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Forced caesareans: applying ordinary standards to an extraordinary case
  1. Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi,
  2. Inez de Beaufort
  1. Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi, Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam 3000 CA, The Netherlands; h.ismailimhamdi{at}


Is it morally justifiable to force non-consenting pregnant women to submit to caesarean surgery to save their fetus in distress? Even though proponents and opponents largely agree on the interests at stake, such as the health and life of the fetus and the respect for bodily integrity and autonomy of pregnant women, they disagree on which moral weight to attach to these interests. This is why disagreements about the justifiability of forced caesareans tend to be pervasive and intractable. To sidestep this deadlock, we will focus on conditions that give rise to the ‘caesarean dilemma’ in the first place, namely the conflict between inherent norms and values medical professionals are committed to by virtue of being a medical professional. Using the reflective equilibrium, we will test the opponents’ and proponents’ considered judgments about forced caesareans against the norms and values they—as medical professionals—are committed to and determine whether they are coherent. Subsequently we will identify the proponents’ incoherencies between the considered judgments and norms and values they are committed to and conclude that as long as these incoherencies are in place, forced caesareans are morally impermissible.

  • interests of woman/fetus/father

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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