Sample Case study on Moral Status
Human beings are perceived as the most important creation among all living things because they are created in God’s image. The idea of creation in God’s image forms the basis for human dignity in Christian ethics. The term human dignity infers the position of human beings before God. This position confers dignity on human beings irrespective of their background or social status. One of the most controversial issues in the moral status of human beings is the human embryo. In Christianity, an embryo qualifies as a human being that must be accorded human dignity, just like other human beings.
Christian view of the nature of human persons and the theory of moral status
The creation of human beings in God’s image implies that humans should live with each other through a mutual relationship of care and love. Imago Dei or the image of God forms the basis of human dignity in Christianity. For people in the medical profession, the term moral status implies the provision of care through caring for the sick. This practice stems from the fact that humans are beings with a soul that is spiritual by nature (Gilabert, 2018). The spirituality of the human soul forces practitioners to craft treatment plans that consider the spiritual reality of the human soul. If people in the medical profession perceived humans only as physical beings, treatment plans would only revolve around the physical body. However, in normal practice, every nurse already knows that human beings constitute more than just the physical body.
There are numerous worldviews of what a human being is. Some people believe that God gave humans a higher value which automatically raises man’s standing before God and other creations. Other people simply believe that humans were catapulted to the top of the chain based on their physical nature and their intelligence. For those who believe in God, understanding God’s nature plays a critical role in understanding what it means to be human. Conversely, those who believe in science use it to define what a human being is, and often disregard the moral stature espoused by Christianity. However, answering the question of what a human being is through science deviates dramatically from a scientific definition to a philosophical one.
Moral Status of the Fetus
The issue of the moral status of a fetus draws sharp arguments about whether a fetus is a human being with full rights and dignity or not. Some people perceive that a fetus is a human being that deserves full human rights and dignity. Others hold that a fetus is only a womb that belongs to the mother hence does not have a moral status which is independent of its mother (Simkulet, 2019). The controversy surrounding a fetus’s moral status is the fact that its position/standing may occasionally come into conflict with the mother’s right to choose what to do with her body. The difficult question in these circumstances is who should take precedence over the other. To answer this question, there are three theoretical understandings that aid in examining a fetus’ status relative to life and the mother:
- A Fetus with Full Rights
When a fetus has full rights, it is treated as a separate being from the mother. In this case, a mother is essentially considered as being two people. The independence of the fetus from the mother is a potential cause of conflicts between a mother’s and a fetus’s rights. Since the fetus is an autonomous entity, it is conferred full rights including the right to live. In this case, a mother has no right to choose whether to keep or terminate the fetus (Andal, 2020). She has only one choice of observing the fetus’s right to life. Most societies do not forbid their pregnant women from personal lifestyles such as smoking or drinking alcohol. However, from the fetus’s point of view, smoking or drinking alcohol has adverse effects on an unborn child, hence an infringement on the fetus’s right to life.
- No Rights to the Fetus
In this approach, a fetus has no rights of its own because it is not a separate entity from the mother. This theoretical understanding asserts that any rights that a fetus might have are already conferred to the mother. The fetus can only assume full rights and dignity upon birth. Consequently, this understanding implies that pregnant mothers have full rights to decide what to do with their pregnancies. They have the option of aborting or keeping the fetus (Lörch-Merkle, 2019). Drawing from this argument, pregnant women have the right to terminate a pregnancy at any stage before giving birth. However, the mother does not have the right to kill the baby once he/she is born because, at this point, the baby has full rights like everyone else.
- Fetus’s Rights Increase with Gestation
The argument in this theory is that a fetus acquires more rights as they advance through the gestation period. What this means is that a mother has a choice to terminate a fetus during the early stages of the pregnancy but is forbidden from doing so during the late stages of pregnancy when the embryo has taken recognizable human shape and features. At this point, Räsänen, (2017) notes, the fetus is considered a human being and is conferred a higher moral status. This theory is quite controversial especially in Christianity that holds that everyone, including unborn children, have a moral status regardless of their status. The theory of human properties recognizes the worth that every human holds. This theory gives everyone the right to be recognized as entities with full rights and dignity.
Theory of Cognitive Properties
Dr. Wilson is using the theory of cognitive properties. This theory asserts that for one to have moral status, one must demonstrate a high level of rationality and awareness. It must be noted that in this theory, a fetus is not considered as an entity that has awareness or rationality. In his wisdom, Dr. Wilson has provided the family with all options and choices but is seen to support the option of aborting the fetus. This theory allows for the abortion of a fetus.
Divine Command Theory
On her part, Maria asks Jessica to ponder about her parental obligations as well as obeying God’s teaching on the right to life for all humans, fetuses included. Being the mother of the fetus and as a Christian, Jessica has an irrevocable relationship with God and her unborn child. These relationships confer a moral status to the child meaning that abortion for her is not an option. This theory does not allow the abortion of unborn children.
Moral Agency Theory
Jessica knows through her doctors that her unborn child has a disability. She knows that caring for such a child comes with a steep financial burden which she cannot afford in her current status. Jessica is torn between her consideration for the likely financial burden that make abortion prospects noble, and her religious beliefs that forbid abortion.
Personally, I find the moral agency theory much mor appropriate in handling the situation at hand. Technological advancements have enabled us to have a better understanding of fetus development, the kind of information we should use to create a better society. In as much as Christian interpretation of the problem abhors abortion, we are fully aware that certain fetal abnormalities make it impossible to carry pregnancy to term. Consequently, a decision to terminate Jessica’s pregnancy would be in the best interest of both the mother and the unborn child.
Since human beings were created in God’s image, they have a high moral status before God and all other creatures. Given this position, human beings are conferred with a high level of dignity and full rights. One of the rights that humans enjoy over other animals is the right to life. People have different meanings and definitions of the concept of human being, especially from the perspective of fetal development. For instance, while some believe that God gave humans a higher value which automatically raises the standing of man before God and other creations, others simply believe that the elevation of humans is simply the result of physical nature and intelligence. Numerous theories exist that attempt to explain the moral status of a fetus, with the three guiding understandings being a fetus with full rights, a fetus with no rights, and a fetus whose rights increase as they advance through the gestation period. In Christianity, however, there is no middle ground since the religion confers full rights to all human beings including fetuses.
- Andal, A. G. (2020). Revisiting international law’s discussion on the moral status of the fetus. Springer Geography, 327-338. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-58263-0_29
- Gilabert, P. (2018). Understanding human dignity in human rights. Human Dignity and Human Rights, 113-140. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198827221.003.0005
- Lörch-Merkle, K. E. (2018). Treating the fetus as a patient: Possible implications for its moral status. The Fetus as a Patient, 50-61. doi:10.4324/9781315170749-5
- Räsänen, J. (2017). Ectogenesis, abortion and a right to the death of the fetus. Bioethics, 31(9), 697-702. doi:10.1111/bioe.12404
- Simkulet, W. (2019). Abortion and ECTOGENESIS: Moral compromise. Journal of Medical Ethics, 46(2), 93-98. doi:10.1136/medethics-2019-105676