Protecting Future Children from In‐Utero Harm

8 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2016

See all articles by Dominic Wilkinson

Dominic Wilkinson

University of Oxford - Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care

Loane Skene

University of Melbourne - Law School

Lachlan de Crespigny

University of Oxford

Julian Savulescu

University of Oxford - Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

Date Written: July 2016

Abstract

The actions of pregnant women can cause harm to their future children. However, even if the possible harm is serious and likely to occur, the law will generally not intervene. A pregnant woman is an autonomous person who is entitled to make her own decisions. A fetus in‐utero has no legal right to protection. In striking contrast, the child, if born alive, may sue for injury in‐utero; and the child is entitled to be protected by being removed from her parents if necessary for her protection. Indeed, there is a legal obligation for health professionals to report suspected harm, and for authorities to protect the child's wellbeing. We ask whether such contradictory responses are justified. Should the law intervene where a pregnant woman's actions risk serious and preventable fetal injury? The argument for legal intervention to protect a fetus is sometimes linked to the concept of 'fetal personhood' and the moral status of the fetus. In this article we will suggest that even if the fetus is not regarded as a separate person, and does not have the legal or moral status of a child, indeed, even if the fetus is regarded as having no legal or moral status, there is an ethical and legal case for intervening to prevent serious harm to a future child. We examine the arguments for and against intervention on behalf of the future child, drawing on the example of excessive maternal alcohol intake.

Keywords: medical ethics, pregnancy, fetus, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, law

Suggested Citation

Wilkinson, Dominic and Skene, Loane and de Crespigny, Lachlan and Savulescu, Julian, Protecting Future Children from In‐Utero Harm (July 2016). Bioethics, Vol. 30, Issue 6, pp. 425-432, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2790360 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12238

Dominic Wilkinson (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care ( email )

United Kingdom

Loane Skene

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia

Lachlan De Crespigny

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Julian Savulescu

University of Oxford - Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics ( email )

10 Merton Street
Oxford OX1 3JP
United Kingdom
+44 1865 276926 (Phone)
+44 1865 276932 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/juliansavulescu.html

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