An Ethical Dilemma

I turned in my final final two days ago and am officially on summer break! Returning to school after half a lifetime has been a fantastic opportunity. I’ve learned so much about nutrition, made new contacts and some wonderful friends, and also had the chance to study a few subjects outside my major. It’s fascinating how the fields of nutrition, psychology, sociology, and ethics overlap, how relevant and applicable they are to many facets of life. It’s definitely fostered a much deeper appreciation and understanding of the challenges we all face and broadened my own perspectives. I had to write an essay for my philosophy class, something all first year students must complete, where we describe an ethical dilemma we’ve faced or are currently facing. My teacher told me I should share mine publicly. So I am.

Christy Ellingsworth Friday, April 21, 2023
Ethical Dilemmas – LS
Professor Sweeney

The Common Assignment Essay

I spent last weekend in Philly with best friends from high school. It was an interesting time, fun and a little surreal, seeing people I’d not seen in thirty-plus years. We’re all 50 now; some of my classmates even have grandchildren! The funniest thing? My best friend couldn’t tell who anyone was. I found myself guessing identities by looking at who was hanging out with whom, as much as studying people’s aged faces. Never thought I’d say it but hooray for high school cliques!

I drove home on Sunday, past my parents’ old house. I’d wanted to take a photo, but as I neared the property I saw lawn signs – for the other guy. So, I kept driving. Down the road, I stopped at the cemetery to lay 4 small stones on my son’s grave. I stood above his marker, listening to the birds and thinking about the passage of time. This year he’d have been 21. A legal adult.

My dad drove me back to their house the day we buried my baby. It hadn’t been a service, exactly, but he’d asked a pastor friend to be with us. My mom was there too, my husband and our daughter. I’d wanted him so badly, my son. He was the only baby I’d tried for. I used to bug my husband to ride his bike home at lunch, so we could try.

It was an awful pregnancy. I was sick from the start, and it only got worse when I started bleeding. So much blood. I’d change the pads over and over, sopping heavy. And the pain. OMG. I remember asking my husband to kill me at one point. Lying on the bathroom floor, pleading. The agony was unbearable. The doctors kept checking me. Assuring me everything was okay.

Until we went for the 23-week ultrasound. The technician left the room and returned with the doctor. My amniotic sac had ruptured. That explained the lead-heavy pads. It wasn’t just blood. It also accounted for the excruciating pain. My son had been inside me for weeks, kicking and turning and trying to breathe, as the fluid drained from his world. They gave me 24 hours. If my sac started to heal, they’d try an amnioinfusion.

The next day, they told me. The sac was torn, for good. Without amniotic fluid, the baby’s heart and lungs would never develop properly. And they didn’t know how long he’d been without fluid. He was just shy of 24-weeks and chances of survival inside or outside the womb were infinitesimal to nil. There was a choice to make. I could carry him to term, for naught, both of us in agonizing pain. I could have a late-term abortion. Or I could go through an induced labor and delivery.

I didn’t like any of the choices. All I wanted was my son. But given the facts, knowing what I’d been experiencing and what my baby had likely been enduring too, I made my decision. It wouldn’t be a normal delivery. There wouldn’t be a baby to bring home. But I would give birth. And understanding the possibility that the baby could live on for some time, suffering, along with us, I also made the decision to stop his heart. That choice was the hardest one I have ever made. I watched a needle go into my belly. My son was kicking one moment and then he was still. You cannot know true pain until you feel your baby die inside you. I made that choice. I must live with that memory for the rest of my life. But I did it for us all – not just me and my husband, but for my baby, for the doctor, and for the nurses, for everyone in the hospital with me, caring for me, trying to help me. I needed to help them too.

There is nothing natural about giving birth in this way. I left the doctor’s office carrying my dead son and returned to the hospital later that night to give birth. The induction process was painful, in so many ways. But the thing I remember is the kindness I received from everyone involved. And the gratitude they expressed to me. No one wants to be part of something like this. It’s beyond heartbreaking. But having people who are helpful, respectful, and kind makes a world of difference, on both sides. I spent that time in the hospital doing the very best I could in a terrible situation. I watched South Park DVDs in my birthing room, trying my best to laugh through the pain. I made jokes to the doctor and nurses. I desperately wanted all of us to be okay.

People often must do things that they don’t want to do. Consequentialist logic would argue that the best one can do in these awful situations is to weigh one’s options and choose to maximize the greatest good for all. I would argue that my own story is based on this guiding principle. None of the choices were attractive, but I did the very best to minimize the negative impact to us all, and even though I suffered, the choice to stop my baby’s heart was made for the greater good.

I could also offer deontological support for reproductive freedom. If we follow Kant’s logic of “kingdom of ends,” then we can argue for a woman’s right to reproductive choice. If, as Kant believes, we should afford all humans (including ourselves) the right to dignity and equity, to treat each other as we would like to be treated, then consider the implications of rape. Rape goes against Kant’s notion of the practical imperative, because in raping someone, a rapist is literally using another human being as a means to an end. Whether that end stems from a need for violence against another, a need to overpower and dominate, a need to humiliate, and/or from pure sexual gratification, is irrelevant. The act of rape violates the practical imperative. If a woman is thus exploited and demeaned in this manner, and by consequence is rendered pregnant by her rapist, should she then be forced to give birth and raise this child procreated and forced upon her through violence? Or should she be able to restore her own dignity by terminating this pregnancy and freeing herself from the shackles placed upon her? Kant would argue that yes, she should be afforded the right to abortion, because people should never be forced to engage in activities that degrade themselves. And forcing a human being to not just raise but gestate the offspring of someone who brutalized them is one of the most punishing and degrading acts imaginable. And if abortion is justifiable in this case, then it must be seen as universally so. Allowing women to have control over their bodies allows them moral agency and supports the notion of Kant’s “kingdom of ends.”

There are times in life when we must make very difficult decisions. My own experience affirms to me the importance of choice for every woman. Until you wear another’s maternity pants, you cannot possibly speak to her experience. So, whenever I see someone standing outside Planned Parenthood or at a country fair brandishing big posters of fetuses, I don’t argue with them. I simply turn away. It’s not my place to tell others what they should or shouldn’t believe. I may not agree with them, and I may not appreciate their messaging, but I’m pro-choice in all things. I believe in freedom.

4 thoughts on “An Ethical Dilemma

  1. Oh Christy, I’m glad you shared your experience. Your story will help and encourage someone. I have so much love and respect for you! 💓

  2. I remember you going through this, Christy. You were incredibly brave. The details you give about stopping his heart are so poignant. You are a strong and beautiful woman, I have always admired you. Love Géraldine

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