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J Med Ethics. 2013 May;39(5):e15-8. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2012-100958.

Limitations on personhood arguments for abortion and 'after-birth abortion'.

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  • 1Centre for Professional Ethics (PEAK), Chancellor's Building, Keele University, Keele ST5 5BG, UK.


Two notable limitations exist on the use of personhood arguments in establishing moral status. Firstly, although the attribution of personhood may give us sufficient reason to grant something moral status, it is not a necessary condition. Secondly, even if a person is that which has the 'highest' moral status, this does not mean that any interests of a person are justifiable grounds to kill something that has a 'lower' moral status. Additional justification is needed to overcome a basic wrongness associated with killing something possessing moral status. There are clear arguments already available in this regard in the case of a foetus that are not available in the case of a newborn infant. Hence, there is scope to consistently hold that abortion may be permissible but that after-birth abortion may not be permissible.



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