The Moral Standing of a Fetus: Deontological and Consequential Theory

2021-05-24 17:34:04
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Abortion has been a highly debated issue both socially and politically. People have different views regarding abortion. For example, in the United States, it has been an issue for the past thirty-eight since the Supreme Court made the medical procedure legal. Some activist groups believe that the fetus should be protected while some others believe that the woman/ mother carrying the fetus has the right to determine what happens to it depending on her situation and emotions. Theories by renowned philosophers have been used to argue for and against termination of a fetus and the moral standing that should be accorded to it. All in all, different people have different stands on this issue. This paper discusses whether the fetus has a similar moral standing as a human or it has a different moral standing. The paper will use Kants theory of deontology to argue for and against abortion and utilize consequentialism as a way of arguing solely for moral standing of the fetus being dependent on the person carrying it. Through these two views, the paper will help the reader view the issue of the life of a fetus from two different perspectives.

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Deontology

The theory of deontology has its followers believe that morality is a matter of duty. This theory mainly derives from the reasoning of the human rather than the consequences of an action (Van Pachterbeke 899). Deontologists believe that every individual has a moral duty to do what is right and not to do what is not right. They also believe that whether something is right or wrong is not dependent on its consequences but on the action itself, where its right, or wrong. This theory suggests that we are morally obligated to act in regards to certain set principles and rules without looking at the potential outcomes and consequences.

According to religious deontology, the principle of protecting life derives from divine commandments, we are morally obligated not to kill and therefore, this implies that the fetus has inherent right to be considered a human by moral standards (Shariff, Piazza & Kramer 440). Taking its life away is therefore equated to killing and denying it its moral standing as a human. Through this approach to ethics, a fetus life is sacred as religion, for example, Christianity would put it. When making decisions in regards to the fetus, it should, therefore, be valued as a complete person and not as a mere fetus without any rights. Viewing a fetus as that with a different moral standing than that of a human is denying it its right to choose.

Away from religious deontology, Kants deontology derives its views from the point of the consequences brought about by an action rather than from the point of moral uprightness. According to this theory, something may be right or wrong, not according to morals, but according to what caused the person to make that decision (Grey& Chelsea 416). Duty, in deontological ethics, should be done for the sake of duty and whether right or wrong should not be used to judge whether something should be done. This, however, does not mean that the consequences of an act are not relevant when trying to understand whether the act committed is right or wrong. Consequences in this matter help the afflicted determine whether he/she is keeping up with duty. In the case of a doctor, therefore, it may be his duty to protect the life of the mother, when the continued growth of the fetus can cause harm to both the mother and fetus. This doctor will, therefore, choose to end the life of a fetus in order to protect the life of the mother. It is his duty to protect human life, and he has done just that by putting an end to what may be causing risk for the mother. In another way, however, the doctor has violated the principle deontological ethics that states that objects of intrinsic moral value and that should not be used as a means to another end, even if it is the protection of another life.

The mother on the other hand, from the view of Kants deontology and religious deontology, allows the fetus a moral standing if she decides to keep it to term regardless of her situation. In this way, she is protecting the sacredness of life. If she decides to end the life of the fetus, she denies the fetus a moral standing as a human. The question of whether the fetus has a moral standing is not the issue when it comes to deontology but the moral position and the call of duty, which result in giving it moral standing like that of any other human being.

Consequentialism

Consequentialism is a normative ethical theory that speculates that the consequences of an action are the ultimate basis on which ones judgment should be made (Portmore 5). Whether an action is right or wrong in consequentialism is determined by what will happen if a particular action is taken. From this point of view, therefore, a morally upright act is that which will produce a positive outcome rather than what is morally upright. This is a classic case of the end justifying the means. When the goal of taking an action is morally upright/ most beneficial, then any method applied to achieve it is acceptable. This is a practical form of ethics which views morality as a science. With consequentialism, self-interest is king, and the consequences of an action are therefore viewed in the best interest of the individual.

The case of the fetus having a moral standing as a human in the case of consequentialism therefore largely depends on the best interest and consequences of the actions of the mother. If the mother feels that she is not in a position to have the baby, for example, due to medical reasons, her financial position and personal reasons, then the fetus does not stand a chance as a human with moral standing. The consequences of carrying a fetus to term in such a scenario may not be the best because what is the point of bringing a child into the world if one cannot afford to care for it or why take the chance if the mother's wellbeing can be affected by carrying the child. If the child is endangering the life of the mother, the consequence of bearing it may be the death of the mother, if it is instead terminated, then there are chances of the mother living and getting other children, this is a far better consequence than the child or both the child and mother dying. If the mother has financial problems, then the child would come to the world and suffer the consequences of lack. It is, therefore, safe to say that according to consequentialism, the fetus does have a moral standing only if the mother considers it as such and not purely based on morality.

Conclusion

The topic of the position that a fetus takes in society is a sensitive matter. Reasoning from a philosophical point of view, however, gives us the justification for whatever decision a person decides to take regarding the life and upbringing of the fetus. Through deontological and consequential theory approaches, we can understand that whatever position someone may choose to take in this great debate is justified as they have a basis for their argument.

Works Cited

Gray, Kurt, and Chelsea Schein. "Two minds vs. two philosophies: Mind perception defines morality and dissolves the debate between deontology and utilitarianism." Review of Philosophy and Psychology 3.3 (2012): 405-423.

Portmore, Douglas W. Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein morality meets rationality. Vol. 2. OUP USA, 2011.

Shariff, Azim F., Jared Piazza, and Stephanie R. Kramer. "Morality and the religious mind: why theists and nontheists differ." Trends in cognitive sciences 18.9 (2014): 439-441.

Van Pachterbeke, Matthieu, Christopher Freyer, and Vassilis Saroglou. "When authoritarianism meets religion: Sacrificing others in the name of abstract deontology." European Journal of Social Psychology 41.7 (2011): 898-903.

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