Pregnancy as a Developing Relationship: Implications for the Construction of Fetal Personhood

Dissertation, University of Minnesota (1996)

In this dissertation, I have argued for a philosophical examination of the nature of the fetus from a pregnant-woman-centered perspective. In the current ongoing philosophical debate around questions of fetal personhood or moral status, the fetus is almost without exception conceptualized in abstraction from the woman's body within which it exists. Such a conceptualization logically results in views of fetal personhood or moral status which are characterized by the search for criteria which are intrinsic to the fetus. A broad range of criteria are proposed: from genetic humanity, which the fertilized ovum partakes of, to self-consciousness, which the newborn does not possess. These views, I have argued, respectively overdetermine or underdetermine the moral status of the fetus, and they do so because they fail to take into account the complexity of pregnancy. The fact of the fetus's location within a woman's body--a location that renders its ontology unique compared to any other being--argues against the assignment of categories of moral status that apply to ex utero beings. By employing the notion of pregnancy as a developing relationship that has both physical and social components, I argue that while the fetus is not a full person, it may nonetheless be a person in the "social" sense. This sense of personhood arises within the context of the relationship that is pregnancy, out of qualities of the fetus's life that are extrinsic to it in that they take place within an interpersonal context. Qualities like being someone's anticipated child, or son, or daughter form the foundation for a kind of moral status. Because the pregnancy takes place within the pregnant woman's body, however, she is prima facie within the best position to determine whether she can responsibly continue the relationship that is developing within the context of her larger life; whether she will or will not "bring about" the fetus's social personhood by continuing the pregnancy relationship. I suggest that a "responsibilist ethic" is the most appropriate framework within which to consider pregnancy and the fetus
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