The case that I chose to discuss is an article that assesses the argument of whether it is ethically right or wrong to have a prenatal diagnosis of the sex of a child in order for parents to decide if they want to keep the child or not. Some questions are raised as to whether sex selection through abortion is moral or immoral, and if it were immoral, under what circumstances, if any, would it be justified.
Prenatal gender selection through abortion is a legal practice in any country where abortion is legal and the technology is available to determine the sex of the fetus. When parents ask for a prenatal diagnosis, they are not breaking any laws. Even though it is not against the law, data suggests that physicians may or may not comply with prenatal sex selection. This shows that there is a moral decision being made here by both the parents of the child and the physician performing the procedure. Skeptics see sex selection as a precedent for other genetic “tinkering” that could possibly arise with advances in genetics. There is also the possibility that pre-conceptional methods of determining your child’s gender will be available in the future. These two future possibilities also have to be evaluated when the decision is made to perform the prenatal diagnosis. If the demand for this procedure becomes high, then it may give doctors more of a reason to try and take prenatal selection of characteristics to new levels. These are all relevant facts that both physicians and parents have to take into account when they are making their decision.
There are ethical issues that arise from the possibility of a prenatal diagnosis of a fetus. The one obvious ethical issue is whether it is right or wrong to abort a child simply because it is not of the desired sex. The parents and the physician performing the procedure have to decide whether or not it is ethical to abort a fetus in order for them to have a child of the sex they desire. This is the issue for them to decide on, assuming that the child is healthy and has no complications. If complications are present, a whole new set of ethical issues opens up. One can make a case that it is not unethical to have an abortion in cases of rape or when the fetus is found to have health problems that will cause serious problems in the child. These situations are different, ethically, than having an abortion solely because the parents have their hearts set on a girl and the fetus is a boy. The latter need to consider whether they are violating the rights of the unborn child by destroying him or her for a very shallow reason.
When making this decision, they also have to take into account not only the one life that they hold in their hands but also that they are promoting the institution of abortion for vanity alone. Their agreement that this is something that is not wrong is just one more case that will be looked at when doctors in the future are considering moving to the next level in parental choice of the characteristics of their fetus. Where will the line be drawn? Will parents next want an abortion because they want a tall child and doctors can tell that their child is going to be short? Essentially, this is no different than choosing the sex of your child through abortion.
The parents who are asking for prenatal diagnosis for sex selection are the ones who have the biggest ethical decision to make. It is ultimately up to them whether this unborn fetus will live or die before taking its first breath.
Of course the fetus is most affected by this decision because its parents’ decision will determine if it has a chance to live or not. If the parents decide to let it live, regardless of whether they want it or not, it will get a chance to experience life.
Another individual that has to make an ethical decision in this case is the physician that is being asked to perform the diagnosis and abortion. The physician first has to decide their stance on abortion. Since the parents are coming to him to ask for a prenatal diagnosis, he probably believes in pro-choice. If he is pro-choice, then he must decide if abortion solely for the purpose of sex selection is ethically right or wrong. He must also realize that if he performs the diagnosis and the parents request the abortion, he is saying, through his actions, that he feels it is valid to have an abortion simply so the parents can have a child with the characteristics they desire.
There are a few ways that the parents could decide in this case. They could have the prenatal diagnosis and make their decision accordingly. If the fetus’ sex is to their liking, they could keep the child, which leaves them with no real moral decision. On the other hand, the real decision comes into play if the child is of the sex that they did not want. The parents could have an abortion, keep the child regardless, or put the child up for adoption. When making this decision, they must take into account all of the relative ethical issues and not just the immediate impact of not having the child. Their physician also has a decision to make. He could perform the prenatal diagnosis and leave it up to the parents to decide, or he could refuse and send them away.
If we took a utilitarian approach to this issue, the morally right thing to do would be the decision that brought the most happiness to the greatest number of people. This happiness is not only measured quantitatively but also qualitatively. The whole life of the unborn fetus far outweighs the sacrifice that its parents must make if they are going to keep it. Since the parents can put the child up for adoption, the mother only has to carry the child for the length of the pregnancy and then will no longer have to keep the unwanted child. This would be the morally valid thing to do in this case for the parents.
The alternative of having an abortion would be viewed as immoral by the Kantian ethical theory because it violates the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative has three formulations. The first is to act as if the maxim (general law of action) of your action were to become a universal law of nature. The second is to act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always as an end and never simply as a means. The third is that everything be done from the maxim of such a will, as its object is itself regarded as legislating universal law, in that the will can be based on no interest at all. Having an abortion simply because the fetus is not the sex that the couple prefers is treating the unborn child as a means to their happiness and not as a separate entity that deserves its own life. This would be violating the second formulation of the categorical imperative. Since it violates the second formulation, it would be declared an immoral act by the Kantian theory of ethics.
The physician’s decision to perform the abortion or not would fall under the same conditions of morality as the parents. Under utilitarianism, the action that would create the greatest amount of good would be for the doctor to refuse to do the abortion. This is morally right for the same reasons it is morally right for the parents not to have the abortion.
In this case, having the child is reasonable. Having the child, regardless of the sex, is not a hard thing to do for the parents. It may be emotionally trying for the parents to go through the birth of the child and then have to give it up, yet this is a reasonable sacrifice in order to save the life of a child. Consideration for the unborn child may be the only thing that stands in the way of the parents making the morally right decision. If the parents do not feel that the fetus is a living thing, they may make a more unethical decision than if they view the fetus as something that will grow into a living, breathing human being.
When looking at the morality of this decision, the right decision to be made is to keep the child and give them a chance to experience the wonder of life. Putting the child up for adoption is always an option for any couple that really has their heart set on a certain sex. Every fetus deserves a chance to be born and a chance to survive on its own. The amount of happiness that will likely be experienced during its life far outweighs any grief that will be put on the parents for giving it up for adoption.
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