Separation-survivability : the elusive moral cut-off point?

De Roubaix, J. A. M. ; Van Niekerk, A. A. (2006)

The original publication is available at http://www.samj.org.za

Article

Act 92 of 1996, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, seeks to promote female autonomy. The Act makes no reference to the nature of the abortus - implying its moral insignificance. Utilitarian arguments on the value of life strongly support this position. Utilitarians argue that neither belonging to the human species, no possession of the potential to develop into a person, is a significant intrinsic characteristics in determining the value of life. For them the entrance requirement to any conception of moral significance in sentience - the ability to suffer. Full moral significance is only accorded to 'persons'. A person is someone who has attained a sufficient level of self-awareness to have an interest in the continuance of its existence. This develops some time after birth. 'Conservatives' argue for concepti on as the moral cut-off point after which termination is morally unacceptable; 'liberals' hold that there is no such prenatal point. Both of these notions are problematic, as is the notion of sentience. We argue that separation-survivability is the only morally acceptable cut-off point, based on four premises, viz. (i) a particular notion of potentiality; (ii) the inextricable, mutual relationship between human beings and their world (without either, the other cannot exist): (iii) the moral correspondence of the viable fetus and the neonate; and (iv) the moral unacceptablity of infanticide. We support a graded position on the value of prenatal human life, and a 'moderate' stance on termination - that notwithstanding possessing some moral significance, other arguments may trump this up to the point of separation-survivability. This seriously problematises 'partial birth' abortion, and the utilitarian argument on the value of life.

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