Foetal Abuse From a Legal and an Ethical Standpoint: An Investigation Into the Extent to Which the Law Could Be Changed so That Unborn Children Could Be Better Protected From Harm
60 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2020
Date Written: August 13, 2019
This dissertation seeks to evaluate the extent to which the State is justified in intervening with criminal or civil liability against pregnant women who engage in positive lifestyle choices which harm their unborn children. It examines the debate concerning foetal rights and other moral bases for State intervention, before determining whether practical considerations limit the extent to which State intervention is justified (drawing on empirical research in US States where the law has been more aggressive towards pregnant women who harm their foetuses). While it argues that State intervention is justified in theory to prevent harm to born children, it accepts that practical considerations and the lack of evidence of reduced foetal harm in the US significantly weakens the case for State intervention and reduces the areas in which criminal liability is justified to a small minority of cases. These concerns are less pronounced in the civil context, but still worth taking note of.
Nevertheless, through this exploration of the ethical practical issues the dissertation is able to identify ways in which the existing law (particularly in the civil context) could be reformed. The reforms suggested by this dissertation would meaningfully increase the protection provided to potential and actual victims of prenatal harm while minimising the risk of unintended harm to foetuses, pregnant women and her existing children.
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