Send to

Choose Destination
J Clin Ethics. 1995 Fall;6(3):254-63.

Ensuring a stillborn: the ethics of fetal lethal injection in late abortion.

Author information

University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA.



This article responds to two papers: one describing and defending the intracardiac injection of potassium chloride (KCl) to achieve immediate cardiac arrest in fetuses destined for second-trimester abortion because of abnormalities and a second, accompanying, paper that replies to objections to KCl injection and presents positive arguments for the use of KCl. This response concurs with the moral acceptability of the use of KCl and goes further to argue for its use in late elective abortions of nonanomalous fetuses. The response, however, while agreeing with the conclusions of the arguments presented in the second paper, finds the reasoning set forth in the arguments to be faulty. The objections to the procedure addressed in the second paper are that all abortions are unjust, that newborns and second-trimester fetuses with identical defects should be managed in like manner, and that a woman is not entitled to the death of her fetus. The arguments presented in the second paper to defend KCl use are that the abortion decision is protected by the right to noninterference, that potential harm is avoided by the procedure, and that the potential for coercion is eliminated. Abortion is defended on the grounds that a majority supports a woman's right to choose abortion. The author of this response asserts that abortion can be defended because human fetuses are not persons and because religious commitments cannot be enforced in a pluralistic society. Furthermore, even infants who have severe anomalies need not be treated as potential persons. While a woman has no moral right to the death of her fetus, she does have the right to the safest surgical procedure and to a consideration of the short-term welfare of the fetus or the long-term welfare of children who may result from rescued fetuses. In each case, the denial of life may be the only way to minimize suffering. Even healthy fetuses can be aborted using this procedure on these grounds. Every child should be a wanted child, and until our society learns to care about the reality of a child instead of merely the idea, we have a duty to ensure a stillborn in any late abortion. While basing moral arguments on society's moral failures places ethicists in an uncomfortable position, it is harder to ignore the realities of life that suggest that children should be born only to those prepared to accommodate them.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center