The Person in Abortion
Nursing Ethics. 1999 Jan; 6(1): 37-46.
The issue of what constitutes a person is examined in relation to whether or not the fetus or newborn has qualities of personhood. The discussion also dwells on birth and viability as determining factors in decisions concerning terminations. Such decisions are stated to be constrained by both biological and social factors, particularly in the way in which the fetus can possess personhood only through the 'absorption' of such from its mother; both mother and fetus together are 'the person'. This article also considers whether, on Piagetian grounds, one can make personhood comparisons between infants and adults and suggests that such comparisons are a mistake. A social critique of Piagetian principles shifts the emphasis from individualism towards consideration of school, family and environmental factors. Equally, it is not feasible to view the fetus as an entity that is separate from its mother's perceptions of its social as well as its physical status. Finally, because termination decisions occur against 'real life' (and highly charged) backgrounds, we must reject any notion that such decisions are only an intellectual exercise. It is assumed that nurses would implicitly understand this and some attempt is made to state why this is so.