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Abortin, Euthanasia and the Sanctity of Human Life: Elementary Studies in Bio-Ethics

Abortin, Euthanasia and the Sanctity of Human Life: Elementary Studies in Bio-Ethics

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Published by alloyihuah
According to religious traditions, the life of every human being is sacred. The Hippocratic Oath which enjoins medical professionals to save life is more than anything the promotion and protection of one of the natural rights of man. In recent times, however, particularly since World War II, abortion and Euthanasia have come to be more and more accepted. We argue that, any act of omission and or commission that denies man this right is ab initio a negation of the Devine will. This paper therefore describeS the different kinds of abortion as well as euthanasia. Secondly, It outlines the Christian tradition on the concept of human life and the contemporary debate in philosophical and religious circles on abortion and euthanasia. The paper further illumines on the status of the Nigerian law on abortion and the Christian vision of the morality of human life today.
According to religious traditions, the life of every human being is sacred. The Hippocratic Oath which enjoins medical professionals to save life is more than anything the promotion and protection of one of the natural rights of man. In recent times, however, particularly since World War II, abortion and Euthanasia have come to be more and more accepted. We argue that, any act of omission and or commission that denies man this right is ab initio a negation of the Devine will. This paper therefore describeS the different kinds of abortion as well as euthanasia. Secondly, It outlines the Christian tradition on the concept of human life and the contemporary debate in philosophical and religious circles on abortion and euthanasia. The paper further illumines on the status of the Nigerian law on abortion and the Christian vision of the morality of human life today.

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Published by: alloyihuah on May 26, 2010
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ABORTION AND EUTHANASIA: PHILOSOPHICALSTUDIES IN BIO-ETHICS
BYAlloy S Ihuah PhDDept of Rel. & Philosophy,Benue State University,Makurdi.
 ABSTRACT 
According to religious traditions, the life of every human being is sacred. TheHippocratic Oath which enjoins medical professionals to save life is more than anything the promotion and protection of one of the natural rights of man. In recent times, however, particularly since World War II, abortion and Euthanasia have come to be more and moreaccepted. We argue that, any act of omission and or commission that denies man this right is
ab initio
a negation of the Devine will. This paper therefore describeS the different kinds of abortion as well as euthanasia. Secondly, It outlines the Christian tradition on the concept of human life and the contemporary debate in philosophical and religious circles on abortionand euthanasia. The paper further illumines on the status of the Nigerian law on abortion andthe Christian vision of the morality of human life today.
 
 Abortion
A. Definition and Types of Abortion
In medical parlance abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy,spontaneously or by induction, prior to viability. Thereafter the termination of pregnancy iscalled delivery. In layman’s terms abortion may be simply described as an act of destroyingthe life of an unborn baby, either by way of killing it in the womb or by taking it out of thewomb before it is able to survive. In order to understand more fully the morality of abortionwe distinguish different kinds of abortion.(1)
Spontaneous Abortion:
is unwillful termination of pregnancy before delivery due to therapeutic or other reasons. It is commonly called a miscarriage. It is common in about 20% of  pregnancies, usually between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. The causes of spontaneousabortion are many, although sometimes no cause can be established.(2)
Induced Abortion:
is any procedure by which the normal course of the development of the fetus is purposely interfered with. Induced abortions have been classified as therapeuticand non-therapeutic in the past, the terms often being used synonymously with legal andillegal abortions respectively. The synonymous use of the terms stemmed from the fact thatlicensed physicians, operating in hospitals, were not prosecuted for performing abortionswhere a threat to the life of the mother existed.1
 
(3)
Criminal Abortion
is any form of abortion that makes one liable to persecution inaccordance with the criminal code. We shall deal with this in more detail later.(4)
Therapeutic Abortion
is the artificial termination of pregnancy in the interest of themother’s life and health. Doctors have not hesitated to terminate pregnancy when there is arisk to maternal life. In the famous Bourne case (1938) it was held that it was not unlawful toterminate a pregnancy of a 15 year old girl pregnant as a result of rape by several soldiers inthat her life, in the sense of the mental well-being of the girl, was at a risk if abortion did nottake place.(5)
Indirect Abortion
is a distinct form from direct abortion which consists in the directdestructing of the fetus for any purpose. Thus both criminal abortions and therapeuticabortions are normally direct abortions.
 Indirect abortion
is medical intervention to preservethe life of the mother or remedy the health of the mother in which the destruction of the fetusis foreseen as an un-intended and not necessarily connected though unavoidable effect of thatintervention.
B. The Christian Tradition on Abortion
In order to understand the Christian tradition on abortion we must see it in the light of its scriptural sources. From the early books of the Bible, particularly Genesis and Exodus, weknow that life is a gift from God. Men were created to live in loving relationship with eachother and with God Himself in a call that He initiated. Being called into existence men areendowed with that mysterious gift which they call life. Such life comes into being by an actwhich shares in the creative power of God Himself.
 It was you who called my inmost self.and put me together in my mother’s womb;for all these mysteries I thank you;for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your work 
 
. (Ps. 139:13)
In fact in the Pentateuch, (Torash), the first five books of the bible, there is only onereference to abortion:
 If, when men come to blows, they hurt a woman who is pregnant and  she suffers a miscarriage, though she does not die of it, the man responsiblemust pay the compensation demanded of him by the woman’s master; he shall hand it over after arbitration. But should she die, you shall give life for life,eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn,wound for wound, stroke for stroke (Ex. 21:22-25).
In fact authors dispute the significance of his passage from the scripture teaching onabortion. Some claim that this passage indicates that life in the womb must be thought of interms of personal being. According to this view the law of retaliation is made to apply incases of injury to a mother or even a child in her womb or both. According to another viewthe law of retaliation here lays down that in the event of the death of the mother, the eye for eye’ formula must be applied. But, if the fetus dies, the culprit must pay the appropriate fine.Followers of this view, and they are many, would claim that in this passage the fetus is not ahuman being.2
 
But scattered throughout the scriptures there are phrases, which support the stricter view. Jeremiah 1:5 speaks of the consecration of the prophet before he was born. Theevangelist Luke moreover, describes how the unborn baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for  joy at Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:41).Although one cannot be too dogmatic in these delicate issues of interpretation one canconclude that scripture supports the motion that God at all times has a very special care for allhuman life, that even in the case of the abortion of the fetus, the issue is not so much whether it can be destroyed or not, but whether in fact it is a human being or not. Clearly if aninterpretation is proposed that suggests that because God is the source of that life then at nostage may an aborting intervention take place. But if the ‘personalising’ and ‘humanising’ of the fetus is a process then one could distinguish the animated and inanimated stage of thefetus.In fact this latter interpretation gained a considerable hold on the Christian traditionthrough the Greek translation of the bible, the Septuagint of the 3rd century B.C. and thetheory of Aristotle (at the same time) on the animation fetus.According to Aristotle the human soul was infused into the fetus when it took on thehuman form or figure, that is, forty days after conception for a male and ninety in the case of female. But before these times the fetus did not have a soul and therefore was not a human being.The New Testament says nothing explicit about abortion, but the incompatibility of abortion, as well as infanticide, with the Christian message, come through quite clearly. Theearly documents of the Church contain clear condemnations of both practices.Down through the centuries there has been a tendency either to emphasize a strictteaching based on Exodus and Scripture in general or a more moderate position based on theSeptuagint and the influence of Aristotle.In the Roman Catholic tradition Pope Sixtus V. had imposed a penalty of ex-communication on all forms of abortion, whether the fetus was formed or unformed. Thoughthis legislation was modified in 1591 to refer to formed fetuses alone, in 1869 Pius IXextended the excommunication to all forms of abortion. By this time medical theories of delayed animation had given way to the proponents of earlier animation.In due course the theory of indirect abortion was developed and accepted in theCatholic Church. It is based on the principle of double effect. It may be formulated asfollows: When from a licit act there immediately followed two effects, one good and theother bad, and the good outweighs the bad, it is licit to intend the good and permit the evil.Since however this principle is mainly concerned here with direct abortion we do not developthe teaching on indirect abortion and the principles relating to it.Early protestant abortion attitudes show consideration continuity with those of the pre-sixteenth century church. The major reformers Martin Luther (1483-1450), PhilipMelanchton (1497-1559) and John Calvin (1509-1564) were at least as conservative as theRoman Catholic Church on the issues of emolument and the gravity of abortion.The reformers insisted upon the full humanity of the fetus from the time of conceptionand thus were rigorously opposed to abortion. While the conservative line persistedthroughout the 19
th
century there was a changing of attitudes in Protestant circles particularlyin America in the 20
th
century. This resulted largely from the process of secularization, the3

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