Ethical issues in obstetrics

Göran Samsioe, A Abreg

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Ethical issues in modern obstetrics commonly relate to a conflict between the rights and possibilities of the fetus versus those of the mother. After delivery, when the fetus by definition is a child, all legal rights are granted to this new individual. Whether any rights should be given or offered to the fetus is dependent on the prevailing situation. General rules are difficult to give due to the rapid evolution of clinical medicine-too firm rules given today could well be an obstacle in the near future. All cultures have well-established opinions regarding issues related to pregnancy and childbirth. Cultural and religious dogmas are often in conflict with modern medical technology and financial issues. In several modern societies, state laws regulate legal abortion and other aspects of termination of pregnancy. Current laws often determine not only decisions but also the minds of doctors, as well as of patients. Advanced medical technology has yielded a possibility of selective feticide. Again our experience with this new technique is limited, and several issues of ethical importance may arise from the use of such techniques. The indications for a selective feticide are dependent upon the benefits and risks of the procedure itself, and also on the selection process of what fetus should be aborted. Clearly, no definitive rules could be given at this stage of development. The advice given to the woman by her doctor is of critical importance for the outcome of the given pregnancy, be it selective feticide or legal abortion. However, the prevailing social welfare system and the support a woman could be given by her society are also factors. Should she give birth to a child with an inborn error of metabolism, or some other chronic illness? Drug abuse, including alcohol and, indeed, also tobacco, constitutes a special problem. In Sweden, drug-addicted pregnant women are hospitalized during their last trimester. This policy results in a drug-free last trimester and a reduction of afflicted newborns. Should a similar approach also be enforced when dealing with abuse of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy? The improvement of in vitro fertilization techniques has introduced a novel concept, the surrogate mother. In some countries, this is forbidden by law, in others, it is an accepted medical practice, but several medico-legal as well as ethical issues warrant further clarification. What are the legal rights of the surrogate mother? Should there be an age limit for surrogate mothers? Who is responsible for problems in the pregnancy itself? In cases of male infertility, ethical issues may arise. Should the child have a legal right to learn the name of the biological father? Should there be a limit for the use of donor sperm in respect to number of fertility attempts, as well as potential female patients who may use the same sperm donor?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-287
JournalInternational Journal of Fertility and Menopausal Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1996

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine


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