Is it immoral to deliberately end the life of a fetus? This is a philosophical question that tackles the ethics of abortion. This philosophical question demands philosophical answer(s). Before I attempt to answer this question, another basic question that is behind this question must also be answered; what exactly makes it immoral to kill one of us on most occasions? From such explorations I presented three philosophical arguments explaining why I believe abortion, on most occasions, is immoral.
This short essay presented three brief explanations on what makes killing one of us wrong. Those explanations, I will argue, are equally applicable to the killing of fetuses. In this essay I assumed that my readers agree that killing of a suicidal teenager or a revisable comatose patient is wrong. Thus, though a suicidal teenager may currently have no strong desire to live, or a revisable comatose patient may at a certain period be totally unconscious of both her inner self and her outside surroundings, it is immoral to deliberately and unjustifiably end their lives.
An adequate explanation for what exactly makes it immoral to kill one of us, thus, must cover the killing of those who currently have no strong desire to live and also those who are temporary unconscious. The following three explanations cover such cases.
I. Robert Young Inspired Argument
Wrestling with the question behind the question, Robert Young argued that:
“[W]hat makes killing another human being wrong on occasions is its character as an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of the victim’s life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come to have.”(Young 1979: 519)
Utilizing Young’s thesis, the first philosophical argument against abortion, on most occasions, unfolds as following:
(1.1.) What makes killing one of us wrong, on most occasions, is that it unjust prevents the realization either of an individual’s life purpose, or such life-purposes as the individual may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come to have.
(1.2.) Abortion, on most occasions, unjustly prevents the realization of the fetus’ life purpose as the fetus may reasonably have been expected to come to have.
(1.3) Abortion, on most occasions, is wrong.
II. Don Marquis Inspired Argument
Inspired by Young’s thesis, Don Marquis (1989) presented another argument for the immorality of ending the lives of fetuses on most occasions. He argued that abortions, on most occasions, are immoral for the same reason as is immoral to end your life and my life. Killing is wrong, following Marquis, because it deprives the victim’s valuable future like ours (1989).
The future of value like ours to which killing one of us deprives is the future that contains “all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future” (Marquis 1989:189). Fetuses are reasonably expected to come to have future of values like ours. Marquis expounded:
“The future of value argument for the immorality of abortion claims that the best victim-centered explanation for the wrongness of killing adults and children is that killing deprives them of their future of value. Their future of value consist of whatever, at future times, they will or would then regard as making their lives worth living, Fetuses have futures very much like ours; indeed, their future contain whatever ours contain and more. Therefore (given certain defensible assumptions and a few qualifications), abortion is immoral”(Marquis 2005: 105)
The second philosophical argument against abortion, Marquis’ future of value like ours argument, unfolds as following:
(2.1.) What makes killing one of us wrong, on most occasions, is that it deprives an individual’s future of values like ours.
(2.2.) Abortion deprives fetuses’ future of values like ours.
(2.3.) Abortion, on most occasions, is wrong.
III. Sinnott-Armstrong and Miller Inspired Argument
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Franklin G. Miller also wrestled with the question behind the question. What is it that makes killing one of us wrong? Sinnott-Armstrong and Miller argued that what makes killing one of us wrong, on most occasions, is not its character of loss of life or consciousness per se but rather its character of total disability of the victim (Sinnott-Armstrong & Miller 2013a).
They, thus, argued that “killing humans is almost always morally wrong, because killing humans is almost always disabling, and disabling is morally wrong (pro tanto—that is, without an adequate justification or excuse)” (Sinnott-Armstrong & Miller 2013b: 12).
Killing of one of us cannot cause lose of past or present abilities. These abilities are completed and cannot be taken away. A modification, thus, in Sinnott-Armstrong’s thesis is needed to clarify the abilities lost. A modified version, thus, could be: What makes killing one of us wrong, on most occasions, is its character of universally and irreversibly lose of abilities the victim may reasonably come to have.
Utilizing a modified Sinnott-Armstrong’s and Miller’s thesis on the wrongness of killing one of us, a third philosophical argument against abortion, on most occasions, unfolds as following:
(3.1.) What makes killing one of us wrong, on most occasions, is its character of universally and irreversibly lose of abilities the victim may reasonably come to have.
(3.2.) Abortion causes universally and irreversibly lose of fetuses’ abilities that they may reasonably have been expected to come to have.
(3.3.) Abortion, on most occasions, is wrong.
These are skeletons of three philosophical arguments that could be presented for the immorality of abortion on most occasions. Some of my future articles on the ethics of abortion will defend each of argument individually showing their strengths and possible weakness. You are welcome, until then, to interact with these arguments by offering your constructive criticism and possible objections.
Marquis, D. (1989) ‘Why abortion is immoral,’ Journal of Philosophy 4, 2:242-245
_________ (2005) ‘ Brill’s Objections to the Future of Value Argument,’ Social Theory and Practice, 31, 1:105-114
Sinnott-Armstrong W, & Miller F. G. (2013a) ‘ What makes killing wrong?,’ Journal of Medical Ethics 39:3-7
_________ (2013b) ‘ Killing versus totally disabling: a reply to critics,’ Journal of Medical Ethics 39:12-14
Young, R. (1979) ‘ What Is So Wrong with Killing People?’ Philosophy 54, 210: 515-528