Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Abortion and Viability

Life begins at some point. But when? The answer used to be easy - at birth. This interpretation, of course, is no longer accepted by most Americans. Now life is considered to begin at the point of "viability"- that time of intrauterine development at which a fetus can reasonably be expected to survive ex utero. The termination of fetal development prior to viability is permitted by law. The termination of fetal development after viability may be restricted. Roe v. Wade permits abortion only during the first trimester of a pregnancy - before the point of viability.

Now if one defines viability as the time when a fetus can reasonably be expected to survive, one must seriously consider the argument that the "viability age" may at some future date, be moved back into the first trimester. This is especially true, given ongoing advancements in neonatology, as well as more basic research in methods of extra uterine conception and maturation. It is quite imaginable that viability will be possible for a "product of conception" conceived and subsequently "developed" in some form of "test tube" environment from the very onset of fertilization.

Assuming the validity of the above theses, we may be faced with a new ethical dilemma - the fact of viability at the time of conception - the Roman Catholic definition of when life begins.
Will those in favor of abortion under the rules of Roe v. Wade, and opposed to abortion after a fetus has reached viability, now rethink their positions, given this new certainty?

Should all fetuses (or "products of conception") be potentially viable, it logically follows that viability as the benchmark for the "right to be born" is present at conception, and therefore can no longer serve as the criterion for termination at any age. A fetus aged 1 day can be no different from one 8 or 9 months old. Viability can no longer be considered an issue in this matter. I am not discounting the possibility that there may be other criteria to consider - but viability no longer qualifies.

This discourse is not meant to serve as an argument for or against abortion, but is submitted for your reflections as a potential future ethical issue that may require new considerations in the coming decades.

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