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Ethical aspects of the claim of personhood for the fetus

Ruth Roemer, JD, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, Mail Code: 177220, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1772, 3108256958, rroemer@ucla.edu

From earliest days of the debate on legalization of abortion in the United States in the 1960’s, opponents of legalized abortion contended that the fetus was a person entitled to protection of the law. This position has continued in various forms to the present when supporters of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (now being challenged in the courts) declared late abortions “infanticide” and convinced Congress to impose the first federal ban on abortion since abortion was legalized in 1973. Another twist to the effort to clothe the embryo and the fetus with personality is opposition to stem cell research, despite its great promise for cure of devastating diseases.

What are the ethical implications of efforts to base anti-choice legislation and policies on the notion that the fetus (and the antecedent embryo) is a person? What is the significance of this campaign for the autonomy of women and for their reproductive rights? What is the impact of this campaign on the rights of physicians to practice scientific medicine and provide their patients with the accepted standard of medical care? Do these legislative restrictions meet the ethical tests of beneficence for women and for society as a whole? Finally, does the argument that the embryo is entitled to legal protection comport with the ethical principle of justice? Or is it a smokescreen designed as a threat to the right to choose abortion? This paper will discuss these questions.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Reproductive Health, Bioethics

Related Web page: N/A

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Defining Personhood: Ethical and Public Policy Implications for Reproductive Health Services and Biogenetic Research

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA