Religion, Ethics, Law and Human Rights in Obstetric Research

O&G Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 33-34, 2008

2 Pages Posted: 23 May 2009

Date Written: July 23, 2008


Religion plays an important role in the lives of many medical researchers. In many cases, it has provided the basic impetus for them to engage in medical training and practice. An important part of that training, however, is to learn how to mesh their personal religious views with the principles of medical ethics (as derived from the Hippocratic tradition, as well as modern institutional domestic and international guidelines); health law (derived from legislation and judicial decisions); and human rights (as derived from constitutions or United Nations treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

The ethics, law and human rights of involving pregnant women and fetuses in research has been dominated by norms that try to achieve an uneasy and often improbable balance between: the protection of the vulnerable fetus; and the autonomy and privacy of the pregnant woman and her right to exclude interference with her body. In this protracted and often heated debate, viability (that is the period when the fetus is deemed to have reached a capacity for independent existence outside the womb) has formed a point of division.

Prior to viability, the rights of the woman have tended to dominate and after viability, the State has more interest in protecting the vulnerable fetus. This distinction is more than a matter of convenience. It reflects the fact that no superior court has accorded full legal personality to a fetus, chiefly because the fetus lacks the interests and capacities that are normally associated with human existence. Some religious groups hotly contest this conclusion and assert that the fetus should have an enforceable right to life from the moment of conception. This, however, has never occurred in any jurisdiction.

Keywords: obstetrics, human rights, viability, abortion, right to life, medical ethics, biioethics

Suggested Citation

Faunce, Thomas Alured, Religion, Ethics, Law and Human Rights in Obstetric Research (July 23, 2008). O&G Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 33-34, 2008. Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Alured Faunce (Contact Author)

Australian National University ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
61 2 61253563 (Phone)

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