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Prenatal Surgery

Ethical Issues

Certain aspects of fetal surgery raise thorny ethical issues. Treating a fetus as a patient creates a situation that has never before existed. In the past, experimental treatments for the seriously ill could be justified on the grounds that the patient had everything to gain and nothing to lose. With fetal surgery, that may hold true for the fetus, of course, but the benefits and risks to the mother are far less obvious. Many mothers are willing to do whatever is necessary to give birth to a healthy baby. Yet major abdominal surgery and general anesthesia pose risks to the mother. The regimen she must follow after surgery is uncomfortable. Furthermore, the success rate for some surgeries is quite low. Most types of fetal surgery must be approved by a hospital ethics review board.

Research studies have shown that fetal surgery does not interfere with a woman's future fertility. Still, ethicists argue that a woman must always have the freedom to choose against fetal surgery. They fear that as the procedures gain acceptance and it proves more successful, women will find it increasingly difficult to say no. They also worry that a judge might order a woman to have fetal surgery against her will. Legal precedent already exists for this kind of dispute between mother and fetus. Pregnant women have been ordered to have unwanted cesarean sections after medical authorities testified that the operation was in the best interest of the unborn baby.


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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Positive Number to Propaganda - World War IiPrenatal Surgery - History Of Fetal Surgery, Closed-womb Surgery, Open Surgery, Ethical Issues, Future Developments - Fetal reduction