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Case Study on Moral Status

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Write a 750-1000 word analysis of “Case Study: Fetal Abnormality.” Be sure to address the following questions:

Which theory or theories are being used by Jessica, Marco, Maria, and Dr. Wilson to determine the moral status of the fetus? Explain.
How does the theory determine or influence each of their recommendation for action?
What theory do you agree with? How would that theory determine or influence the recommendation for action?
Prepare this assignment according to the guidelines found in the APA Style Guide, located in the Student Success Center. An abstract is not required.


PHI-413V Lecture 2

God, Humanity, and Human Dignity


While health care utilizes some of the most advanced technology and is dependent upon scientific advancement, the goals of health care and medicine are fundamentally different from that of science. Science’s fundamental goal is the acquisition of knowledge through research and experimentation. The fundamental goal of health care and medicine is healing and care that results in physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Dissecting the Concept of Care

The concept of care that undergirds and is assumed by the healing professions presupposes a certain conception of the subject (as opposed to a mere object) towards which care is directed. The oft-debated topic of personhood is not merely an accretion of American culture wars, but has been a topic of philosophical and religious debate for millennia (“Personal Identity,” 2014).

What Does It Mean to Be a Human Being?

While there has been an explosion of scientific knowledge regarding homo sapiens such as the example the Human Genome Project (“All About the Human Genome Project,” 2000), the question of human personhood and dignity remains an irreducibly philosophical and theological question. Implicit in a naïve scientism is not only a form of epistemic reductionism (reducing all knowledge to only that which science can tell), but also a general metaphysical or anthropological reductionism (reducing human beings or human nature to nothing but their physical components or that which can be measured by science).

Anthropological axiology (the basis upon which human beings are assigned value in relation to other kinds of beings) contra relativism, cannot be simply dependent upon culture or personal preference, but rooted in the nature of what it means to be a human being. Contra scientism, the value and dignity of human beings, stands over and above that of other species and cannot be simply reduced to a person’s abilities or function, or the person’s physical constituents.

While it has a been a perennial challenge for secularism to find a basis upon which to assign human beings intrinsic worth and dignity, the concept of human dignity and intrinsic value (including its implied ethical principles such as respect for persons, etc.) is inherent biblical teaching and Christian tradition. An appreciation and grasp of this question is fundamental for understanding the contemporary religious context and the goals and virtues of medicine.

Moral Status

A related and central concept in contemporary biomedical ethics is the concept of moral status. Briefly, the concept of moral status concerns which sorts of beings or entities have rights (in the sense that a moral agent has obligations toward this being or entity). Human rights, for example, are considered to be a prime example of descriptions of obligations a moral agent has to any human being. Furthermore, human beings are taken to have these obligations due to them simply in virtue of being human beings. Another way to describe the concept of a beings moral status is to talk about its value or worth. Thus, to talk about a beings moral status is to talk about a beings value, as well as why it has that value.

The video lecture entitled “Ethics: Moral Status” from the Khan academy illustrates this nicely. You might begin by asking, “Why is it that I have obligations to my neighbor, but not to this rock?” Any answer one gives will describe certain characteristics or capacities that differentiate the neighbor from a rock, in that the neighbor has moral status, and the rock does not.

The video lecture distinguishes several views or theories of moral status. While they might be categorized in different ways, they will be broken down into the five following views or theories commonly used by bioethicists: (1) a theory based on human properties, (2) a theory based on cognitive properties, (3) a theory based on moral agency, (4) a theory based on sentience, and (5) a theory based on relationships. Each of the above theories takes a selected characteristic or set of characteristics, and views it as that which confers moral status upon a being. Thus, a theory based on human properties holds that it is only and distinctively human properties that confer moral status upon a being. It follows that all and only human beings, or Homo sapiens, have full moral status. Some of the characteristics that would endow a being with moral status under this view would include things such as being conceived from human parents, or having a human genetic code. Whatever property (i.e., characteristic) the particular theory picks out is considered that which confers moral status upon a being or entity.

The theory based on cognitive properties holds that it is not any sort of biological criteria or species membership (such as the theory based on human properties) that endows a being with moral status. Rather, for this theory it is cognitive properties that confer moral status upon a being. In this context “cognition refers to processes or awareness such as perception, memory, understanding, and thinking…[and] does not assume that only humans have such properties, although the starting model for these properties is again the competent human adult” (Beauchamp and Childress, 2013, p. 69). Notice carefully that this is claiming that if a being does not bear or express these properties, it follows that such a being does not have moral status. The theory based on moral agency holds that “moral status derives from the capacity to act as a moral agent” in which an individual is considered a moral agent if they “are capable of making judgments about the rightness or wrongness of actions and has motives that can be judged morally” (Beauchamp and Childress, 2013, p. 72).

The theory based on sentience holds that the property of sentience is that which confers moral status on a being. Sentience in this context is “consciousness in the form of feeling, especially the capacity to feel pain and pleasure, as distinguished from consciousness as perception or thought.” According to this theory the capacity of sentience is sufficient for moral status (i.e., the ability to feel pain and pleasure confer upon a being moral status). The final theory holds that relationships between beings account for a being’s moral status. Usually these are relationships that establish roles and obligations, one example being the patient-physician relationship. Of course, there are many types of relationships (family, genetic, legal, work, etc.), even ones in which one party in the relationship does not desire or value the other party. In such a case, a person who holds this theory may be forced to concede that a being’s moral status may change, depending on the other party.

Consider also that the particular shape that each of these theories takes will be in the context of a broader worldview framework. Thus, the way in which Christianity and Buddhism would apply a theory based on human properties or a theory based on sentience would be very different. Furthermore, there may be worldview considerations that would not allow one to hold to one or more of the theories. It should be noted that while the video lecture covers a variety of views, it is not exhaustive (there are clearly more theories covered here) and furthermore seems to implicitly assume or be working in the framework of a particular worldview. What worldview could it be and what are some of the assumptions being made in the background?


The point is simply this: While there seems to be an innate sense of what it means to be a human being that most people have, one needs to stop and actually think about what this means. It might be assumed that healing and caring are good things because human beings are valuable and ought to be respected, but the question is whether one’s worldview provides an adequate explanation for these beliefs? Are they in some sense relative? Pay attention to how the Christian narrative answers these questions and begin to ask yourself how you would answer them.


“All about the human genome project.” (2000) National Human Genome Reasearch Institute. Retrieved from http://www.genome.gov/10001772

“Personal identity.” (2014). Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-personal/

Beauchamp T. L., & Childress, J. (2013). Principles of biomedical ethics. (7th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

© 2015. Grand Canyon University. All Rights Reserved.

Long-Term Care: The Family, Post-Modernity, and Conflicting Moral Life-Worlds.
Engelhardt, H. Tristram
Journal of Medicine & Philosophy. Sep/Oct2007, Vol. 32 Issue 5, p519-536. 18p.
Document Type:
LONG-term care of the sick
Long-term care is controversial because it involves foundational disputes. Some are moral-economic, bearing on whether the individual, the family, or the state is primarily responsible for long-term care, as well as on how one can establish a morally and financially sustainable long-term-care policy, given the moral hazard of people over-using entitlements once established, the political hazard of media democracies promising unfundable entitlements, the demographic hazard of relatively fewer workers to support those in need of long-term care, the moral hazard to responsibility of shifting accountability to third parties, and the bureaucratic hazard of moving from individual and family choice to bureaucratic oversight. These disputes are compounded by controversies regarding the nature of the family (Is it to be regarded primarily as a socio-biological category, a fundamental ontological category of social reality, or a construct resulting from the consent of the participants?), as well as its legal and moral autonomy and authority over its members. As the disputes show, there is no common understanding of respect and human dignity that will easily lead out of these disputes. The reflections on long-term care in this issue underscore the plurality of moralities defining bioethics. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Copyright of Journal of Medicine & Philosophy is the property of Oxford University Press / USA and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)


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