Moral Status & Fetal Abnormality Case study sample essay

The Question of Moral Status: A Case of Fetal Abnormality and the Dilemma of Abortion versus Religious Beliefs


Moral status is the employment of ethical principles in the consideration of the importance of living things and their value, in as far as life is concerned (Gray, 2019). In an examination of the theories of moral status, some theorists clearly believe that life is equal regardless of the living thing under consideration, while others believe it is not. These theories have placed some sort of hierarchy or levels of consideration for moral standing. For example, Tauer (2001) quotes Warren in her1997 book Moral Status as considering all living things to be having the same moral standing (status). This is from human beings with complete full moral status (FMS) to the least significant single-celled organisms. This paper examines in this context the matter of a deformed fetus that is also likely to have cognitive deficiencies if carried to term.

The Christian View

The Christian view of the nature of human persons is that human beings right from conception are entitled to full moral status just by virtue of being a human being, all other considerations (like cognition status) notwithstanding (Gray, 2019;, n.d.). This view is compatible with the theory of moral status that is based on human properties (, n.d.). This is the religious or philosophical theory (Gray, 2019). The theory states that it is only human beings that possess moral status among all the other living things. All the others, including plants and animals, were created to serve the interests of the human being. It goes on to elaborate that the human person acquires this full moral status the moment that they are conceived in the womb. Thus according to this Christian and philosophical theory based on human properties, the status of a fetus and that of a grown complete human person with all cognitive functions intact is the same in as far as full moral status is concerned (Gray, 2019;, n.d.). This is related to the intrinsic human value and dignity in that the only characteristic for FMS is the fact of becoming a human being (at conception). What this implies is that this quality is innate or intrinsic, and human beings are conceived with it. In other words, human life is sacred right from conception.

The Theories Exhibited by Jessica, Marco, Maria, and Dr. Wilson in the Case Study

This case study involves a fetus that will not only be born with a deformity (lack of limbs), but also a 1 in 4 probability of having Down syndrome. This means that there is a high likelihood that the child will also be mentally challenged with cognitive (learning and thinking) deficiencies. From the case scenario, therefore, Jessica and Aunt Maria clearly subscribe to the religious/ philosophical theory of moral status based on human properties. As such, to them a human being possesses full moral status right from conception, regardless of their physical and mental deficiencies (Gray, 2019;, n.d.). Despite being concious of the reality of her precarious socio-economic status into which a mentally and physically challenged infant would impose further strain, Jessica still believes that “all life is sacred.” She therefore does not agree with Dr. Wilson’s view that aborting the baby is the best option. As for Aunt Maria, she is clearly religious and would not entertain any thought of terminating any life, whether already born or intra-uterine. She is clearly of the same theory as Jessica, which says that based on (intrinsic) human properties (of full moral status) all human life from conception is sacred. She characteristically therefore advises Jessica, despite the overwhelming medical evidence, to carry the pregnancy to term and play her role “as a mother.” Dr. Wilson on his part clearly subscribes to the moral status theory based on cognitive properties (, n.d.). Other authorities refer to this theory as the Kantian theory of moral status after Emmanuel Kant (Gray, 2019).  This particular theory of moral status holds that a living thing (human being) is only entitled to full moral status if they possess and can demonstrate “awareness, memory, understanding, and thinking.” This is capacity for cognition. Clearly, this being still a fetus it does not satisfy this criterion and hence it does not possess any moral status. But most importantly, the Kantian theory avers that this is essentially an “all-or-nothing position” (Gray, 2019). That is one either has cognitive ability or not, for possession of moral status. This fetus, from the medical tests, will certainly likely not have this cognitive capacity even if it s let to be born and grow (because of the possibility of Down syndrome). Dr. Wilson additionally belongs to the school of thought of the moral status theory based on relationships. He has a doctor-patient obligation which in this case does not confer moral status to Jessica’s unborn child (, n.d.). Finally, Marco – although apparently ambivalent – belongs also to the moral status theory of Kant that is based on cognitive properties. He “find[s] it difficult [that] the pregnancy and the … disabled child [will be] a burden and a barrier to their economic security and plans.” As such the fetus has no moral status because of the physical and possible cognitive disability.

My Position

I take the view that moral status in this case should be decided solely based on the theory of Kant or cognitive properties. The fetus either has cognitive potential (now) or cognitive ability (later) or not. This is what will confer moral status on it. I take this position as it will be in the best interest of the child to be aborted as a fetus rather than being born only to suffer the rest of their life. In fact, the moral status theory of sentience is in support of this (pain and suffering should not be caused to a living thing) (, n.d.). As the case study presents, however, the fetus has a significant likelihood of being born with Down syndrome-induced cognitive deficiency which they’ll carry for life. My theory position will thus influence recommendation for action in that letting the fetus live will be tantamount to condemning it to a lifetime of misery and suffering because of its physical and cognitive deficiencies.



Gray, K. (2019). Moral status: Definition, philosophy, and criteria. Retrieved from (n.d.). Theories of moral status. Retrieved from

Tauer, C.A. (2001). Review: The types of moral status. The Hastings Centre Report, 31(1), p. 45. Doi: 10.2307/3528734