Humanistic Perspectives in Medical Ethics

By Maurice B. Visscher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
BIRTH DEFECTS

THE ETHICAL PROBLEM

Leroy Augenstein

In our society many people have the opinion that once a child is conceived, it has the right not to be aborted. And once this child is born, it acquires all kinds of rights and privileges that are guaranteed by our laws. An unconceived individual, however, is a hypothetical thing. It has no rights. Thus, we need to ask: Should an unconceived individual have any rights? In particular, should some unconceived individuals have the right never to be conceived at all?

In deciding that a child should have the right not to be conceived, one must ask what that child might have accomplished had it been conceived. Let us examine briefly three specific kinds of congenital abnormalities that research indicates are genetically controlled.

The first of these is anencephaly, which means, literally, "no brain." Such a child is born with only the primitive brain stem, but none of the higher brain functions intact. Fortunately, and I think I use the term

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