Philosophy 355 Contemporary Moral Problems Darwall Winte r 1996 3/27 ABORTION II Topic for Next Week's Moral Conversation Project: Critically assess the debate between Singer and Guthrie about the moral standing of nonhuman animals. I. Recap: A. Moral vs. Legal Issues B. Who should decide? vs. What should she (we) decide? C. Is the fetus a person?, a moral rather than a medical or a biological question. II. How to answer this question? A. On one extreme: What grounds the right to life that we assume persons have? If it is the interest that persons have in authority over the boundaries of their life, this interest apparently presupposes the capacity for self- awareness. Since the fetus lacks self-awareness at every stage of development, the fetus lacks the defining aspect of human persons in virtue of which they have the right to life. Therefore, the fetus at no stage of development has the right to life and is not, in that sense, a person. B. On the other extreme: The fetus is a person at every stage a person with the right to life: 1. Because once a zygote is formed, there is the full complement of genes that shapes the particular individual. (Shettles and Rorvik) 2. Because once a zygote is formed, it is "ensouled." (Roman Catholicism) 3. Noonan's variant: a. Value or object of appropriate concern vs. rights b. Engaged emotional perception vs. intellectual argument c. Inclusion within the "family of man"-- Compare: the realization that someone matters, that their existence and welfare counts, by an empathic, then sympathetic engagement with them and their situation. d. Noonan's conjecture: Open, honest encounter with the fetus will lead to a concern that will amount to seeing the fetus as valuable and something to be protected. e. Can this argument show the strong conclusion Noonan supposes? III. The Challenge of the Fetus's Moral Status A. To Warren's extreme: A neonate differs inconsequentially intrinsically from the fetus just before delivery. How can infanticide be wrong but abortion of the almost exactly similar fetus (intrinsically) not be? B. To Noonan's extreme: How can the life of a single cell, the zygote, makes the same moral claim on us that the life of a mature person does? C. But if both extremes seem, well, extreme, what points in between make the relevant difference? The Problem of the slippery slope. IV. Suppose, however, the fetus is a person. Does it follow that abortion is always wrong? It is easy to suppose that it is always wrong to kill someone who has the right to life. But is this true? [First: a sermonette on abstract hypothetical cases] A. Self-defense against a malign threat. But the fetus is innocent. B. Self-defense against an innocent threat--suppose someone has fallen off a twelve-story buidling and is heading right for you. If you don't move, they live and you die. If, however, you move, you live and they die. May you move? C. Suppose you think it morally permissible to move in this case. Does this commit you to thinking that it would be morally permissible to abort to save the life of the woman carrying the fetus? D. Not necessarily. According to the Doctrine of Double Effect, although it would be permissible for you to move to avoid being flattened on the pavement, abortion is impermissible, because in the first case, you are not trying to kill the person who falls, you are not directly aiming at her death, whereas in the abortion case, the death of the fetus is not just a result, it is what the doctor tries to accomplish. This is the basis for the traditional Roman Catholic position that abortion is wrong even to save the life of the woman carrying the fetus. E. Thomson's counter case: being trapped in a house with a quickly growing child. Is killing the child to avoid being crushed by the child morally different than moving out of the way to avoid being crushed by the falling person? V. So there is some question whether, even if the fetus is a person, it would be wrong to kill it if, say, doing so was necessary for the woman to save her own life. Would this be the only exception? A. Thomson's "famous violinist case" attempts to show it is not. The violinist is plugged into your kidneys without your consent and (a) unplugging will result in his death and (b) remaining plugged into him is a substantial burden. Would it be wrong to demand that you be unplugged? B. Thomson argues that it would not. The central contention of her argument is that the right to life does not amount to the right against any other individual that that individual provide life support if doing so is burdensome. If it would be wrong for you to demand to be unplugged, this would mean that the violinist has this second right as well as the first, but he does not. VI. Two counterarguments: A. Noonan: a Minnesota case held that householders have an obligation to take in a helpless person who would otherwise have to brave life-threatening or otherwise harmful conditions (e.g., on a cold winter's night). Thomson's response? B. Warren: the analogy may hold well enough in cases where a woman has not implicitly assumed responsibility for the fetus's dependence on her, as when the pregnancy results from rape, but not for the ordinary case. VII. These show that, on the assumption that the fetus is a person, there are two important morally relevant dimensions: A. The burden involved in bringing the fetus to term. B. The degree of special responsibility the woman carrying the fetus has to provide life support beyond that that an arbitrary individual would have. VIII. In light of (b), consider the following cases: A. Couple has unprotected sex in order to have a child, but changes their mind. B. Couple has unprotected sex without any particular thought of possible consequences. C. Couple takes some precautions, but less than what would be reasonably prudent. D. Couple takes all reasonable precautions. What moral differences, if any, do these differences make?