Morten Magelssen: Two Conceptions of the moral -status of the fetus

In the question of the moral status of the fetus, two groups of philosophical positions in particular face each other: Theories in which the fetus’ value stems from its species or its nature usually lead to the conclusion that the fetus has a right to life from conception; whereas theories that demand the presence of certain attributes before the fetus aquires a right to life, usually attributes moral value to the fetus at a certain stage during pregnancy, or at or after birth. This paper presents the arguably most philosophically potent position from each group: Beckwith’s and Kaczor’s substance view of the fetus; and Boonin’s organized brain activity criterion. The theories’ strong and weak points are identified and explored. We are lead to conclude that the former position is the stronger, but that significant objections to each position remain. Arguments from philosophical branches other than normative ethics itself are needed in order to decide which theory is the rationally preferable.

Keywords: the moral status of the fetus, abortion, applied ethics