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The Criminal Justice System and Health Care$
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Charles A. Erin and Suzanne Ost

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199228294

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199228294.001.0001

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Dignity: The Difference Between Abortion and Neonaticide for Severe Disability

Dignity: The Difference Between Abortion and Neonaticide for Severe Disability

(p.175) 10 Dignity: The Difference Between Abortion and Neonaticide for Severe Disability
The Criminal Justice System and Health Care

Stephen W. Smith

Oxford University Press

The Abortion Act 1967 imposes no time limit for the termination of a severely disabled fetus. However, if a doctor were to comply with a mother's wish to terminate the life of a severely disabled neonate, he would face a charge of murder. Why is it apparently acceptable to terminate a fetus for severe disability, while it is not acceptable to terminate a neonate for the same disability? This chapter contends that both the argument that life begins at conception and the argument from personhood are wanting in regard of explaining this inconsistency. Instead, a dignitarian approach is adopted. It is shown that the principle of generic consistency in its standard, Gewirthian form, which can assign ‘partial agency’ to fetuses and neonates, takes us no further than the argument from personhood. However, following Beyleveld and Brownsword's line on agency, their refined ‘precautionary principle’ is adopted to make room for our imperfect knowledge of the world.

Keywords:   severe disability, dignity, personhood, autonomy, principle of generic consistency

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