When does a fetus become a person? An Israeli viewpoint

Nitzan Rimon-Zarfaty, Aviad E. Raz, Yael Hashiloni-Dolev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background and methodology: 'Biological' and 'human' life or 'personhood' are not necessarily identical. While the Catholic Church does not separate the two, concluding that human life commences at conception, Judaism endows the fetus with personhood gradually throughout the pregnancy. Gradualism is also refl ected in many Western abortion laws that prohibit 'late abortion'. Importantly, the Israeli law does not prohibit abortion at any stage of pregnancy. To examine attitudes regarding the status of the fetus vis-a-vis its stages of development, a questionnaire presenting ten successive stages was distributed to Israeli respondents (n = 281). For each stage participants were asked to grade the fetus as having 'personhood' or as a 'living organism' on a fi ve-point scale. Data were analysed to show frequency distribution. Results: The fetus gains its ascribed personhood gradually. Most of the participants perceived the fetus as a person at the stage in which the woman feels its movements. Additionally, many (especially secular respondents) evaluated the fetus as a living organism at earlier stages, thus making a distinction between the fetus as a living organism and as a person. An international comparison with Englishspeaking countries revealed a local 'Israeli' tendency to attribute personhood status to the fetus only at a relatively late stage. Discussion and conclusions: The 'Israeli' fetus acquires its status gradually. This fi nding challenges the dichotomous conceptualisation of the fetus as 'a person' or 'non-person'. The authors conclude by presenting the perceived transformation of the fetus to 'personhood' as being infl uenced by national and religious factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-224
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care
Volume37
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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