Thursday, February 5, 2015

Conflating Morality With Legality

I started thinking about this topic when I was discussing the legality of C-sections in Italy with a colleague of mine. I was unaware of this, but apparently it is technically illegal for a woman to give birth via C-section unless there is a legittimate medical reason for doing so. Given the rather loose language that entails, and the fact that there are far far more C-sections being performed in the South compared to Northern Italian states, leads us to believe that if a woman really wants to have one, she can find a doctor who will be willing to schedule her one. The point of disagreement between us was based on whether or not this law should exist at all.
Her perspective on this is that, while she has absolutely no problem with avoiding a vaginal birth for legittimate health concerns (a baby not turning, heart problems etc.), she believes that no woman should be allowed to simply opt for a C-section simply because of fear of a vaginal birth, stating studies that have found a correlation between cesarean births and an increased risk of certain chronic illnesses. It is her opinion that pregnancy comes with certain responsibilities, one of which is giving birth as nature intended, should you have a completely normal and healthy pregnancy. I of course disagreed, hence my writing this post.
I realized that all too often we conflate what we believe is immoral with what we believe should be illegal, and this is not, nor should it be always the case. Of course there is significant overlap between the two concepts, but there is also plenty of space for the two things to remain seperate. The problem is that morality is inherently subjective, especially when we begin to dissect these kinds of minor issues, while the law is objectively applied across the board. It is therefore important to not allow one's own opinion about the morality of something to affect a law which would be applied to everyone without good supporting reasons.

I disagreed with her reasoning because, essentially, I believe it comes down to bodily autonomy. Either someone has control over their own body, or they don't. It's the same reason why I think it doesn't matter whether or not someone thinks abortion is immoral, it should still be legal. While I concede that there is evidence that C-sections can lead to increased risk of certain kinds of illness, so can maternal obesity, gestational weight gain and, ever so importantly, drinking, but we don't go around criminalizing any of these behaviors simply because they bring an increased risk of harm to the fetus. We rely on educating women on the facts and dangers associated with certain behaviors but, ultimately, we trust them as adults to make their own decisions regarding their body and their life. To me, whether or not I think it is moral for a woman to opt for a C-section out of fear, her legal right to do so should not be in question.

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