Decisions, Moral Status, and the Early Fetus


Decision making; Morality; Fetuses


In "Creation Ethics: The Moral Status of Early Fetuses and the Ethics of Abortion," Elizabeth Harman has offered a novel approach to settling the question of the moral status of some fetuses. In the case of an early fetus (one lacking intrinsic properties that convey moral status), Harman maintains that, already lacking intrinsic properties, an early fetus that additionally lacks a future thus lacks moral status. However, Harman argues that this lacking does not figure into rational decision making about aborting one's fetus since the decision to abort determines the fetus's having a future and, in turn, its moral status; thus the decision to abort the early fetus cannot depend on the fetus' moral status. I argue that this is not a tenable position because it implies that rational decision making with regard to aborting an early fetus is impossible. But such a result seems incorrect. Although Harman is correct, and thus in agreement with Marquis and McInerney, that the moral status of a fetus may vary with its potential for life beyond the early stage, one cannot sidestep the question of moral status as an independent question to be settled in order to make a rational decision about aborting an early fetus. The problem is not merely that we might think that decisions do not determine status but that such decisions would not be possible in the first place without begging the question

Original Publication Citation

“Decisions, Moral Status, and the Early Fetus.” Ethics & Medicine. 2011. 27.3: 155163.

Document Type


Publication Date



Ethics & Medicine







University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor