus’s potential for being a person not significant
to have a right to life.
Judith Jarvis Thompson
• Suppose you wake up one morning and you find that
your circulatory system is attached to the circulatory
system of a famous violinist who's kidneys are
failing. You didn't give your approval for this but now
if you detach yourself from this violinist, his kidneys
will surely fail and he will die immediately.
Furthermore, you must remain attached to this
violinist for nine months. Once nine months is up, the
violinist will be viable to live alone again. Are you
acting immoral by detaching yourself from this
violinist? Or are you acting charitable by keeping him
Sanctity of life: Pro - Life
• We are created in image of God – imago dei –
so humans are set apart from animals and have
a ‘spark’ of divinity within them
• Church of England: express overriding
compassion for the needs of the mother,
especially if there is a threat to her mental or
Values all human life equally
Clearly states that all killing is wrong (inline with
Charles Darwin challenged ‘imago dei’ with natural
Kant saw no reason to link vital signs (heart beat,
brain waves) to valuing life.
Peter Singer to treat human life over animal life is
‘speciesism’ – ought to value all life not just human
Sanctity of life: which life is more sacred –mother or
Life gift from God
To abort due to disability = denies value of lives of
countless disabled people.
Who is to decide whether a foetus will enjoy a good
quality of life?
Right to a child
Ethical issues surrounding IVF
1. Do we all have a right to a child through IVF?
2. Is a child a gift from God and not a right?
• UK Human Rights Act: Article
8 Right to a private and family
• IVF: In vitro fertilisation
• Taking eggs and sperm into a
laboratory dish to help
fertilisation – test tube babies
Ethical views on IVF
• AIH – artificial insemination by husband
• AID – donor
• IVF – test tube
• Spare embryos used for experimentation (up to 14
• Screening for imperfect embryos = imperfections
weeded out – will this lead to choosing desirable
• IVF exploited for designer babies?
• older woman past child bearing age using IVF
• IVF not very successful
• Many problems with IVF
• Masturbation in order to receive the
sperm used – not following natural
• IVF results in destruction of embryos –
First primary precept (protect innocent
• Reproduction is a natural process and
should not be tampered with.
• IVF has a low success rate which
would affect the happiness of the
• Would the money that the health
service use be better spent saving lives
– would this maximise happiness?
• Is it ethical to spend money on
assisting IVF with growing population
problems and poverty – happiness of
one couple over the pain of many?
• Is the destruction of so many embryos
in order to create one life justified?
• Using an embryo to cure another
sibling: is this using that embryo as a
means to an end?
• Can we universalise the use of IVF for
• Catholic Church: technology and doctors dominate in
creating new life.
• Does not disapprove of experimentation that may
help overcome embryos disease (Embryo research)
• Protestant Church: Paul Ramsay opposes AID as
reproduction should remain within marriage
• Joseph Fletcher – Situation Ethics – person centred,
love/ agape – love for a new child/ family, help infertile
• Surrogacy seen as against Sanctity of Life – child is a gift
not a right
• But: Liberal Christians= surrogacy act of agape
• Strong SOL – against IVF – destruction of embryos.
• “For you created my inmost being; you
knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
• “Before I formed you in the womb I
knew you, and before you were born I
consecrated you; I appointed you a
prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
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