Eugene Volokh points to an interesting AP story about a woman who allowed one of her babies to die rather than have a Caesarean section to deliver her twins at her doctor's recommendation. Prof. Volokh says:
A really tough issue: On the one hand, I'm skittish about any legal requirement that someone get surgery, even to save her child's life. On the other hand, parents do rightly have a legal obligation to take care of their children, and it may well be that this obligation does extend even to going under the knife. Thought experiment: Should the law be able to force a parent -- on pain of a murder conviction -- to donate bone marrow to save a child's life? Should it be able to do so, but only on pain of conviction of a lesser offense, such as involuntary manslaughter or child neglect?But, as he notes, the vast majority of Caesarean sections do not result in any complications or permanent injury.
Incidentally, while this naturally brings up an analogy to the constitutional right to an abortion, the analogy is complex. U.S. constitutional law actually recognizes two different rights to an abortion: A categorical right pre-viability, and a right post-viability when the abortion is needed to preserve the mother's life or health. The first right is surely not implicated here; the baby (and I feel quite comfortable calling it a baby) died at gestational age 9 months. The second right, though, is potentially implicated; the argument would be that it is potentially harmful to a woman's health to have a caesarean section.
Society requires parents to make many sacrifices for their kids: feed them, clothe them, shelter them, &c. The difference is that once the child is born the mother can put him up for adoption if she really doesn't want him. In this circumstance, therewas no way to transfer responsibility for the baby away from the mother.
That fact doesn't bother me, however. In this instance the mother clearly had accepted the responsibility of pregnancy and delivery, but later decided to chicken out after the point of no return (legally and morally, even though those points may not be the same).
I think a large part of the problem with the modern approach to children, abortion, pregnancy, and so forth is that the parents think it's all about them. They want kids, or they don't, and at every stage there's a failure to recognize that there are more lives than their own in the balance. The mother in this story wasn't even worried about her own health, she was worried that the surgery would leave an unattractive scar. That avoiding such a fate would kill her child was inconsequential.