Fetal Reduction: An Ethical Analysis -- By: Stephen R. Prescott

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 20:2 (Spring 2003)
Article: Fetal Reduction: An Ethical Analysis
Author: Stephen R. Prescott

Fetal Reduction: An Ethical Analysis

Stephen R. Prescott

Instructor of Church History
Coordinator of Social Studies
Southeastern College at Wake Forest
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587

Paul and Sandy Brown met in the Single Adult Department of a well-known Southern Baptist megachurch, fell deeply in love, and ultimately married. Like most couples, they eagerly anticipated the arrival of children. However, after two childless years of marriage they consulted their physician. A battery of tests, referral to specialists, and more expensive tests followed.

Eventually the physicians delivered their diagnosis: borderline fertility. The doctors recommended treatment with fertility drugs, advising Paul and Sandy that the drugs would give them an approximately 70 percent chance of conceiving a child compared with less than 5 percent without the drugs. The doctors did tell the Browns that a common side effect of the fertility drugs was multiple births. The physicians hardly mentioned this complication, and Paul and Sandy thought little of it. Actually, they thought that having twins would be nice.

A few months after beginning the treatment, Sandy became pregnant; the Browns were ecstatic. However, the news of Sandy’s pregnancy included information for which the Browns were not prepared. Sandy had conceived not one child, not twins, but four infants. Although initially flabbergasted by the news of quadruplets, once they regained their composure, the Browns were still thrilled. “The more the merrier,” Paul said.

Neither the fertility specialist nor Sandy’s obstetrician shared the Browns’ sanguine attitude. Quadruplets are difficult, even dangerous, the doctors asserted. The pregnancy would be hard on Sandy; the babies would be premature and require lengthy hospital stays after birth. Even worse, there was a strong chance that the pregnancy might spontaneously abort or that the children might be born with serious birth defects. However, there was good news. Modern medicine had not only made it possible for couples such as the Browns to conceive, it had also devised a method of solving the problem of too many fetuses. Utilizing “fetal reduction,” the doctors would “selectively terminate” two of the babies, leaving the two remaining embryos to develop into healthy twins.

Paul and Sandy were dumbfounded by the doctors’ recommendation. At first they adamantly resisted the doctors’ pressure to consent to fetal reduction. The physicians were insistent; a recommendation turned into a virtual demand. Failure to agree to the procedure would almost certainly result in a spontaneous

abortion producing t...

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