The moral status of a human fetus

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The moral standing of a human fetus has sparked several modern discussions over the ethics of most scientific techniques, including abortion, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and cloning, to name a few. Both Religious literature and the media address the ethical question of human embryos. There are five major theories of moral standing. Moral agency, human qualities, cognition, sentience, and relationship theory are among them. In this case study, Dr. Wilson, Jessica, Aunt Maria, and Marco all have distinct theoretical perspectives to the fetal abnormalities caused by Jessica's pregnancy. Aunt Maria responds to Dr. Wilson's diagnosis with moral agency. Marcos uses both the sentience theory while Dr. Wilson uses the cognitive theory in response to the situation. One the other hand, Jessica uses the relationship and the human properties theory in response to the fetal diagnosis.

From the illustration of her actions, Aunt Maria is a religious woman. Immediately after she learns of the diagnosis from Dr. Wilson’s office, she wails and prays loudly. She is also phoning the priest following the doctor’s revelation. This implies that her decision regarding the fetal abnormality is based on her religious faith regardless of what Jessica, Marcos and Dr. Wilson feel about the situation. This is the reason behind her decision to plead with Jessica to follow through the pregnancy and allow what God intends to take place. Aunt Maria’s decision is based on her traditional and religious values because she urges Jessica not to view the fetus as a burden and instead think of her responsibility as a mother. Dr. Wilson, on the other hand, is using the cognitive theory to relay her opinion regarding the pregnancy. According to Dr. Wilson, the best way to make an informed decision is to lay out all the possible options. His decision is based on acquired knowledge through both extensive research and experience with patients in Jessica’s situation. First, he is knowledgeable about the patient’s right to information. He, therefore, disregards Marco’s pleas to disclose the information to Jessica and goes ahead to break the news to her as his patient. Secondly, after laying out all the possible options, he gives the family his option about abortion. This decision is inclusive because it addresses the family’s socio-economic status. Dr. Wilson also informs the family that abortion is both scientifically and medically a wise decision. Marcos uses the theory of sentience in response to Dr. Wilson’s diagnosis. Unlike both Aunt Maria and Dr. Wilson, he has the capacity to feel and experience Jessica’s condition subjectively. Regardless of the fact that he and her wife Jessica do not have adequate resources to take care of a baby born with special needs, he does not immediately borrow Dr. Wilson’s option on adoption. Instead, he informs Jessica that he will be supporting her in any decision she makes. Secondly, Marcos’ capacity to feel Jessica’s condition subjectively is demonstrated by his resolve to make sure that Dr. Wilson does not break the heart-breaking news to Jessica until she is ready. He also informs Dr. Wilson that he will be able to break the news to Jessica in his own time to avoid aggravating her agony. Lastly, Jessica’s reaction to Dr. Wilson’s diagnosis on her pregnancy is based on the theories of relationship and human properties. First, she has already created some form of relationship with the fetus, and she believes that all life is sacred. She, therefore, finds it difficult to terminate the pregnancy. However, she is aware that continuing with the pregnancy to term will also bring about socioeconomic challenges and she might not be independent financially as she and Marcos were hoping.

According to me, Dr. Wilson’s cognitive theory is the most effective in such a situation. His theory is not based on feelings, traditions or religious obligations. His opinion is derived from experience and scientific research regarding the challenges that come with the fetal abnormality. In addition, his theory also encompasses all other aspects surrounding the family including their moral and socioeconomic position. This implies that not only abortion is morally and medically right in such a situation, it will also alleviate the couple’s financial struggles raising a child with major disabilities. Based on this theory, Jessica’s pregnancy will be terminated as soon as she gives consent for it. This will not only ensure her safety in case there were health challenges that would follow the fetal disability but will also ensure that she is not in state of financial struggle while taking care of the disabled child. However, the most important part is to ensure that Jessica, as the primary patient, is given full autonomy to make her own decision. After laying down the options for her regarding her pregnancy, Jessica should not feel pressured to make a certain decision. Instead, she should be supported as far as possible in whichever decision she makes.


Butts, J., & Rich, K. (2013). Nursing ethics: across the curriculum and into practice. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

May 10, 2023

Hero Child Development

Subject area:

Moral Infant Ethics

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