What is Wrong with Abortion?

Leonardo's FetusIs 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. Continue reading

Is Abortion Women’s Right To Control Their Bodies?

Pregancy

Do women’s rights, which include their right to health and to make fully informed decisions regarding their bodies, extend to other beings with future of values like ours inside them? Is it true that the right of women to decide what they can and cannot do with their bodies extend to foetuses existing inside their bodies? Does women’s rights to control their own reproduction include induced abortion?

Granting the notion that our bodies are our own properties; does it follow that women can choose to kill their foetuses inside them because foetuses are also their own properties? Or if we grant that foetuses are separate individuals with future of values like ours, does it follow that women can choose to kill these trespassers?

These questions help us to critically examine the claim that abortion is permissible because women’s do have the right to control their own bodies, primarily the right to control their own reproduction.

Women do have the rights to control their own bodies. They do also have rights to control their own reproduction through contraception, abstinence of intercourse on dangerous days, et cetera. Do these rights extend to foetuses inside of them? I do not think so. Imagine the following:

Jane decided to chop off the legs of her foetus, at week 7. Grant that she has the right to choose what happens in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chopped Jane’s foetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of her foetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. Taking it to an extreme Jane decided to pluck her foetus’ eyes out, et cetera. Two alternative endings could be that of (i) Jane in her final trimester decided to perform prostaglandin or (ii) Jane decided to give birth to an eyeless-amputated child1.

If it is true that women’s right to control their own bodies’ extent to their foetuses, then Jane’s moral actions are permissible.

If our moral sentiments, assuming we are not morally blind, toward Jane’s action are of not only disapproval but also of condemning Jane’s actions as inhumane, then it is clear that Jane’s right to choose what happen in and to her body does not extend to her foetus. Jane’s moral actions are not permissible. Therefore it is not true that women’s right to control their own bodies’ extent to their foetuses inside them.

This is the reason I think it is not true that induced abortion is women’s rights to control their bodies. Women’s rights over their own bodies do not extend to foetuses inside them.


[1] An eyeless-amputated child shows that Jane action where not only done to her own body but also another separate individual.

Assessing Thomson’s Defense of Abortion

FoetusDoes the personhood of foetuses give them right to life? Does that right to life overrides women’s rights to control what happens in and to their bodies?

In A Defense of Abortion Judith Jarvis Thomson argued that even if we grant that foetuses are persons and thus have right to life, it does not follow that they have the right to use the pregnant women’s bodies. Thomson’s case from the famous unconscious violinist analogy unfolds as follows:

Imagine you wake up in the morning kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers, and are plugged into a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. “To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you”(Thomson 1971, 49)

Thomson argued that even if the violinist is a person and has right to life, it does not follow that he has right to use your body, if we grant that a person can decide what happen in and to her body. It would be very nice of you to allow it, but it is morally acceptable to unplug yourself (1971, 48-49).

In both cases, killing the violinist and aborting a foetus, according to Thomson, are relevantly analogous actions because your body is being violated. If it is morally permissible to kill the violinist because your body is being violated, then it is morally permissible to abort a foetus because your body is being violated.

Exploring The Extent of Thomson’s Violinist Analogy

Mary Anne Warren pointed out that Thomson’s argument from the violinist analogy is plausible as a defense for permissibility of morally unaccountable unwanted pregnancy only, e.g. rape (Warren 1973). She argued that “[t]he crucial difference between a pregnancy due to rape and the normal case of an unwanted pregnancy is that in the normal case we cannot claim that the woman is in no way responsible for her predicament; she could have remained chaste, or taken her pills more faithfully, or abstained on dangerous days, and so on.”(1973, 49)

In morally accountable cases, the foetus, congruently argued Bonnie Steinbock, “does have a right to use the pregnant woman’s body because she is (partly) responsible for its existence.”(Steinbock 1992, 78)1

David Boonin-Vail (1997) and Peter Singer (2011) disagreed with Warren and Steinbock. If Thomson’s argument from the violinist analogy is sound, then it could be, they argued, extended beyond morally unaccountable cases.

Boonin argued that there is a difference between “a person’s (a) voluntarily bring about a state of affairs S and (b) voluntarily doing an action A foreseeing that this may lead to a state of affairs S.”(1997, 291) Moral accountability for one’s action is plausible in only (a) but not (b). Non-rape unwanted pregnancy cases falls in (b). He explained that being morally responsible does not necessarily mean a person also agrees to a foreseeable consequence.

Boonin offered an analogy; Bill and Ted voluntarily placing some money on the restaurant’s table. Demonstrating (a) is Bill who after finishing eating voluntarily took the money out of his wallet and placed it on the table and walked out the door. On the other hand, (b) is Ted who voluntarily took the money out of his wallet while eating because it was uncomfortable sitting with it in his pocket. He not only consciously knew that he may forget his money on the table but was also warned by a friend. He unwisely refused to listen to the advice. Ted after finishing eating carelessly left the money on the table, walked out the door, and about ten minutes after returned to collect his money (293). Though Ted is morally responsible for leaving his money on the table, it does not follow that he agreed with the foreseeable consequence of the waiter taking his money.  Following Boonin, women’s voluntary intercourse with men is more like Ted’s case.

Singer offered a different analogy:

Suppose that you found yourself connected to the violinist, not because you were kidnapped by music lovers, but because you had intended to enter the hospital to visit a sick friend; and when you got into the elevator, you carelessly pressed the wrong button and ended up in a section of the hospital normally visited only by those who have volunteered to be connected to patients who would not otherwise survive. A team of doctors, waiting for the next volunteer, assumed you were it, jabbed you with an anesthetic and connected you. If Thomson’s argument was sound in the kidnap case, it is probably sound here too, because nine months unwillingly supporting another is a high price to pay for ignorance or carelessness. (2011, 133)

Boonin’s analogy fails because moral accountability in view here is not of voluntarily placing of some money on the restaurant’s table but voluntarily leaving of the money on the table. Ted, unlike Bill, did not leave the money voluntarily. Similarly Singer’s analogy fails because it is not a voluntary carelessly pressed wrong-button action, of say Gill, which is parallel with Ted placing his money on the table, that is in view. Gill, as in the case of rape, found himself involuntarily plugged to the violinist.

Questioning the Thomson’s Violinist Analogy

Thomson’s analogy fails because in a typical case of abortion we are not merely failing to save another person’s life, by unplugging ourselves, but we are actively taking away another person’s life.

If Jeff McMahan is correct that “[t]he standard methods for performing abortions clearly involve killing the fetus: the fetus dies by being mangled or poisoned in the process of being removed from the uterus” (2002, 378) then abortion is not simply unplugging oneself from another person and letting her die but actively and intentionally killing her. The kidney donor is not only unplugging herself and passively letting a dying violinist die but unplugging herself by actively killing him2.

Questioning Thomson’s Body Rights Assumption

Thomson assumed that our rights to decide what happens in and to our bodies extend to another person. This is not necessarily true. Imagine the following counterexample:

Jane decided to chop off the legs of her foetus, at week 7. Grant that she has the right to choose what happens in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chopped Jane’s foetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of her foetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. Taking it to an extreme Jane decided to pluck her foetus’ eyes out, et cetera. Two alternative endings could be that of (i) Jane in her final trimester decided to perform prostaglandin or (ii) Jane decided to give birth to an eyeless-amputated child.

If our moral sentiments, assuming we are not morally blind, toward Jane are that of not only disapproval but also of condemning Jane for her “ruthlessness” then it does not follow that Jane’s right to choose what happen in and to her body is extended to her foetus.

Questioning Thomson’s Use of “Use

Raising a worthy exploring inquiry, Philip W. Bennett asked; “Does the foetus use the body of the woman who has it in the same way that the violinist is using the body of the unwilling kidney donor?”(Bennett 1982,142) Bennett questioned the assumption that he believed Thomson took for granted, namely the relationship between a violinist’s use of the kidney donor with that of a foetus use of the mother.

Using people as means to our own ends, following Kant, is often wrong. Thomson’s violinist, or the Society of Music Lovers, according to Bennett, is, in a moral chastisement sense, using the kidney donor as a means to his or their end. In this way he or they are morally accountable. But the foetus does not uses the body of the woman in a similar way to them because foetus use its mother in a moral neutral sense. (1982, 144)

If Bennett’s distinction is correct, viz., the foetus does not indeed use the body of the pregnant woman as the violinist uses the body of the kidney donor then “the moral sentiments evoked by the violinist case, as codified in the principle that ‘ having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body …,’ have little or nothing to say about the issue of abortion and the implications of the foetus’ right to life if fetuses have such a right.”(142)

By granting, for argument sake, that foetuses are persons, Thomson did not succeed to show that it is morally permissible to actively kill them. Elsewhere3 I argued that what makes killing people generally morally wrong applies also to the killing of foetuses. That case does not assume that foetuses are persons.

Bibliography:

Bennett, Philip W. (1982) A Defence of Abortion; A Question for Judith Jarvis Thomson. Philosophical Investigations. Vol 5, Issue 2:142-145

Booni-Vail, David (1997) A Defense of “A Defense of Abortion”: On the Responsibility Objection to Thomson’s Argument. Ethics, Vol. 107, No. 2:286-313

McMahan, Jeff (2002). The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Singer, Peter (2011) Practical Ethics. 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steinbock, Bonnie (1992) Life before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1971) A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1:47-66

Warren, Mary Anne (1973) On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. The Monist Vol 57, No. 1: 42-61


[1] Alan Donagan (1977), Paul D. Feinberg (1978), Robert N. Wennberg (1985), and Judith A. Boss (1993) offered similar Warren-Steinbock-types of critique.

[2] Hysterotomy and hysterectomy methods are more like unplugging in Thomson’s analogy

Abortion and A Flawed Brain-life Theory

Littleone

Tracking Baruch Brody’s view, brain-life theorists claim that being fully human, a being must possess properties “such that their loss would mean the going out of existence (the death) of a human being”(Brody 1975, 102). The property of being human, they argued, is human brain function. J Savulescu, for example, contended:

If we cease to exist when our brain dies, we only begin to exist when our brains start to function. Consciousness does not begin until after 20 weeks’ gestation. Thus we do not begin to exist as persons, as morally relevant entities, until at least 20 weeks of fetal gestation. The question of when and if killing occurs does not even arise until at least 20 weeks’ gestation. (Savulescu 2002, 134).

Brain-life theorist John M. Goldenring¹ concisely put it this way: “Whenever a functioning human brain is present, a human being is alive.”(Goldenring 1985, 200).

Before acquiring this property, a fetus has not yet come into existence. Killing it is not like killing an existing human being. Thus aborting a fetus before it acquires brain function, so argued brain-life theorists, is morally permissible. In this article, I contended that this criteria, which “rests in symmetrical view of the beginning and end of human existence”(ibid. 202), defended by Brody, Goldenring and Savulescu is deeply flawed².

“Brain death” wrote Eelco F.M. Wijdicks,  “is the vernacular expression for irreversible loss of brain function.” He continued,

Brain death is declared when brainstem reflexes, motor responses, and respiratory drive are absent in a normothermic, nondrugged comatose patient with a known irreversible massive brain lesion and no contributing metabolic derangements. (Wijdicks 2002, 20)

The irreversible loss of brain function indicates that a patient is dying, or in a common parlance ‘as good as dead’, but not that the patient is dead. Don Marquis correctly argued that even if “death is, strictly speaking, defined in terms of the irreversible loss of brain function, the mere absence of brain function is not a sufficient condition for the absence of life.”(Marquis 1996, 8)

Moreover it is not simply the absence of brain function that is in play in pronouncing a person dead, but irreversible lost of brain function. If a person was reasonably expected to resume or come to have brain function in the future, then that person cannot be pronounced dead. Pre-brain-function fetus is a being that is reasonably expected to come to have brain function for it “ has the natural capacity to bring on the functioning of the brain.”(Varga 1984, 62)

Though I disagree with Peter Singer’s stance on the issue of abortion, I do share his verdict on this view. He correctly concluded that this view is a “convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognize that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being’s life.”(Singer 1994, 105)

Bibliography:

Brody, Baruch (1975) Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical View. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Goldenring, John M. (1985) The brain-life theory: towards a consistent biological definition of humanness. Journal of Medical Ethics Vol. 11:198-204

Marquis, Don (1996) Abortion. Appeared in Donald M. Borchert (2006) ed. Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2nd. Thomson Gale.

Savulescu, J (2002) Abortion, embryo destruction and the future of value argument. Journal of Medical Ethics. Vol. 28: 133-135

Singer, Peter (1994) Rethinking Life & Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional
Ethics.
New York: St. Martin’s Press

Wijdicks, Eelco F.M. (2002) Brain death worldwide: Accepted fact but no global consensus in diagnostic criteria. Neurology Vol. 58:20-25

Varga, Andrew (1984) The Main Issues in Bioethics. 2nd ed. NY: Paulist Press.


[1] Goldenring believed that 8 weeks fetus has an EEG activity. He boldly asserted, “one cannot advance any logical argument to show that that fetus is not a living human being”(199) from a medical point of view after brain activity.

[2] One could also argue brain-life theory, as defended by Brody, Goldenring and Savulescu, mistake the qualitative identity of a developing human being with the numerical identity of being a human being.

NB: I would be thankful for short(<300) and concise comments and critics.

What is Wrong With Abortion? A Philosophical Case

Littleone

Is it possible to make a case for the prima facie wrongness of killing a human foetus that does not depend on theological premises? In 1989 atheist philosopher Donald Marquis introduced a philosophical case for immorality of abortion that neither depended on the personhood nor consciousness of the foetus.

Consider these five cases, borrowed from Pedro Galvão (2007):

(A) The typical human foetus;

(A1) The typical preconscious fetus;
(A2)  The typical conscious fetus;

(B) The typical human infant;
(C) The temporarily depressed suicidal;
(D) The temporarily comatose adult;
(E) The typical human adult.

Could what make  killing of (B-E) prima facie so wrong be relevantly similar to  killing of (A)? This post offered a philosophical case for why abortion, killing of (A1) and (A2), is prima facie wrong, as it revisited Robert Young’s theses (1979) on what makes killing people, in some occasions, so wrong, and Marquis’ articulations of future of value arguments (1989, 2001).

Recently Barack Obama gave a lamenting speech  in Newtown, addressed to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, correctly captured the prima facie wrongness of killing people. Obama understood the gravity of the killer’s unjust prevention  of  the little kids, and adults’  future of value. He said,

The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.(Obama 2012)

It is general prima facie wrong to kill human being, according to David Boonin’s modified future-like-ours, because it “ is in general prima facie wrong to act in ways that frustrate the desires of others, and in general more seriously prima facie wrong to act in ways that frustrate their stronger desires.”(Boonin 2003, 67)

Booni’s view would explain why it is wrong to kill (A2[1]), (B) and (E), but not (C) and (D) because (C) and (D) lack strong desire to enjoy their personal future. Assuming we agree that killing (C) and (D) is prima facie wrong, Boonin’s view is, thus, inadequate to explain why it is generally prima facie so wrong to kill people.

Unlike Boonin, Young provided a richer explanation. He argued,

[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 victims’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come have.(Young 1979, 516)

Persuaded by Young’s account, Marquis argued that  ‘‘for any killing where the victim did have a valuable future like ours, having that future by itself is sufficient to create the strong presumption that the killing is seriously wrong’’. (Marquis 1989, 195)

Young’s account is richer because it includes (C) and (D). In both cases, viz., a depressed suicidal teenager and a comatose patient are reasonably expected to resume such life-purpose. In this account, if correct, it would be equally wrong to kill (A1) and (A2) because they also are reasonably expected to come to have such life-purposes. (A1) and (A2) have, borrowing Obama’s words, “their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own”. Thus,

P1: What makes killing another human being prima facie wrong is “an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of the victims’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come have”

P2: Abortion is an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of foetus’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the foetus may reasonably have been expected to come have.

C: Abortion is prima facie wrong.

Next: Weakness and Objection To Future of Value Arguments Against Abortion

Bibliography:

Boonin, David (2003). A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Galvão, Pedro (2007):“Boonin On The Future-Like-Ours Argument Against Abortion “ Bioethics Vol. 21 No. 6: 324-328

Marquis Donald(1989). “Why abortion is immoral.” Journal of Philosophy Vol. 86:183–202.

_________________ (2001) “Deprivations, futures and the wrongness of killing.” Journal of Medical Ethics 2001;27:363–9.

Obama, Barak (2012). Obama’s speech on December 14th 2012. Transcript: President Obama’s Remarks On Conn. School Shootings. White House

Young, Robert (1979) “What Is So Wrong with Killing People?” Philosophy, Vol. 54, No. 210: 515-528


[1] (A2) and (B) have relatively similar actual desires.

Abortion: It Is Her Body, It Is Her Choice?

LittleoneIs it true that a woman’s body is her own business, and should not be a political issue? Should a woman be granted right to decide whatever happens in and to her body?

This blog post explored the Bodily Autonomy Argument offered for abortion. Whether you are for or against abortion, it is my intention to persuade you that this argument is a failure by offering three just-so-stories counterexamples, to show how unconvincing it is to any reasonable and morally unblind person.

I used a narrow definition of abortion in the post, viz., a deliberate act of removing a developing embryo or fetus (Latin: “little one”), without justified reason1 from the womb in a period before it is capable of independent survival.

The argument from woman autonomy commonly unfold as follows:

1. A woman has the right to decide what she can and can’t do in and to her body.
2. The fetus exists in a woman’s body.
3. A woman has the right to decide whether the fetus remains in her body.
4. Therefore a pregnant woman has the right to abort the fetus.

Most of critiques found in literature gunned against this argument tend to show that a fetus is not an extension of the woman’s body. Christopher Hitchens, for example, contended:

As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body. There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even—this was seriously maintained—a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped (Hitchens 2009, 378)

But let assume that a fetus is part of the woman’s body. Would it follow that a pregnant woman ought to have a right to choose what happen in and to her body? Is true that: “Abortion is a personal choice because you are talking about what a woman does with her body.”(Jordan 1992:8-9)? Consider these three counterexamples:

Special Case 1: Chopping the Fetus

Jane decided to chop off the legs of the fetus, at week 7 but still she wants to keep it. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chop Jane’s fetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of the fetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. In her final trimester, Jane asked John to perform prostaglandin.

Special Case 2: Poison the Fetus

Linda discovered that she was pregnant. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Linda chose to continue living her ordinary lifestyle of smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol, knowing that she does increase the probability of her fetus having fetal alcohol syndrome. It is after all her private and personal own business. She decide what happen in her body. After 9 months Linda gave birth to an intellectual disabled baby with facial, fingers, arms and legs defects.

Special Case 3: Feed No Child

Rose gave birth in a desert where she and a newly little one (fetus) are the only survivors of a plan crash. It is only by drinking breast’s milk the little one can survive. Since Rose believe that she has the right to choose what happen to her body, she chose not to feed it. She chose to preserve her energy and nutrients needed for her own body. Two days later the little one died from hunger.

In these three special cases counterexamples, knowing that there is no morally sane woman who would even dare think of doing what my hypothetical Jane, Linda and Rose did, the argument used to justify their actions is the same. Jane, Linda and Rose contended that it was their own bodies and they have the right to choose for themselves what was to be done in and to their bodies.

As spectators, are our moral sentiments toward Jane, Linda and Rose’s actions of approval and praise? I deem that only morally blind person would find my hypothetical ladies’ actions praiseworthy and ought to be approved on the ground that it was their own private business, since they have the right to decide whatever happens in and to their bodies.

If that is the case, these counterexamples show that it is not true that a woman’s body is her own business, and should not be a political issue. From these three just-so-stories counterexamples I concluded that the Bodily Autonomy argument for abortion is a failure since if true, then absurdly Jane, Linda and Rose’s actions would be morally justified.

Bibliography:

Jordan, Barbara (1992) “New Democratic Order?” World Magazine, November 7th. 8-9.

Hitchens, Christopher (2009), God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.


[1] I grant therapeutic abortion, abortion done to save the mother’s life, as a justified reasons