02 May 2010

Pro-Informed Choice

This post is motivated by  Kathleen Parker's linked Op-Ed from the Washington Post. She's a self-declared conservative columnist, who recently received a Pulitzer prize for her thought-provoking work, which is characterized by great sensitivity to both sides of divisive issues. Abortion must be the most agonizingly vexing ethical question any woman or couple will ever face. In my view the responsibility for this choice should not fall solely on the woman or even the couple involved. It seems to me there should be an ethical support system, to assist in the decision, in a civilized society. There is a deep ethical issue involved, which does not fall solely within the realm of individual or couples rights but involves society and its values as well. The big issue concerns the fair treatment of all interests in the decision.

The current wisdom is that this decision is between the individual woman and her doctor. The reproductive partner is included in the decision at the woman's option. It seems to me that an ethics adviser should also be involved, as a representative of society at large and a voice for ethics. This is especially true if the abortion will be performed by publicly funded health care facilities and personnel.

I agree that any woman who determines that she wants an abortion should be qualified for one. By declaring as much, she has declared her disinterest in raising the child, which may be reason enough not to give birth to one. And yet, we don't always know what we want and may need help determining what that is, or understanding other options that may be available. Getting an ethics counselor involved would help everyone to decide what they really want before they go through with an irrevocable act. However, this approach is subject to the criticism that it often turns into coercion that influences the decision.

Now some states are taking up this matter and proposing or requiring in some cases that women be fully informed about their fetuses before making a decision. That is, they are in some cases being required to view an ultrasound diagnostic of their fetus's condition and state, and receive a physician's assessment on the specific matter of their fetus, before having an abortion. Kathleen Parker's linked Op-Ed covers the details well. The new approach of requiring that the simple facts of the situation be determined prior to an abortion seems like a promising way to reach the "common ground" that President Obama has suggested is possible. It is consistent with my sense of ethics on this issue, and seems like the right thing to do. It satisfies my sense that some reflection on the facts of the matter is essential when facing a huge decision point in three or more lives.