Abortion Debate Ultimately an Ethics Debate

Doctors took a Texas woman off of life support on Jan. 26 after a drawn-out legal battle between the hospital and the woman’s family. And the case of Marlise Muñoz continues to highlight how Americans struggle with the issue of abortion as new ethical dilemmas present themselves to the medical world.

Erick Muñoz found his wife lying unconscious on their kitchen floor on Nov. 26 after she been there for over an hour. Her husband found her and rushed her to the hospital. Doctors suspected a pulmonary embolism as the cause of her death.

The events that followed:

  • Marlise met all the criteria for brain death by Nov. 28, a hospital spokesperson told the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram. However, because Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth refused to take her off of life support, citing a portion of a Texas law that prevented the action.
  • The Texas Advance Directives Act states, “A person may not withdraw or withhold life sustaining treatment … from a pregnant patient.” The act directly contradicted the wishes of Marlise’s family who said she never wanted to be on life support.
  • On Jan. 14, the Muñoz family sued John Peter Smith Hospital. Heather King and Jessica Hall Janicek, attorneys for the Muñoz family, told the Star-Telegram that since Marlise was legally dead, the law should not apply to her.
  • Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. ruled in favor of the family’s request to have Marlise removed from life support and ordered the hospital to act accordingly.
  • On Sunday, Jan. 26, the order was carried out and Marlise’s body was released to her husband. By this time she was 22 weeks pregnant.

The family’s attorneys told ABC News that based on a fetal MRI, the fetus was “distinctly abnormal” and displaying an array of problematic symptoms such as hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, and heart problems.

This incident has promulgated a series of ethical questions about how the presence of a fetus affects the wishes of the deceased and has piqued the interest of supporters of both sides of the abortion debate.

The founder of National Black Pro-Life Coalition, Pastor Stephen E. Broden, organized a prayer vigil on Jan. 12 to support the hospital’s decision to keep Marlise on life support.

LifeNews reported 40 people attended the vigil to pray for the unborn child.

In contrast, NPR correspondent Wade Goodwyn expressed his disgust toward the hospital for keeping Marlise on life support and compared her baby to an organ waiting to be harvested in his blog post “The Strange Case of Marlise Munoz and John Peter Smith Hospital.”

Abort73, a division of the non-profit educational cooperative Loxafamosity Ministries, combined information from the Guttmacher Institute (GI) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to create a comprehensive view of abortion throughout the states.

According to GI, between 1973 and 2008, approximately 50 million abortions have taken place in America.

Based on data taken in 2009, 85 percent of women who had abortions were unmarried. The age group with the highest abortion rates was 20-29.

GI reports based on current abortion rates, “nearly one-third of American women will have an abortion.”

Many Christians identify themselves as pro-life in accordance with a biblical worldview.

In a 2013 survey of over 600 Cedarville students, 99 percent of respondents identified themselves as Christians, and 97 percent said they were pro-life.

However, the issue surrounding the sanctity of life cannot be divided neatly into opposing pro-life and pro-abortion camps.

Cedarville’s center for bioethics director Dennis Sullivan said, “(Christians) have so privileged biblical ethics that it becomes a form of legalism.”

While Christians value the sanctity of life to a high degree, Sullivan said they have neglected the lesson in James 2 to consider the physical needs of people in tandem with their spiritual needs. Often, this results in a Christian telling someone, “Go and have that baby and we’ll all put a little notch on our pro-life Bible, but we don’t give a darn about your real needs,” Sullivan said.

Nursing professor Sharon Christman defines an ethical dilemma as a choice between options which can both be supported morally.

Christman, a fellow with the center for bioethics, said there are many differing ethical theories and Christians operate from an ethical theory based on biblical principles.

The abortion debate, according to Christman, boils down to a disagreement about the greatest ethical principle. Pro-choice supporters value autonomy, and pro-life supporters value life as the highest ethical principle.

Because the two sides argue from different governing principles, it is difficult to come to any agreement or conclusion, Christman said.

In the case of Marlise Muñoz, Sullivan said, “We had every indication that medically this was beyond our ability to intervene. Let’s let the dying process continue.”

Christman agreed this issue does not present a true ethical dilemma.

“Let’s not try to come up with straight-jacketed, simple solutions through an extreme version of divine command ethics,” Sullivan said.

Kaity Kenniv is a sophomore Biblical studies major and a reporter for Cedars. She loves reading by a blazing fireplace, taking long walks in the autumn and a cup of hot tea in the morning.

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