Section Five: Ethical Issues

Birth and Death Issues

Where unnatural methods of controlling life are accepted — whether to create it, prolong it or end it — ethical issues are always to the fore in the personal, situational experiences of life, as well as in the broader spectra of social concerns. Many may raise ethical eyebrows when the female menopause is delayed or menses restarted in a post-menopausal woman in order to make pregnancy possible again. Does it make sense to conceive at the age of sixty-plus? For many women it probably does, and they have valid reasons for spending a good deal of anxiety and money to conceive. After all, the ethical eyebrows are barely raised at all for the aging male who sires a child.

However, aside from the issue of post-menopausal conception, what of the woman who finds herself pregnant but does not want her child? It is religious groups, in particular, who are opposed to the interference of science or medicine in the beginning or end of life. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, is against any form of artificial insemination (AI) as an answer to medical infertility, even if the sperm donor is the marriage partner of the female. It regards the AI process of reproduction as unnatural, being mechanical and outside the “normal” sexual union of marriage. However, it seems that artificial heart pacemakers — no less an intrusion into the natural body — are quite acceptable. Equally so, it is in most cases opposed to abortion.


Abortion is the premature expulsion or removal of a fetus from the womb to prevent its development and survival. Humanists are not in favor of abortion per se. They would far rather a child be conceived responsibly through choice, welcomed in a family, and have a caring environment. But these are ideal situations; not all pregnancies are wanted, not all circumstances are favorable, and some circumstances are definitely harmful to a child.

Ideally, efficient contraception should prevent any unwanted pregnancies. However, clearly, it does not. According to the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) in Britain, for example, three-quarters of the women who have abortions also use contraception. This confirms that many methods of contraception cannot guarantee absolute protection against conception.

For those women who find they cannot face pregnancy under whatever circumstances, humanism believes that the choice of terminating the pregnancy is their right. Since humanists are devoted to enhancing the quality of life, in the case of abortion it is the quality of life of the mother as well as the unborn fetus that is taken into account. If a mother, child, or both are likely to suffer in life if the pregnancy is allowed to continue to full term, then humanists generally consider that termination of the life of the fetus is the morally acceptable solution.

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