Parental obligation and compelled caesarean section: careful analogies and reliable reasoning about individual cases.

Lindsey Porter, Elselijn Kingma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Whether it is morally permissible to compel women to undergo a caesarean section is a topic of longstanding debate. Despite plenty of arguments against the moral permissibility of a forced caesarean section, the question keeps cropping up. This paper seeks to scrutinise a particular moral argument in favour of compulsion: the appeal to parental obligation. We present what we take to be a distillation of the basic form of this argument. We then argue that, in the absence of an exhaustive theory of parental obligation, the question of whether a labouring woman is morally obliged to undergo emergency surgery-and especially the further question of it is morally permissible for third parties to compel this-cannot be answered via ready-made theory. We propose that the most viable option for settling both questions is by analogy. We follow earlier writers in presenting an analogous case-that of fathers being compelled to undergo non-consensual invasive surgery to save their children-but expand the analogy by considering objections that appeal to the ownership of the fetus. We offer two lines of response: (1) the parthood view of pregnancy and (2) chimaera dad. We argue that it is clear in the analogous case that compulsion cannot be justified. We also offer this analogy as a useful tool for assessing whether mothers have a moral duty to undergo caesarean sections, both in general and in particular cases, even if such a duty is insufficient to warrant compulsion.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2020

Cite this