The Ethicist Weighs in On an Insane Real-Life Jane the Virgin Mix-Up


The premise of Jane the Virgin centers around a young woman who becomes pregnant after being artificially inseminated accidentally. If you can believe it, almost this exact conundrum occurred in real life when a woman was mistakenly implanted with another couple’s embryo.

The woman in question wrote to The Ethicist at The New York Times Magazine about her wild predicament. The biological mother of the mixed-up embryo understandably did not want her to have their baby. The writer decided to take the morning-after pill to try to prevent the pregnancy but it didn’t work.

She writes that she and her husband had already undergone IVF for their first child and they desperately wanted a second. In a rather annoying move, she doesn’t reveal what decision she ultimately made and instead turns to The Ethicist, Kwame Anthony Appiah, perhaps to be validated in whatever she did decide.

As Appiah begins to unpack this incredibly messy situation, he dismisses the idea that the “rightful parents” have any right to force this woman to terminate her pregnancy.

Beyond the moral status of abortion, about which people in this country are deeply divided, there is the issue of bodily autonomy. It would even apply to a patient who received a kidney meant for someone else, owing to a transplant-list mistake. What was done can’t be undone. You can’t require an unwitting patient to submit to the removal of what was given to her in error.

He acknowledges that she was also well within her rights to have an abortion. As he continues, Appiah discusses an alternative scenario where she decides to have the baby, but then must grapple with who the child belongs to. He more or less argues that it would have been ethical for this woman to have the baby.

Your reference to your ‘‘own family goals’’ suggests that you think you would have been obligated to hand the child over to the genetic parents. I disagree. Perhaps you thought the embryo belonged to them. But as I’ve said, it isn’t helpful, morally, to think of embryos as property. You would have been entitled to hand the child over (assuming he or she was wanted), and this might have been a generous act. But if you carried the child for nine months, I can’t see that you would have had an automatic obligation to do so.

Jesus, I mean, I guess? There truly seems to be no empirically right or wrong decision here. In the end, this woman’s only real choice is to make the decision that she can best live with because no matter what, the repercussions are ample.

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Image via the CW.

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