As science and medicine continue to evolve with advancements in technology, we as man must examine the moral and ethical principles that are possibly being overlooked. Presently, medical experiments involving the fetus show results that are considered by most to be promising. Such results include better treatments for many diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Parents are now even able to "screen" their embryos for diseases and choose one that has the best chance of living a healthy life. Results such as these do sound beneficial, but that acts in which these results are derived are what we must consider. Is it morally justifiable to perform fetal experimentation? To ethically analyze this we must consider the following questions: Can the fetus be considered a human? Is the fetus morally equivalent to a human being? Who, if anybody has the right to give consent to such experimentation? What or who should fetal experimentation is aimed to benefit.
First we will consider if the fetus can be considered a human. It is widely agreed that the fetus has the potential to be a human being; the controversy is if the fetus is human before birth. "If the young, previ able fetus is accorded full status as a person or patient, then the ethical barriers to fetal research are insurmountable, and the only ethical position is to stop all research that does not benefit the participating fetus." (Moody p. 101) However, if the fetus is not considered a person and is categorized at the other extreme then, "the fetus is defined as merely maternal tissue, like an excised tumor or kidney, then regardless of whether the tissue is living or dead, the ethical questions evaporate." (Moody p. 101) This extreme is ridiculous simply for the fact that a tumor does not have the potential to become a human being and should not be compared ethically to a fetus, which does contain this potential. The question then lies in the other extreme; does the fetus have full status as a person? Applying this to the observation that classifies a fetus as a potential person would give the fetus a unique moral category.
Described by Wasser strom as a situation in which " its (the fetus) status is close to but not identical with that of a typical adult." (Levine p. 300) It is apparent that human potential exists in the fetus, but what of the question that asks if the human body exists in the fetus. "As the Jesuit theologian Joseph Mangan has said, 'It would be incorrect to refer to the human body as being only virtually or potentially present in the zygote. The human body is actually present, the adult human body is potentially present.' Paul Ramsey also says, 'in a remarkable way, modern genetics also teaches there are formal causes, immanent principles, or constitutive elements long before there is any shape or motion or discernible size.' " (Ethical Evaluation p.
27) These reflections suggest that human 'essence' is found in the fetus and the fetus is not only tissue. Now, supposing that we accept the fact that the human 'essence' exists in the fetus, we can ask the question; is a fetus subject to moral equalities with all other human beings? .".. The principle of the moral equality of human beings demands a uniquely human, quantitatively immeasurable and qualitatively equal value of all human beings. It dictates humanitarian concern for the least privileged and most helpless members of the species. When understood as a normative principle it p rescinds from such functional human activities as thinking, conscious reflection and free choice.
The fetus has been identified as a member of the human species despite its inability to perform these functional human activities. Therefore moral equality may legitimately be predicated of three different human subjects: one who exercises the use of reason, one who has lost its exercise through mental dysfunction, and one (a fetus) who has not yet begun to exercise the use of reason. This means that from conception onwards, all human fetuses may claim moral equality with all other living human beings." (Ethical Evaluation p. 73) With moral equality between all humans including the fetus, a problem arises in experimentation. Experimentation is performed on human beings that are aimed at the well being of that person or aimed at a disease, which that person possesses.
In other circumstances, such as organ donning, consent must be given. This is where the problem arises; there is no possible way for a fetus to give consent. Therefore, experiments should only be aimed to help the fetus, not others (even though fetal tissue is needed for their help). Some, however, may argue that the pregnant mother has the right to consent experimentation of her fetus. Ramsey's reflection to this is as follows, "It is an extreme moral paradox to designate a woman who is planning a medically unnecessary abortion to be the one charged with consenting or not consenting 'for' the abortus and with protecting it from further avoidable harm.
It is worth repeating that her proxy consent never before was thought to express her 'feelings' alone or the degree of her interest in a child (and now in an abortus entered into research), but rather her judgment concerning the interests of the fetus or child. That, I suggest, she has abandoned, except in those cases when the abortion decision was impelled by very weighty considerations. If the disposition of abort uses for research purposes is such an utterly different role, one can as a general rule readily think of other candidates for that office besides pregnant women." (Ramsey p. 98) In conclusion, it has been established that the fetus is potentially an adult human being and does posses human 'essence'.
It has also been suggested that moral equality exists between born humans and the fetus. It is this equality that binds a fetus to its own well being, as the born man is bound to attempt to keep his body healthy. In this reason experimentation is allowed on the fetus if it is directed towards its well-being and / or a disease that the fetus itself posses. " The report (Peel) states, "in our view when the fetus is viable after delivery the ethical obligation is to sustain its life so far as possible and it is both unethical and illegal to carry out any experiments on it which are inconsistent with the treatment necessary to promote it's life." (Ramsey p. 3) Works Cited Robert J. Levine, Ethics and Regulation of Clinical Research.
Second Edition. Copyright Urban & Schwarzenberg 1986 Ramsey, Paul. The Ethics of Fetal Research. Copyright 1975 by Yale University An Ethical Evaluation of fetal Experimentation: An Interdisciplinary Study. Edited by Donald G.
McCarthy and Albert S. Moraczewski. Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, St. Louis.