Response to Commentaries on “A Critical Analysis of the Concept and Discourse of 'Unborn Child'”

American Journal of Bioethics 8 (7):4-6 (2008)
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Despite its prominence in the abortion debate and in public policy, the discourse of ‘unborn patient’ has not been subjected to critical scrutiny. We provide a critical analysis in three steps. First, we distinguish between the descriptive and normative meanings of ‘unborn child.’ There is a long history of the descriptive use of ‘unborn child.’ Second, we argue that the concept of an unborn child has normative content but that this content does not do the work that opponents of abortion want it to do, namely, to establish the independent moral status of fetuses and their rights, the right to life in particular. Third, we argue that the normative content of ‘unborn child’ should be dependent moral status, not independent moral status. We conclude that the ethical concept of the fetus as a patient should replace the discourse of “unborn child” when that phrase is used normatively.



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Laurence McCullough
Baylor College of Medicine