Abortion Is NOT Murder: Judith Thomson’s Violinist

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Thumbnail for A Defense of Abortion, arguing that abortion is not murder.

Note: this is a transcript for my video, “Abortion Is NOT Murder: Judith Thomson’s Violinist”

Years ago, when I rejected Christianity and became an atheist, something interesting happened. Although I was comfortable without God in my life, it took me quite a while to change my position on abortion- which, at least anecdotally, seems to be the experience for lots of ex-believers. I sought out debates on the topic, I read works of philosophy to get away from the political noise, and concluded that- if progressives are to win this argument, they MUST begin with personhood. In other words, they need to establish, first and foremost, that a fetus is NOT a person, and that it does NOT have the same inviolable right to life like most persons do. I knew, of course, that personhood was just ONE point of contention in the philosophical literature, but, to me, it felt like it was the biggest point- the most important point- the only point.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to suspect that this insistence on the personhood argument might be little more than a vestige of my former Christianity. After all, I’d read a number of brilliant pro-abortion arguments that conceded personhood, but still went on to make their case. I would simply tune these arguments out, and there was really no good reason why- until, of course, I looked back into my own religious past, and saw what I was in fact doing. I seemed, in short, to have accepted the Christian idea of ensoulment- that every human, or potential human, has a right to that which God has given, now sublimated into an apparently secular argument that I felt was necessary to make.

But what if personhood is NOT necessary? What if- as the philosophical literature suggests- we can CONCEDE personhood to the anti-abortionists, and STILL come away with a compelling argument for abortion? Further, IF we successfully argue from the position of bodily autonomy, we do MORE than make good on a political claim. We can also put to rest yet another hooded remnant of religious thinking, and bring the focus back on human beings making ethical choices in the only moral system we’ve ever really had.

Prior to going any further, I want to briefly discuss thought experiments, and why philosophers use them.

On first glance, a thought experiment might seem strange and even downright exotic, but that’s actually the point. By eliminating emotional triggers – such as the word “fetus” – a philosopher can get you to respond strictly to the logical content of an argument, as opposed to whatever baggage you might be tempted by. Of course, some thought experiments ARE badly constructed, and do not capture the relevant parts of reality in the way they think they do, but THIS is what’s up for debate: and not merely the fact that a thought experiment has been invoked.

Alex Sheremet in front of Not Your Liberal logo, arguing why abortion is not murder.

Perhaps the most famous thought experiment related to abortion is Judith Thomson’s Violinist, which is part of a longer essay titled “A Defense Of Abortion”. This might very well be the most well-known essay in modern philosophy, generating controversy, acclaim, as well as so much misunderstanding that I feel the need to answer a few of the most common critiques by video’s end.

First, however, let us move through the essay, point by point, so we know exactly what Thomson is arguing, what she is NOT arguing, and the possibilities this line of inquiry opens up for the question of abortion.

She begins her essay thus:

Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. The premise is argued for, but, as I think, not well. Take, for example, the most common argument. We are asked to notice that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this development and say “before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person” is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is, or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak trees, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that we had better say they are. Arguments of this form are sometimes called “slippery slope arguments” and it is dismaying that opponents of abortion rely on them so heavily and uncritically.

I am inclined to agree, however, that the prospects of “drawing a line” in the development of the fetus look dim. I am inclined to think also that we shall probably have to agree that the fetus has already become a human person well before birth.

An illustration of the slippery slope arguing when arguing that abortion is not murder.

Now, what can we conclude from all this? First, Thomson grants a fetus personhood, as well as a right to life. She does not deny either point, and even went on to argue both after the essay’s publication. Her issue- as we will see- is NOT with a fetus’s right to life, but whether THIS right to life supersedes all other rights. Furthermore, she defines the right to life more technically- it is, in HER definition, nothing more than the right to NOT be killed unjustly- which, if you think about it, is really how we all define the right to life in almost every circumstance.

She then proposes her first thought experiment:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. 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.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

To many, however, this argument works ONLY in the case of rape. After all, let’s consider the analogy. You are KIDNAPPED- that is, you are not engaging in consensual behavior with known consequences. I do not myself buy that this thought experiment applies only to rape, but at minimum, it seems to me that it absolutely demolishes the idea that we CAN’T make exceptions in the case of rape. And if after considering the “Little Violinist,” we DO make an exception in the case of rape, this implies- at minimum- that a fetus (which is of course an innocent player in all this) is not in fact the KIND of person that we think it is. In other words, there is at least one situation in which bodily autonomy trumps life.

The question, again, is whether or not one may be killed unjustly- and the answer is No, but ONLY when it is in fact unjust. Let us keep this distinction in mind as Thomson follows up with yet another thought experiment.

Suppose you find yourself trapped in a tiny house with a growing child. I mean a very tiny house, and a rapidly growing child–you are already up against the wall of the house and in a few minutes you’ll be crushed to death. The child on the other hand won’t be crushed to death; if nothing is done to stop him from growing he’ll be hurt, but in the end he’ll simply burst open the house and walk out a free man. Now I could well understand it if a bystander were to say. “There’s nothing we can do for you. We cannot choose between your life and his, we cannot be the ones to decide who is to live, we cannot intervene.” But it cannot be concluded that you too can do nothing, that you cannot attack it to save your life. However innocent the child may be, you do not have to wait passively while it crushes you to death Perhaps a pregnant woman is vaguely felt to have the status of house, to which we don’t allow the right of self-defense. But if the woman houses the child, it should be remembered that she is a person who houses it.

Given that support for Roe v. Wade in America is at an all-time high, it seems unnecessary, now, for Thomson to have even made this argument. [fly in image of poll] Yet she wrote this essay before the court case was decided, and argued this point, in particular, because as right-to-lifers were beaten back in the philosophical literature, they were left grasping at straws. Alright, they said. The mother has a RIGHT to an abortion in some circumstances. But it does not follow that she is entitled to have someone ELSE perform this abortion for her. After all, if SHE has a compelling interest in her own bodily autonomy, that’s fine, but no one else does- and, therefore, any third party which intrudes cannot use that defense when killing the unborn.

But Thomson has an answer for this, too. She says:

But this cannot be right, either. For what we have to keep in mind is that the mother and the unborn child are not like two tenants in a small house which has, by an unfortunate mistake, been rented to both: the mother owns the house. Certainly, this lets us see that a third party who says “I cannot choose between you two” is fooling himself if he thinks this is impartiality. If Jones has found and fastened on a certain coat, which he needs to keep him from freezing, but which Smith also needs to keep him from freezing, then it is not impartiality that says “I cannot choose between you” when Smith owns the coat. Women have said again and again “This is my body!” and they have a reason to feel angry, reason to feel that it has been like shouting into the wind. Smith, after all, is hardly likely to bless us if we say to him, “Of course it’s your coat, anybody would grant that it is. But no one may choose between you and Jones who is to have it.”

This shows that ‘impartiality’ is little more than a semantic game, but it does something else too. It emphasizes the idea that, above all, we are dealing with the notion of who owns what, and whether self-ownership trumps other rights, and to what degree. The anti-abortionist might still argue that, Yes, maybe the coat analogy holds, but more pertinently: what if all that’s needed for life is something so minor- say, a tiny scrap of Smith’s coat- that supplying this bare minimum ought to be required? What IS a bare minimum, anyway, and if we more properly define such minimums, do we THEN re-evaluate what bodily autonomy means?

In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact IS the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow, then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well-meant, if my friends flew out to the West Coast and carried Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me.

A plane ticket, a drop of plans, many hours spent to help another? Surely THIS is intrusive, and can’t be considered a genuine minimum for the bare necessity of life. If anything, it can be construed- at best- as an asymmetrical tax, with a huge responsibility and moral imperative placed upon just one person, and nobody else. So, what now?

Take the case of Henry Fonda again. I said earlier that I had no right to the touch of his cool hand on my fevered brow even though I needed it to save my life. I said it would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide me with it, but that I had no right against him that he should do so. But suppose he isn’t on the West Coast. Suppose he has only to walk across the room, place a hand briefly on my brow – and lo, my life is saved. Then SURELY he ought to do it- it would be indecent to refuse. Is it to be said, “Ah, well, it follows that in this case she has a right to the touch of his hand on her brow, and so it would be an injustice in him to refuse”? So that I have a right to it when it is easy for him to provide it, though no right when it’s hard? It’s rather a shocking idea that anyone’s rights should fade away and disappear as it gets harder and harder to accord them to him.

The anti-abortionist might again argue that, Yes, maybe the coat analogy holds, and maybe being given the bare minimum to life does not itself trump bodily autonomy, but still- what if a woman goes out into the freezing cold, without a coat, knowing full well the consequences? Surely we ARE responsible for what we do or don’t do, and the evils we might invite upon ourselves? If a woman engages in consensual sex, knowing what might happen, does not consent also imply a consent to repercussions? Thomson deals with this question in a final thought experiment:

Again, suppose it were like this: people-seeds drift about in the air like pollen, and if you open your windows, one may drift in and take root in your carpets or upholstery. You don’t want children, so you fix up your windows with fine mesh screens, the very best you can buy. As can happen, however, and on very, very rare occasions does happen, one of the screens is defective, and a seed drifts in and takes root. Does the person-plant who now develops have a right to the use of your house? Surely not–despite the fact that you voluntarily opened your windows, you knowingly kept carpets and upholstered furniture, and you knew that screens were sometimes defective. Someone may argue that you are responsible for its rooting, that it does have a right to your house, because after all you could have lived out your life with bare floors and furniture, or with sealed windows and doors. But this won’t do–for by the same token anyone can avoid a pregnancy due to rape by having a hysterectomy, or anyway by never leaving home without a (reliable!) army.

An illustration of people-seeds in Judith Thomson's A Defense Of Abortion
And, of course, this is exactly what so many conservatives advise- do not have sex, wait until you are thirty or forty if you must, and if you are a person who simply doesn’t want children- if you hate children, or can’t handle children, psychologically, well, tough luck. Your choices are either to remain an involuntary celibate, or to send your child off to become the ward of a welfare state these same conservatives are attempting to dismantle.

That said, I do not wish to leave you with the impression that Judith Thomson’s arguments have been universally accepted. They’ve received pushback from laypeople, they’ve endured controversy in the philosophical literature, and so it’s worth it spending the rest of this video looking at what others have said.

The most common objection to Thomson’s essay comes from those who don’t find her seed-people analogy very compelling. Now, this takes various forms, depending where you find it, so I’ve written up a synthesis of these objections into one argument, which goes like this:

As analogous as the seed-people thought experiment seems to be, it doesn’t quite capture the fact that people do go out into the world with full knowledge of consequences, and in many cases MUST take responsibility for these consequences. They are negligent, for example, if they engage in a behavior that might hurt others, or do not follow some established protocol for minimizing risk. Yet this thought experiment is written as if it adequately captures every such instance, when- at least intuitively- we know that this is not the case.

Before I rebut, I must admit that this objection does make a correct assertion. It is true that there are consequences for the behaviors we engage in, and it is true that both the law and society more broadly ARE set up to deal with or otherwise enforce responsibility for some of these consequences. That is undeniable.

However, this is only true in SOME cases- because in others, it is just as obvious that no contract would ever be enforced. Let us say, for example, that a stranger is in need of a kidney to survive. He’s been looking for a donor, and one day, you come along and agree to be that donor. So, he stops looking for a donor- at this point, you can be said to be in some way responsible, and you get together, plan the whole thing out, and a couple of months later, you’re both at the hospital. At the last minute, you decline to go through with the operation. Have you done something wrong? Maybe. Yet no one would seriously claim that you MUST go through with the donation- that you had an agreement, that you understood the consequences, that you even got the other guy to stop looking for a donor, and so, the contract must be fulfilled. And, of course, our rejection of this ‘ought’ comes strictly from the concept of bodily autonomy- that we CANNOT be compelled to be another’s surrogate, or another’s receptacle, or anything other than what we are, in our full corporal integrity.

Let us say, however, that this isn’t very compelling either. Let us assume that the analogy breaks down because WE are not responsible for this other person’s ailment, even though we agreed to help him after he had independently developed it. Alright, so let’s change the analogy. We engage in a risky behavior that MIGHT lead to organ damage in another person. Sure enough, it does. Are we then compelled to give our kidney to remedy this? The answer is still no. Even if we intentionally destroy his kidney- which goes far past a woman’s culpability in creating a child by accident- we would still not be compelled to give our kidney to correct this. Again, the appeal is the same: it is only to bodily autonomy, which seems to hold in every analogous case except those involving a woman’s body.

Let us move on to a more formal objection to this essay. The first is by philosopher Francis J. Beckwith, who has written a series of much longer articles against Thomson I might tackle at a later date. For now, I will address yet another rebuttal to the people-seeds thought experiment, titled ‘Thomson’s ‘Defense of Abortion’ At Forty’, in which he writes:

But suppose that the people-seeds found their way into your home because you sowed them there, even though you had no intention of becoming a pod-parent. In this possible world, seed-sowing, as it is called, is a deeply emotional and pleasurable activity engaged in by two people who are attracted to each other. Being adept at the nuances of anthro-horticulture, they employ the requisite seed-icide provided to them by their local Planned Planthood, because they know and understand that the activity of seed-sowing exists for the purpose of sowing-seeds, even though people engage in it because of the pleasant and desirable sensations and emotions that accompany that activity.

But a generative act remains a generative act even if those participating in it desire only its accompanying effects and do not explicitly intend that the act achieve its intrinsic purpose. In this revised version of the people-seed scenario, it seems that you are indeed responsible for the people-seeds that result from your seed-sowing.

I must say, I was a little taken aback by Beckwith’s argument. He is, from what I could tell, a decorated, professional philosopher, but insists on ‘revising’ a thought experiment which already had his revision built into it. Remember, in Thomson’s universe, it is ALREADY known that opening up one’s window IS a generative act- this IS the consequence of letting in a little air, purely for one’s pleasure, as a *proximate* cause, even if the *distal* cause- just like the distal cause for sex- might be something else altogether.

Again, Thomson proceeds from this assumption, and her question is the same as before: is there ANY action- even a so-called generative action- which compels one to give one’s body up to contract? I believe that there isn’t- not in the world of pure ideas, where we collectively recoil against such contracts, nor in the real world, since no Court would ever uphold such an agreement. All that Beckwith accomplishes, here, is a clunky and unnecessary re-phrasing that does not address the relevant parts of Thomson’s analogy.

The next objection comes from Christian apologist Greg Koukl, and is taken from an article titled “Unstringing The Violinist.” It is, in fact, a good summary of what others have argued over the years, allowing me to rebut them all in one go. I will now tackle his dissent in three parts.

Thompson [sic] is counting on a certain moral intuition- our sense of justice- rising to the surface when we consider the plight of the kidnapped woman used as a host against her will to support the life of a stranger.

[But] are there important differences between pregnancy and kidnapping? Yes, many.

First, the violinist is artificially attached to the woman. A mother’s unborn baby, however, is not surgically connected, nor was it ever “attached” to her. Instead, the baby is being produced by the mother’s own body by the natural process of reproduction.

Thompson [sic]…treat[s] the child- the woman’s own daughter or son- like an invading stranger intent on doing harm. [She] make[s] the mother/child union into a host/predator relationship.

A child is not an invader, though, a parasite living off his mother. A mother’s womb is the baby’s natural environment. [Some] want us to believe that the child growing inside of a woman is trespassing. One trespasses when he’s not in his rightful place, but a baby developing in the womb belongs there.

Judith Thomson's violinist thought experiment, arguing that abortion is not murder.

Although he claims to have found a salient difference, Koukl begins with mere padding by way of a red herring- that the fetus has not been ‘attached’ to her by some unnatural means. And it IS a red herring because it commits a peculiar form of the naturalistic fallacy. In Koukl’s example, he seems to think that which is natural is also salient: meaning, it ought to trump other logical components of an analogy, even IF the analogy does not need it for the RELEVANT parts to work. In short, Koukl has found an *arbitrary* difference between real life and the analogy, and assumes- without providing any justification- that it is a RELEVANT difference worth arguing about.

Worse, he then misreads how the rest of the analogy works. Although he claims that Thomson treats the fetus like an invading stranger, in reality, Thomson ONLY treats the fetus- and the fact that it IS a fetus- as a mere tangent. To be clear, what Thomson objects to is not the fetus itself. It could have been a tumor or a tadpole or even just a brief episode of gas that a woman does not wish to keep inside her. The question is whether anything can compel her to do just that, or whether she has entered into a non-negotiable contract. Koukl assumes that the contract MUST stand, but doesn’t explain why. Instead, he simply invokes a so-called “rightful place,” then begs the question in a foregone conclusion wrapped up in yet another iteration of the naturalistic fallacy which does not even touch upon the morally relevant portion of Thomson’s defense of self-ownership.

Thompson [sic] ignores a second important distinction. In the violinist illustration, the woman might be justified withholding life-giving treatment from the musician under these circumstances. Abortion, though, is not merely withholding treatment. It is actively taking another human being’s life through poisoning or dismemberment. A more accurate parallel with abortion would be to crush the violinist or cut him into pieces before unplugging him.

Yet this is simply another sleight of hand which willfully misconstrues the reason for Thomson’s analogy. Again- the RELEVANT question is whether YOU, as an autonomous person, can be compelled to give up your own body for another’s use. Koukl is right in saying that the thought experiment removes all blood from its imagery, just like it removes the word ‘baby’ from our emotional response. But this is not a sufficient objection.

Let us say that the violinist is not simply ‘plugged in,’ just like a fetus is not merely plugged into a woman. Let us say that the violinist has been fused with the woman, and is violently holding on to her, making removal possible only by way of a hacksaw. Now, we have blood, we have guts, we have screaming- does a kidnapped woman no longer have the right to use a hacksaw to prevent some extreme use of her body? Keep in mind that Koukl already ASSUMES that the woman has been kidnapped and drugged, but seems to imply that cutting herself free from this situation might be going a little too far. And while I understand that anti-abortionists bristle at the suggestion that they are closet misogynists, it is inadvertent slips of the tongue, like these, that really make you wonder.

His final argument is as follows:

Third, the violinist illustration is not parallel to pregnancy because it equates a stranger/stranger relationship with a mother/child relationship. This is a key point and brings into focus the most dangerous presumption of the violinist illustration: [that] it is unreasonable to expect a mother to have any obligations towards her own child.

This error becomes immediately evident if we amend Thompson’s illustration. What if the mother woke up from an accident to find herself surgically connected to her own child? What kind of mother would willingly cut the life-support system to her two-year-old in a situation like that? And what would we think of her if she did.

I find this objection particularly amusing because Koukl, himself, shows exactly what is wrong with it. Yes, a mother certainly has these obligations, but Koukl’s own amendment reveals how far these obligations in fact go. One could say that only a bad mother wouldn’t give a kidney to save a dying child, although even that is pretty harsh. But nowhere in Koukl’s thought experiment is it clear that the mother MUST go through with this. We are- again- discussing the permissibility of abortion, rather than casting non-binding judgments upon some permitted action.

Further, since Koukl likes to nitpick, allow ME to nitpick, as well- which is not even a nitpick. Notice how, in Koukl’s thought-experiment, we have a 2 year old child- that is, an independent human being with 2 years of life behind them, as well as the emotional bond this creates between mother and child. But as bad as, say, a miscarriage might be to a woman’s mental health, the death of her 2 year old will be far worse. For Koukl’s thought experiment to get at the reality of abortion in the majority of cases, this child would have to be a fetus the size of a raspberry, with neither the capacity to feel pain, nor any memories to speak of, nor any birth-pangs for the mother to recall- because she, herself, has not even gone through the child-birth that his thought experiment demands.

And while Greg Koukl might see no obvious difference between birth and non-birth, pain and no pain, a talking child of two with their own bodily autonomy, or a clump of cells still at the mercy of another’s autonomy, the revision I just offered suggests that most people do.

Now that we’ve gone through Thomson’s essay, I want to offer one final caveat. Although I now believe that bodily autonomy trumps ALL other considerations, I disagree that we MUST assume personhood, exactly for the reason that Thomson herself states. It IS arbitrary to create a dividing line between one point of pregnancy and another- it is, therefore, an all-or-nothing game. Yet this works both ways. Just as it is arbitrary for the pro-abortionists to say that this is NOT a person, ever, until the day of live birth, it is just as arbitrary to say that it IS a person from moment of conception. As a result, the following is simply not an argument:

Yes, you can hyperventilate into the camera with tears in your eyes and a quiver on your lip, but the fact is, YOU, as an anti-abortionist, need to SHOW personhood, not merely declare it by fiat. And here’s the problem- you can’t see it in photos, you won’t find it at the end of a scalpel or the floor of an operating room, you can’t make it real with your emotions, and you certainly can’t slippery-slope your way into personhood, either.

Yet the liberal position on this question IS the null hypothesis because everything around us says it is- the law, social mores, our own subjective responses, and while that is not enough for us to take a definitive stance, it is MORE than enough to demand evidence from the other side. Liberals need to remember this, and to stop fighting a defensive war when, if they just squint a little, they’d see all the wide, open, fertile land that doesn’t need to be fought for, because we’re the only ones who can see it. And, when you DO see it, shout it, communicate it, and start arguing from fresh turf.

36 Comments Abortion Is NOT Murder: Judith Thomson’s Violinist

  1. Dan Schneider

    A good if exhausting, piece.

    A point to the future. In a decade or three, all humans will likely be grown in vitro from conception to birth, esp considering male testosterone and semen deficiencies on the rise.

    But for those females that conceive the old way, the relevant q is genetic autonomy- does the woman WANT to reproduce, and with this sex partner? That is because, unless this is established, the father cd say, ok, you don’t HAVE TO carry it 9 mos.- I want the fetus and I will raise it. Does the dad have that right?

    I’d say no, because any extracorporeal birth shd need the written consent of the two WILLING parents.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      I agree. I was arguing this point in the Shapiro thread, where some guy couldn’t understand why genetic autonomy is fundamental. You can’t claim to be a conservative or a libertarian, in the real sense of the words, if you don’t give people the opportunity to control their own reproductive material. The Right so often fetishizes reproduction, but does not respect it or even understand it.

  2. This guy!

    While I do not necessarily agree with a few of your arguments, this is a well thought out and well researched essay.
    I proceed with the intention not to engage in a ‘debate’, so to speak, but merely to promote a lighthearted dialogue.
    Western philosophers — especially Christian apologetics (often here the target of your criticism!) — have framed a substance ontology of
    personhood — a position that to me does that seem paradigmatically fundamental, far from self evident, and prima facie quite implausible. I joke, for this is too facile to be profitable, but someone given to indulging in psychoanalytical mythopoesis could, I should think, take delight in discovering in the revolt against this tradition of thought a yearning for an abiding haven in a changing world.
    I think (for future essays) you should direct your attention to a different sort of argumentation — one that takes heed of the hermeneutic aspects of man, aspects that resist ontological formulation in purely physical terms; an approach that adopts a theory of processual levels that treats a person as an experience-integrating life process constituted by a developmental sequence within a particular life style. MacIntyre, Taylor, Rescher, Foot, and Deneen immediately come to mind.
    P.S.: I do not intend to erode the ontological status of the sociocultural domain of reality with respect to its distinctive role in the constitution of personhood with an implicit pragmatic naturalism, nor do I not intend to restrict sociocultural influence to a solely epistemic domain.

    Reply
  3. Ian

    Let me start by saying that while I disagree this piece was extremely interesting to read. Personally, I find thought experiments fall short to often to describe a particular view on a moral conundrum and spiral into infinity when people try to rebut them. As you explain on the essay, there are basically two questions to be answered when one talks about abortion:

    – Is having an abortion killing a human being

    – Does bodily autonomy have limits regarding pregnancy

    For me, the first question is the simpler one; a fetus is in fact alive since conception (and the proof is that it is made from things that are alive as well) so technically having an abortion would mean ending a life. That been said, a fetus is not the same as a child, an old person, or a person on a comatose state (this distinction gets confused a lot on thought exercises in my opinion). But again, the fact that if said fetus where left to develop normally a human would be born is undeniable.

    The second question is more complicated, to better understand it I like to separate the possible scenarios for when and abortion is wanter and/or needed:

    – In case of lack of consent due to rape, mental disability. or similar cases, the woman should have the right to choose an abortion.

    – In case of ignorance (lack of knowledge on anti-conceptive measures) , socio-economic factors or the woman being a minor, the woman should have the right to choose (and I would argue that only once on some cases, but that’s another discussion).

    – In case of life threatening circumstances for the mother or a possible condition that would make the child’s life incredibly hard (malformations, mental disability, etc), the woman should have the right to choose (by the way the first part of this scenario is already permitted by Christianity).

    – In the case that nothing of the adobe applies (the woman is mature, consenting, and educated on the dangers and outcomes of having sex), the woman should not have the right to choose an abortion.

    The last case is the most interesting as I believe is the true breaking point for Conservative and Progressive stands on the issue (as you can see I lean to the more Conservative side). I would argue that my personal stand comes from an idea of responsibility on one’s actions: a mature person should understand that intercourse not only means pleasure, but also exposure to desases and that the biological end of sex is procreation, and the previous idea that a fetus is alive and thus has a right to live; not one reason or another, but a combination of those two specifically and in this specific case.

    At last, I would like to address that my reasoning is probably missing possible scenarios and that the last case argument is rather abstract (at least more so than other cases). I would also love to hear your thoughts on bodily autonomy and suicide if you care to answer.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hello Ian,

      “Is having an abortion killing a human being.”

      None of these arguments depend on whether or not a fetus is a human being (it obviously is), but whether that human being has personhood.

      The second question is whether personhood trumps bodily autonomy, in a situation where the continued existence of a person means a violation of bodily autonomy.

      – In the case that nothing of the above applies (the woman is mature, consenting, and educated on the dangers and outcomes of having sex), the woman should not have the right to choose an abortion.

      But why? On what basis do you permit the murder of a person simply because another person is ignorant, or under economic hardship? Further, on what basis do you forbid it?

      I would argue that my personal stand comes from an idea of responsibility on one’s actions: a mature person should understand that intercourse not only means pleasure, but also exposure to desases and that the biological end of sex is procreation, and the previous idea that a fetus is alive and thus has a right to live; not one reason or another, but a combination of those two specifically and in this specific case.

      Perhaps you can make an argument that it’s “wrong” for a mother to abort if she was merely negligent, but nothing in your argument suggests that she would be PREVENTED from doing so, by law. You only used the words personal responsibility, which is fine for value judgments, but a legal injunction is a completely separate issue with wider ramifications.

      You also need to explain why personal responsibility wouldn’t figure into forced organ donation yet make an exception here. If you get into a fight, punch a man in his kidneys, and cause renal failure, is it appropriate for the state to put you under anesthesia and remove your kidney to remedy this? After all, you are directly responsible for this state of affairs, even if you were careless where you punched.

      You said that Thomson’s thought experiment fell short, but didn’t elaborate. You might as well also explain why my own thought experiment, above, doesn’t work.

      Thanks for watching.

    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      As I wrote in the YouTube comments:

      In fact, it’s the exact opposite- there is no pre-empting of the discussion, at all, since the new conservative tactic is to argue that “abortion is wrong even without God.”

      So, now we’re in a universe without God, and all you have left is the argument. Or- in your case- the utter lack of one.

  4. Ben

    Hi,

    I just stumbled across your blog by accident (was looking for someone else bearing the same name). Your intro caught my attention and resonated.

    Caveat: I’m not a philosopher, so there may be some fundamental misunderstanding.

    But it seems to me most arguments discussed here are an attempt to press a gradual reality into categorical moral thinking. Sure, there are categorical decisions to be made in the end (abortion is binary). But I’m not sure it helps to treat concepts like ‘personhood’ or ‘bodily autonomy’ as binary when they are not. If this is about a weighting of sometimes opposing rights, the precise cost on either side matter – and they seem to vary enormously.

    The reason we find no magical line between ‘clump of cells’ and ‘baby’ is that there is none. Clumpness and babyness aren’t categorical. From a biological point of view it appears certain that a blastocycte can’t suffer, while there is no reason to assume that a late-term fetus has any less capacity to suffer than a counterpart of same gestational age already born. Instead of asking ‘Are we dealing with a person?’, shouldn’t the question be ‘How much of a person are we dealing with?’

    Similarly, violations of bodily autonomy come on a vast spectrum we weight very differently. Involuntary harvesting of organs is a different beast from denying a nose job. The medical reality of pregnancy and birth does not inhabit _one_ spot within this – it varies across times, places and individuals.

    A third point of contention is the following: If Henry Fonda walked past a drowning kid in a pond he may well have a moral obligation to jump in there and help. There _is_ such a thing as an obligation to help, even legally. An _absolute_ negation of that seems silly to me. But again, circumstances will matter – his age, ability to swim etc.

    It all culminates in the dichotomy of ‘abortionists’ and ‘anti-abortionists’. Almost as if you can only see abortion as murder or a just exercise of freedom. It is well possible to see abortion as neither. For instance, thinking of it as unfortunate or even morally questionable does not imply a support for prohibition.

    To me, by far the most important point is the following: As far as I’m aware the main empirical (global) predictor of abortion is a lack of female access to contraceptives and education – while legal status seems to have little to no effect. So from a pragmatic point of view, a vast range of starting points should result in the same priorities anyway. Fight for women’s rights in developing countries.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      The reason we find no magical line between ‘clump of cells’ and ‘baby’ is that there is none. Clumpness and babyness aren’t categorical. From a biological point of view it appears certain that a blastocycte can’t suffer, while there is no reason to assume that a late-term fetus has any less capacity to suffer than a counterpart of same gestational age already born. Instead of asking ‘Are we dealing with a person?’, shouldn’t the question be ‘How much of a person are we dealing with?’

      The only scientific line is that of instantiation, i.e., conception. I use the term personhood specifically, meaning, does this agent have a claim to life that others have?

      Similarly, violations of bodily autonomy come on a vast spectrum we weight very differently. Involuntary harvesting of organs is a different beast from denying a nose job. The medical reality of pregnancy and birth does not inhabit _one_ spot within this – it varies across times, places and individuals.

      But involuntary harvesting of organs (even if for just 9 months) is not different from the involuntary use of these organs (even if for just 9 months). There is no line or situation that allows one to use your organs against your will, for any purpose. It is always up to you.

      A third point of contention is the following: If Henry Fonda walked past a drowning kid in a pond he may well have a moral obligation to jump in there and help. There _is_ such a thing as an obligation to help, even legally. An _absolute_ negation of that seems silly to me. But again, circumstances will matter – his age, ability to swim etc.

      You might be right about the MORAL obligation, but we’re not discussing moral imperatives or passing judgment on this or that action. We are asking whether abortion ought to be PERMISSIBLE, which is a legal question.

      And ‘an obligation to help’ is a terrible legal precedent, and does not exist in many (or most) states as far as I’m aware.

      It all culminates in the dichotomy of ‘abortionists’ and ‘anti-abortionists’. Almost as if you can only see abortion as murder or a just exercise of freedom. It is well possible to see abortion as neither. For instance, thinking of it as unfortunate or even morally questionable does not imply a support for prohibition.

      I agree, but I limited my discussion to permissibility only.

      To me, by far the most important point is the following: As far as I’m aware the main empirical (global) predictor of abortion is a lack of female access to contraceptives and education – while legal status seems to have little to no effect. So from a pragmatic point of view, a vast range of starting points should result in the same priorities anyway. Fight for women’s rights in developing countries.

      Agreed. Obviously, there will come a time when abortion almost never (if at all) happens. But if the Right has their way, they will keep pushing policies that both encourage abortion as well as prohibit access to abortion.

    2. Eric

      The most common way i have heard the conception argument defended is by defining person-hood in such a way that requires any person to be biologically non-dependent of any other person. Which is why defenders of this argument believe that a fetus removed via cesarean would be a “person” as well. problem with this is that it seems to allow for scenarios in which a existent person’s person-hood could be revoked, and possibly then even regained. like you, i never really thought of conceding the person-hood of a fetus, but this article really opened a few more philosophical avenues for me, good work man.

  5. Nick

    Here is my counter analogy to the violinist:

    Imagine a woman experiences a cryptic pregnancy and gives birth in a remote, isolated area during a terrible winter storm. She knows she will be stranded there for weeks or perhaps even months. She has plenty of food and water for herself but nothing that will work as a substitute for her breastmilk. Does the mother have any legal obligations to the child? Should she have a legal obligation to use her breasts/breast-milk to feed the newborn? Would that answer change if the newborn was conceived out of rape?

    I think most would say that If the mother admitted to letting her newborn starve to death in the name of her bodily autonomy, she would still be guilty of negligent homicide (assuming she was sane and fully aware of her actions and their consequences). Perhaps the pro-choicer is willing to bite this bullet but I think most would not.

    In breastfeeding, a mother supplies nutrients and antibodies to the newborn so that it can survive. In gestation the same is true, however, the woman also facilitates the exchange of gases and helps with waste removal.

    In organ donation, the donor does not simply supply the essentials for life (nutrients, oxygen, antibodies) but rather the donor supplies her/his own blood/tissue/organs to the recipient. This seems like a relevant distinction especially considering my analogy above.

    It also becomes apparent from my analogy that biological parents have a default obligation to feed and care for their children until those children are viable in someone else’s care (at which point they can transfer their parental rights/obligations to the state or others).

    Once these two principles are combined such that we recognize that biological parents have a default duty to their children and that pregnancy is more like breastfeeding than organ donation. It becomes clear that women should have a legal obligation to their child to continue the pregnancy.

    Now a critic might state that the different degrees of risk/bodily autonomy violation involved in breastfeeding vs pregnancy is the relavent difference. However, we would not compel parents to give blood to their child despite the relatively low risk and low level of bodily violation. I think this shows that feeding vs organ-giving is the relavent distinction.

    This covers most cases but if you would like a further discussion involving surrogacy or life of the mother situations, I would be happy to engage with those as well.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      If by cryptic pregnancy, you mean she had zero knowledge of sex, conception, etc. until the child’s birth, then this is how I’d address it:

      I already said here and elsewhere that we need some point of departure at which some ‘new human being’ has the same rights as any living person. I proposed this to be the actual date of birth, with abortions permitted almost to the time of delivery. There are many reasons for this, but the idea is that YOUR bodily autonomy always trump’s another’s right to use it, even at the cost of death.

      The situation you present is not a legal one. First of all, you’ve removed any outside framework by putting a woman with exactly zero knowledge of her own pregnancy on a deserted island but still wish to pursue a legal question. But what you’re actually asking here is, does the mother have a moral (as opposed to legal) obligation to her child, if the child needs to use her body to survive? That was already addressed in the kidney transplant example, where a mother ‘unexpectedly’ finds her kidneys hooked up to her child’s for 9 months. This is similar. It is also similar to ‘Henry Fonda’s cool touch upon my fevered brow’. Even Henry Fonda only had to walk across the room to save you, is he obligated to do so? Would he be obligated to offer his teat, too? What if he were your father- does he have to touch your head, or not? Perhaps there is a moral obligation, especially in the case of parents, but zero legal one. The mother (as de facto guardian) needs to ensure the survival of her child, but I don’t think there are any laws that would compel her to breast-feed simply due to the precedent it would set.

      What you did, essentially, was reduce the natural burden by a lot (now it’s simply breast-feeding as opposed to sharing a kidney) and wondered if the reduction was enough to obligate the use of one’s body. Perhaps there is a minimum somewhere, though. For example, you are required to ‘pick up’ and ‘make contact with’ a baby if you are the parent, which entail the child’s ‘use of one’s hands’. But at some point, it becomes silly since you can then argue almost anything.

    2. Nick

      “If by cryptic pregnancy, you mean she had zero knowledge of sex, conception, etc. until the child’s birth, then this is how I’d address it:”

      By cryptic pregnancy, I mean a lack of subjective awareness of pregnancy until the end of gestation in pregnant women. This condition has an incidence of 1:475. Essentially the woman is aware of having sex but has no awareness of the pregnancy until she is delivering the baby.

      “I already said here and elsewhere that we need some point of departure at which some ‘new human being’ has the same rights as any living person. I proposed this to be the actual date of birth, with abortions permitted almost to the time of delivery.”

      I understand your position but the purpose of the violinist is to give the unborn rights but still show how abortion should be legally permissible. I think the most reasonable person to compare the unborn to is newborns since they have the most in common.

      “There are many reasons for this, but the idea is that YOUR bodily autonomy always trump’s another’s right to use it, even at the cost of death.”

      Yes and that is what we are disagreeing about. You are bodily autonomy absolutist. I am not. We are both trying to use thought experiments to show the other’s position is wrong or at least morally bankrupt.

      “The situation you present is not a legal one. First of all, you’ve removed any outside framework by putting a woman with exactly zero knowledge of her own pregnancy on a deserted island but still wish to pursue a legal question. But what you’re actually asking here is, does the mother have a moral (as opposed to legal) obligation to her child, if the child needs to use her body to survive?”

      My thought experiment does involve the law. The whole thought experiment is plausible granted highly unlikely (the same could be said about many of Thomson’s thought experiments). Cryptic pregnancies happen. People get stranded in storms for long periods of time. The chances of them occurring together are unlikely but conceivable. People are still held responsible for actions they take even if law enforcement is not available at that time. After the storm passes and the woman contacts the police and informs them of the situation. She tells them that she did not want the baby and therefore chose to withhold her breastmilk and the baby starved to death. She says this was all legal because she has an absolute right to her bodily autonomy.

      Most people would say that should is guilty of negligent homicide (a legal term). Because: 1) She had an obligation to her newborn baby. 2) One of those obligations was to feed the newborn even if it meant using her own body (breastmilk).

      You might disagree with this conclusion and say bodily autonomy is absolute in all cases. But the problem you have is that most people wouldn’t see it that way in this situation. So in regards to applied ethics (which is what we engaging in at the moment), you have made a very weak argument for your position.

      “That was already addressed in the kidney transplant example, where a mother ‘unexpectedly’ finds her kidneys hooked up to her child’s for 9 months.”

      I addressed this example in my distinction between feeding vs organ giving. I believe the mother should not be forced to give or receive any blood/tissue/organs to or from her child.
      This is different from breastfeeding or gestation where a mother gives the necessary nutrients and antibodies to the child so it can survive. It seems that you did not even try to engage with this distinction in your response.

      “This is similar. It is also similar to ‘Henry Fonda’s cool touch upon my fevered brow’. Even Henry Fonda only had to walk across the room to save you, is he obligated to do so? Would he be obligated to offer his teat, too?”

      Yeah, the problem with the Henry Fonda example is that Henry Fonda has no obligation to me so that is where the analogy breaks down.

      “What if he were your father- does he have to touch your head, or not? Perhaps there is a moral obligation, especially in the case of parents, but zero legal one.”

      Sure there is a legal one. Parents have all sorts of legal obligations to their children. If they do not fulfill these obligations then it is considered child abuse/neglect and the parents are sent to prison.

      “The mother (as de facto guardian) needs to ensure the survival of her child, but I don’t think there are any laws that would compel her to breast-feed simply due to the precedent it would set.”

      It seems that you are contradicting everything you just said above. So now a mother that has not consented to any obligation has an obligation to use her body to keep her child alive. But not in the breastfeeding case because of the legal precedent it might set. But I have already stated the only legal precedent it would set is that parents must use their bodies to feed/give oxygen to their children. This would not include parents giving or receiving blood/tissue/organs.

      “What you did, essentially, was reduce the natural burden by a lot (now it’s simply breastfeeding as opposed to sharing a kidney) and wondered if the reduction was enough to obligate the use of one’s body.”

      No, I made a clear distinction between the two cases and how they were different (see above). I also gave an example of blood donation where there is an equivalent natural burden to that of breastfeeding and then stated that most people would view these two situations differently. Namely that a mother has a legal obligation to breastfeed her child but has no legal obligation to give her blood to her child. So there must be something more than just the degree of burden at play here.

      “Perhaps there is a minimum somewhere, though. For example, you are required to ‘pick up’ and ‘make contact with’ a baby if you are the parent, which entail the child’s ‘use of one’s hands’. But at some point, it becomes silly since you can then argue almost anything.”

      I see nothing silly about this approach. You are telling people what to do with their bodies in the absence of any consent which according to you is something that should never be done. You either need to stay consistent in your principles or come up with other principles to explain the inconsistencies.

      At the end of the day, your view of absolute bodily justifies a woman having a legal right to starve her own child. Most people view this as a morally bankrupt conclusion so it seems you may want to reevaluate your founding principles.

    3. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hi Nick,

      I understand your position but the purpose of the violinist is to give the unborn rights but still show how abortion should be legally permissible. I think the most reasonable person to compare the unborn to is newborns since they have the most in common.

      This may not be relevant to the specifics of your thought-experiment, but no, I disagree that it’s reasonable to compare the unborn to newborns since it’s a completely different category- legally, how society tends to think about the born vs. unborn, how parents respond to a dead child vs. a dead zygote, etc. I mean, at a certain level of development, we’re not even talking about something that’s recognizably human to the naked eye.

      My thought experiment does involve the law. The whole thought experiment is plausible granted highly unlikely (the same could be said about many of Thomson’s thought experiments). Cryptic pregnancies happen. People get stranded in storms for long periods of time. The chances of them occurring together are unlikely but conceivable. People are still held responsible for actions they take even if law enforcement is not available at that time. After the storm passes and the woman contacts the police and informs them of the situation. She tells them that she did not want the baby and therefore chose to withhold her breastmilk and the baby starved to death. She says this was all legal because she has an absolute right to her bodily autonomy.

      They are conceivable, but invoking the law suggests we could even have prosecution here. A woman found with a dead child on a deserted island will be pitied. If she says she intentionally starved her child, she will be not believed, pitied, or institutionalized, and it will be chalked up to stress or misfortune. The point is not to say there’s a moral issue with your analogy (I actually agree with your moral position here), but that dragging the law into it is unnecessary, in part because we can imagine a complete lack of legal consequences that would not occur elsewhere.

      In a more realistic scenario, we’d have a woman on the streets somewhere, hitchhiking without food or in a forest, weathered, hungry herself, etc., and if she refuses to breast-feed her child, would not admit to that and can easily cover something like this up. If she ever enters back into society, where there are witnesses and accountability, there will be food immediately provided to the infant and her refusal becomes a non-issue. You are proposing a law to catch a highly unlikely, extreme-case scenario that will also ensnare many other, far more probable situations, which I will get to.

      Most people would say that should is guilty of negligent homicide (a legal term). Because: 1) She had an obligation to her newborn baby. 2) One of those obligations was to feed the newborn even if it meant using her own body (breastmilk).

      Do you not see the issue with conflating a moral demand (again, one I agree with) with a legal requirement? Your thought-experiment dials down the burden all the way to a perfectly normal human behavior, e.g. breast-feeding, in an attempt to say that a bare-minimum burden to one’s body is in fact an acceptable burden. But what if the mother has no breast-milk, and can only feed her child by barbecuing tiny scraps of her own tissue? This would not kill her, and it might not even hurt her all that much, depending on how she harvests this tissue. And we can keep upping the ante to lopping off a pinky, and finally to hooking up the mother’s kidney for 9 months to save her child. What if this child can only process nutrients by way of some ad-hoc dialysis machine? Since you said ‘feeding’ is the key obligation, it doesn’t matter the kid’s a mutant; the mother- if only her kidney is good for this- must fulfill this obligation. What if the breast is good enough, but the mother has had a long history of extreme sexual abuse directed at her nipples, and enters into a non-fatal panic attack and comatose state every time the infant reaches for milk? And, of course, we can keep playing with the specifics again and again to deal with objections.

      To be clear- I agree that it’s monstrous for a woman to refuse her child breast-milk, even under normal circumstances where there’s plenty of other food and baby formula (for the same reason it would be monstrous to feed little kids fast food). But you’re talking about something else, a legal penalty predicated on another’s use of your body that MUST have far wider implications if implemented.

      “This is similar. It is also similar to ‘Henry Fonda’s cool touch upon my fevered brow’. Even Henry Fonda only had to walk across the room to save you, is he obligated to do so? Would he be obligated to offer his teat, too?”

      Yeah, the problem with the Henry Fonda example is that Henry Fonda has no obligation to me so that is where the analogy breaks down.

      Sure there is a legal one. Parents have all sorts of legal obligations to their children. If they do not fulfill these obligations then it is considered child abuse/neglect and the parents are sent to prison.

      Let’s say your father is in California. You are a child in New York, dying. It was discovered 12 hours ago that the only thing that can save you is if your father takes a plane over, and touches your head.

      He fails to do so because while he in fact received and read your text message in time to book a flight, he was too busy jerking off to vintage porn clips.

      Negligent homicide?

      It seems that you are contradicting everything you just said above. So now a mother that has not consented to any obligation has an obligation to use her body to keep her child alive. But not in the breastfeeding case because of the legal precedent it might set. But I have already stated the only legal precedent it would set is that parents must use their bodies to feed/give oxygen to their children. This would not include parents giving or receiving blood/tissue/organs.

      What do you mean by “a mother that has not consented to any obligation has an obligation to use her body to keep her child alive”?

      I did not say that, particularly in terms of legality.

      And ‘giving oxygen’ offers a new can of worms, if you’d like to go there. We can certainly think of any number of oxygen-related thought experiments that would end exactly like organ donation.

      Further, invoking guardianship in the way you do will apply to other situations as well. If the state imprisons a mother somewhere 500 miles from civilization, and the only food available for her child is a security officer’s breast milk, you must also argue that the security officer (being responsible for the health of both mother and infant) must suckle the infant if she has milk. If she herself has 6 children who must be suckled, the milk must be distributed to all 7 equally, since the law has an obligation to the new child. Again, we are approaching absurdity here, and any objection to specifics can be followed up by tweaking the specifics to fit some criterion.

      No, I made a clear distinction between the two cases and how they were different (see above). I also gave an example of blood donation where there is an equivalent natural burden to that of breastfeeding and then stated that most people would view these two situations differently. Namely that a mother has a legal obligation to breastfeed her child but has no legal obligation to give her blood to her child. So there must be something more than just the degree of burden at play here.

      The degree of burden is exactly it, though. Many people are scared of needles, get lightheaded/faint with a blood donation, and is very much an ‘unnatural’ act since such a loss of blood any time in the last few million years of our evolution would mean doom. This is why there’s resistance. But mothers have been breast-feeding infants for as long as mammals have been around. The burden is a minimal burden for the vast majority of people for this reason.

      Note, I am not against a concept of bare minimums, and obviously there are even people who would look badly upon a mother for refusing to donate her organs. I would even wish to personally punish a mother who does not breast-feed her own child if that’s the only food available. But I am not proposing a law here, just as I would not propose any number of other laws meant to prevent some perhaps equally destructive behavior.

      I see nothing silly about this approach. You are telling people what to do with their bodies in the absence of any consent which according to you is something that should never be done. You either need to stay consistent in your principles or come up with other principles to explain the inconsistencies.

      At the end of the day, your view of absolute bodily justifies a woman having a legal right to starve her own child. Most people view this as a morally bankrupt conclusion so it seems you may want to reevaluate your founding principles.

      If you see nothing silly about total reductionism, then what’s stopping you from making even bolder arguments? If picking up an infant from a hot car means you are in fact ‘lending’ your body to the infant (after all, you have to give the infant use of your touch and this touch’s momentum), then why not force any mother whose child needs a kidney transplant to go through an operation?

      If your father was too busy jerking off to fly over to New York to touch your forehead, why not throw him into prison?

      And if he is imprisoned, and we in some reductive way interpret that as an even deeper permission to control his body, why not whip him too?

      Again- I agree that a mother not feeding her child with her breast-milk is morally bankrupt, both in your analogy and others, but you’ve turned this into a legal issue.

    4. Nick Dodson

      Hi Alex,

      “This may not be relevant to the specifics of your thought-experiment, but no, I disagree that it’s reasonable to compare the unborn to newborns since it’s a completely different category- legally, how society tends to think about the born vs. unborn, how parents respond to a dead child vs. a dead zygote, etc. I mean, at a certain level of development, we’re not even talking about something that’s recognizably human to the naked eye.”

      Well it just seems odd that you state you concede personhood for the sake of the argument but then refuse to give them the same rights that the rest of young persons have in our society. It seems that you will grant them some rights under the personhood definition but not the rights that are inconvenient to your stance. It’s a slight-of-hand where you say you will consider them persons but at the end of the day your treating them as only partial persons. Also, how people feel about the death of other persons is a TERRIBLE measuring tool for who should have what rights. Most people in the 1800’s felt very different about seeing a black man die vs a white man die. Did that justify blacks not having rights? I think not. Also, not all the unborn are microscopic. Many fetuses are very developed and look very much like a newborn. Many women mourn the death of these fetuses. So, your logic could be used against your position.

      “They are conceivable, but invoking the law suggests we could even have prosecution here. A woman found with a dead child on a deserted island will be pitied. If she says she intentionally starved her child, she will be not believed, pitied, or institutionalized, and it will be chalked up to stress or misfortune. The point is not to say there’s a moral issue with your analogy (I actually agree with your moral position here), but that dragging the law into it is unnecessary, in part because we can imagine a complete lack of legal consequences that would not occur elsewhere.”

      We absolutely could have prosecution here! What if she was in the cabin with her husband so now, we even have another witness. And the baby is a girl and both parents don’t want it because they only want a boy. A disturbingly common occurrence in Indian culture. Or perhaps the baby comes deformed such that it is missing a limb and the parents don’t want to care for it. They would absolutely go to jail if they just let that baby starve and didn’t care for it. To make it similar to many abortions maybe the parents even kill the baby before it starves to death. There is no doubt in my mind those people would end up in jail. I am not dragging the law into this. You are doing your best to avoid the necessary legal repercussions of these people’s actions because you know it weakens your argument.

      “In a more realistic scenario, we’d have a woman on the streets somewhere, hitchhiking without food or in a forest, weathered, hungry herself, etc., and if she refuses to breast-feed her child, would not admit to that and can easily cover something like this up. If she ever enters back into society, where there are witnesses and accountability, there will be food immediately provided to the infant and her refusal becomes a non-issue. You are proposing a law to catch a highly unlikely, extreme-case scenario that will also ensnare many other, far more probable situations, which I will get to.”

      No. You can’t just change thought experiments if they do not fit your arguments. I could do the SAME thing to all of Thompson’s thought experiments. But I don’t because it is a disingenuous way to have a discussion. Yes, if you change the situation such that it wasn’t clear if the woman was in her right mind or under extreme duress, she would not be culpable for her actions. This does nothing to change the repercussions that a sane woman with plenty food would face if she chose to starve her child because of its gender. Using your kind of logic NOTHING could be illegal because we can’t always prove guilt in every situation.

      “Do you not see the issue with conflating a moral demand (again, one I agree with) with a legal requirement? Your thought-experiment dials down the burden all the way to a perfectly normal human behavior, e.g. breast-feeding, in an attempt to say that a bare-minimum burden to one’s body is in fact an acceptable burden. But what if the mother has no breast-milk, and can only feed her child by barbecuing tiny scraps of her own tissue? This would not kill her, and it might not even hurt her all that much, depending on how she harvests this tissue. And we can keep upping the ante to lopping off a pinky, and finally to hooking up the mother’s kidney for 9 months to save her child. What if this child can only process nutrients by way of some ad-hoc dialysis machine? Since you said ‘feeding’ is the key obligation, it doesn’t matter the kid’s a mutant; the mother- if only her kidney is good for this- must fulfill this obligation. What if the breast is good enough, but the mother has had a long history of extreme sexual abuse directed at her nipples, and enters into a non-fatal panic attack and comatose state every time the infant reaches for milk? And, of course, we can keep playing with the specifics again and again to deal with objections.”

      I said the mother has a legal obligation to use her body to feed the child. Not a legal obligation to feed her own body to her child. It is still the same distinction as the organ donation but now instead the woman is giving her child her fried dead tissue rather than her living tissue. Your thought experiment changes nothing and fails to show a flaw in my distinctions. And if a woman cannot breastfeed because of some sort of mental trauma or instability then of course she wouldn’t be held accountable for her actions. In my example she has proven to be sane. She has admitted her guilt and her motive and there is even a witness to testify to all of this. Again, if people who are mentally unstable break the law then they are treated differently then people who are fully aware and culpable for their actions. This is already a legal precedent so I don’t understand why you keep bringing it up.

      “To be clear- I agree that it’s monstrous for a woman to refuse her child breast-milk, even under normal circumstances where there’s plenty of other food and baby formula (for the same reason it would be monstrous to feed little kids fast food). But you’re talking about something else, a legal penalty predicated on another’s use of your body that MUST have far wider implications if implemented.”

      No again with this slippery slope argument. You keep saying that there will be far wider implications when legal consequences are added but than in every single example you try to give their would be no legal consequences because in all your examples the woman is under duress or mentally unstable. Again this could be applied to ANY law.

      “Let’s say your father is in California. You are a child in New York, dying. It was discovered 12 hours ago that the only thing that can save you is if your father takes a plane over, and touches your head.
      He fails to do so because while he in fact received and read your text message in time to book a flight, he was too busy jerking off to vintage porn clips.
      Negligent homicide?”

      It depends. How old am I? Does my father have any obligations to me? Am I a newborn that my father just abandoned in New York to die so he could go jerk off in California? This thought experiment is terrible because it leaves out all the important context. So my answer is maybe. I really can’t tell you without more information.

      “What do you mean by “a mother that has not consented to any obligation has an obligation to use her body to keep her child alive”?”

      Well in my example of the cryptic pregnancy the mother never consented to the child unless you consider consent to sex consent to be a parent. So I wonder why you think she has a legal duty to even pick up the baby? Couldn’t she just leave it on the ground to die legally speaking? Maybe that’s what you believe but if that is the case then both the current law and the large majority of people will disagree with you!

      “Further, invoking guardianship in the way you do will apply to other situations as well. If the state imprisons a mother somewhere 500 miles from civilization, and the only food available for her child is a security officer’s breast milk, you must also argue that the security officer (being responsible for the health of both mother and infant) must suckle the infant if she has milk. If she herself has 6 children who must be suckled, the milk must be distributed to all 7 equally, since the law has an obligation to the new child. Again, we are approaching absurdity here, and any objection to specifics can be followed up by tweaking the specifics to fit some criterion.”

      No. The officer would have little to no legal obligation to the child since it is neither hers biologically (default guardianship) nor did she consent to taking care of the child. Therefore feeding her children should come first.

      “The degree of burden is exactly it, though. Many people are scared of needles, get lightheaded/faint with a blood donation, and is very much an ‘unnatural’ act since such a loss of blood any time in the last few million years of our evolution would mean doom. This is why there’s resistance. But mothers have been breast-feeding infants for as long as mammals have been around. The burden is a minimal burden for the vast majority of people for this reason.”

      So degree of burden also includes mental health and possible even other types of health now. Well if you ask most mothers the degree of burden in taking care of a newborn baby greatly exceeds that of a normal pregnancy. So using the degree of burden from the woman’s perspective caring for a newborn would be even GREATER than that of a pregnancy so your logic would again go against you. Interesting that you would bring in “unnatural” vs “natural” distinction into the argument because I could also use that as another way to differentiate pregnancy from organ donation.

      “Note, I am not against a concept of bare minimums, and obviously there are even people who would look badly upon a mother for refusing to donate her organs. I would even wish to personally punish a mother who does not breast-feed her own child if that’s the only food available. But I am not proposing a law here, just as I would not propose any number of other laws meant to prevent some perhaps equally destructive behavior.”

      OK then what are the bare minimums? How do we justify these bare minimum laws? Because it seems when need some sort of line to say that should be illegal, but this should not. Or do you just believe that there should be no such thing as child neglect? No such thing as negligent homicide? I have offered my explanations but have not offered any positive laws yourself. I am interested what laws if any you would feel comfortable with?

      “If you see nothing silly about total reductionism, then what’s stopping you from making even bolder arguments? If picking up an infant from a hot car means you are in fact ‘lending’ your body to the infant (after all, you have to give the infant use of your touch and this touch’s momentum), then why not force any mother whose child needs a kidney transplant to go through an operation? If your father was too busy jerking off to fly over to New York to touch your forehead, why not throw him into prison?”

      You are engaging in the same kind of logic! I say a woman has duty to breastfeed you say that could justify duty for a kidney transplant. I must give my reasoning why that is not so. In the same way if you say people have an absolute right to bodily autonomy than I can validly question why that wouldn’t apply even to the smallest thing as picking up a baby from the floor. And accusing me of reductionism is NOT a valid response. It’s avoiding the question.

      “And if he is imprisoned, and we in some reductive way interpret that as an even deeper permission to control his body, why not whip him too?”

      And if we have complete control of our bodies. Why not extend that out to our possessions. Why should the government be able to tax us or tell us what to do at all? Why have any sort of government? Why not just be an An-Cap and view the government as invalid and taxation as theft?

      “Again- I agree that a mother not feeding her child with her breast-milk is morally bankrupt, both in your analogy and others, but you’ve turned this into a legal issue.”

      One last question for you:
      A man has protected consensual sex (condom fails). The woman tells him she is pregnant and is going to keep the baby. He wants nothing to do with the baby and is willing to give up any custody rights. He wants the women to abort or adopt but she will not! Currently the law says he must still pay child support to that women even though the only thing he consented to was sex. Do you agree with the law? If so, would you not say that the government views consent to sex as also consent to be responsible for the needy human who might be produced from said sex? Wouldn’t you view 18 YEARS of child support as quite a high degree of burden for anyone? How can you justify this after all the arguments you just made?

      If this discussion is going to go anywhere, I need to understand your position on parental rights/obligations. Do they exist? How are can they be obtained? (keep in mind my cryptic pregnancy examples, adoption etc…) What do they entail? Are there legal consequences for failing to meet the obligations? So far, the only obligations I have heard you speak of are moral obligations. I am just wondering if there are any legal obligations in your government?

    5. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hello,

      Well it just seems odd that you state you concede personhood for the sake of the argument but then refuse to give them the same rights that the rest of young persons have in our society. It seems that you will grant them some rights under the personhood definition but not the rights that are inconvenient to your stance. It’s a slight-of-hand where you say you will consider them persons but at the end of the day your treating them as only partial persons.

      But personhood does not necessarily entail “the same rights,” as Thomson points out multiple times. The only right persons have (in the category of what we’re discussing) is to not be killed unjustly. Think about what you said- that a fetus is the closest thing to an infant. Really? An infant has much more in common with a 4 year old child than with an unfeeling, unthinking clump of cells which has a decent chance of being spontaneously ejected from its host. Don’t see how this is even worth debating.

      Also, how people feel about the death of other persons is a TERRIBLE measuring tool for who should have what rights. Most people in the 1800’s felt very different about seeing a black man die vs a white man die. Did that justify blacks not having rights? I think not. Also, not all the unborn are microscopic. Many fetuses are very developed and look very much like a newborn. Many women mourn the death of these fetuses. So, your logic could be used against your position.

      I did not say it was a barometer for RIGHTS, but it is at least one barometer for personhood. Do you not understand why a mother who spontaneously aborts 1 week after conception might feel differently than when her fully-grown child dies? Only a demented person loves her zygote as much as her infant, or her husband. She loves the idea, she loves an imagined future which has not yet come to pass. She has no relationship, no memories, no struggles upon which to base this love.

      We absolutely could have prosecution here! What if she was in the cabin with her husband so now, we even have another witness. And the baby is a girl and both parents don’t want it because they only want a boy. A disturbingly common occurrence in Indian culture. Or perhaps the baby comes deformed such that it is missing a limb and the parents don’t want to care for it. They would absolutely go to jail if they just let that baby starve and didn’t care for it. To make it similar to many abortions maybe the parents even kill the baby before it starves to death. There is no doubt in my mind those people would end up in jail. I am not dragging the law into this. You are doing your best to avoid the necessary legal repercussions of these people’s actions because you know it weakens your argument.

      You MIGHT have prosecution, in exchange for a far broader set of laws that will ensnare thousands of other situations. Note that I am not even against the concept of bare minimums, but think about what you are suggesting from a purely legal (not moral) framework. You’re accusing me of ignoring legal consequences, when I am in fact saying this is a completely different realm. You, on the other hand, are extending your own moral fixations (right or wrong) into legal territory that will create problems you yourself might be willing to shoulder, but no one else is.

      I said the mother has a legal obligation to use her body to feed the child. Not a legal obligation to feed her own body to her child. It is still the same distinction as the organ donation but now instead the woman is giving her child her fried dead tissue rather than her living tissue. Your thought experiment changes nothing and fails to show a flaw in my distinctions. And if a woman cannot breastfeed because of some sort of mental trauma or instability then of course she wouldn’t be held accountable for her actions. In my example she has proven to be sane. She has admitted her guilt and her motive and there is even a witness to testify to all of this. Again, if people who are mentally unstable break the law then they are treated differently then people who are fully aware and culpable for their actions. This is already a legal precedent so I don’t understand why you keep bringing it up.

      But all you’re doing is changing some definitions, and saying “there!”. To “use” her body to feed the child- and milk and everything within her body that churns in such-and-such way to produce this milk can’t be considered part of this body? What if the baby is rather aggressive, and continually shears away tiny particles of nipple-tissue every time he feeds? She is thus forced to feed her body by way of “using” her body to feed, and it now fits your ever-narrowing criteria for violation. Don’t you see how you’re putting yourself into a shrinking box? This is not an argument that will end well for anyone.

      You are also ignoring the implications of the rest. I very clearly outlined a scenario in which a mother has a history of sexual abuse and enters a non-fatal panic/comatose state for X amount of time after feeding. But YOU have stated the child is a person will FULL rights, and the mother is OBLIGATED to feed it (unless, for example, it means her own death). Yet the mother is not dead- she just feels hyper-emotional, and surely she can allow her child to feed while she’s comatose, then wake up and go eat coconuts? She can even reason this out in her head, and have a plan of attack. But because the child is now an inconvenience to her life on Paradise Island, you are asserting that her own subjective emotional state is more important than the child’s life.

      See where this is going?

      No again with this slippery slope argument. You keep saying that there will be far wider implications when legal consequences are added but than in every single example you try to give their would be no legal consequences because in all your examples the woman is under duress or mentally unstable. Again this could be applied to ANY law.

      A slippery slope? Really? You don’t think a judgment delivered, say, by the Supreme Court, which states that your body must be used to keep another person alive would be a problem? Even if we amend it to ‘persons over which you are a guardian’? It will be either be deemed unconstitutional in a later ruling, or expanded to other situations. That’s generally how laws work, and why people get very nervous about any potential scope.

      It depends. How old am I? Does my father have any obligations to me? Am I a newborn that my father just abandoned in New York to die so he could go jerk off in California? This thought experiment is terrible because it leaves out all the important context. So my answer is maybe. I really can’t tell you without more information.

      It depends? You are a minor of any age. He’s away for whatever reason but not in a situation that makes him non-responsible for you (obviously). I assume this is what we’ve been talking about, yes?

      And so, under the circumstances, because 1) you needed his cool hand on your fevered brow, 2) he failed to buy the plane tickets when he had the time and means to do so in that 12 hour time-frame, 3) he is now going to be imprisoned?

      Well in my example of the cryptic pregnancy the mother never consented to the child unless you consider consent to sex consent to be a parent. So I wonder why you think she has a legal duty to even pick up the baby? Couldn’t she just leave it on the ground to die legally speaking? Maybe that’s what you believe but if that is the case then both the current law and the large majority of people will disagree with you!

      A legal duty to pick up what baby? What specific situation are we talking about?

      No. The officer would have little to no legal obligation to the child since it is neither hers biologically (default guardianship) nor did she consent to taking care of the child. Therefore feeding her children should come first.

      But if the state imprisons you, they ARE responsible for your well-being (feeding, toilet rights, discipline, medical care, etc.), just like a parent. If they fail to do this, either as individuals or as a collective, there is (ideally, but very often not) punishment related to negligence.

      Under your criteria, the female officer would have to breast-feed this infant or risk criminal negligence.

      So degree of burden also includes mental health and possible even other types of health now. Well if you ask most mothers the degree of burden in taking care of a newborn baby greatly exceeds that of a normal pregnancy. So using the degree of burden from the woman’s perspective caring for a newborn would be even GREATER than that of a pregnancy so your logic would again go against you. Interesting that you would bring in “unnatural” vs “natural” distinction into the argument because I could also use that as another way to differentiate pregnancy from organ donation.

      But it can’t include mental health (as I described it) and this other fluff, unless you are suggesting a parent’s emotional well-being supersedes the life of the parent’s child.

      I gave you the natural/unnatural distinction as an explanation for why people might feel X, Y, or Z, not as a justification for anything.

      OK then what are the bare minimums? How do we justify these bare minimum laws? Because it seems when need some sort of line to say that should be illegal, but this should not. Or do you just believe that there should be no such thing as child neglect? No such thing as negligent homicide? I have offered my explanations but have not offered any positive laws yourself. I am interested what laws if any you would feel comfortable with?

      It doesn’t have to be too hard. You are a guardian, and a baby can’t feed/clothe/etc. itself. You need to physically manipulate it, you need to feed it or at a minimum need to have food available. Do you consider lifting up a child to be lending your body to it? You can be reductive and say yes, but then you would have to say yes to organ donation, and a plenum of less dramatic things in between.

      I’ve not offered any specific laws, myself, because the laws on the books are sufficient. Yeah, it won’t catch that almost impossibly rare instance of a mother with zero food and civilization around except her own breast from which she bats the child away, but it also won’t- for example- necessitate that a mother must give her kidney to a dying child, either. I’ll take that trade any day. Still curious as to why you would not.

      You are engaging in the same kind of logic! I say a woman has duty to breastfeed you say that could justify duty for a kidney transplant. I must give my reasoning why that is not so. In the same way if you say people have an absolute right to bodily autonomy than I can validly question why that wouldn’t apply even to the smallest thing as picking up a baby from the floor. And accusing me of reductionism is NOT a valid response. It’s avoiding the question.

      Where did I say ‘absolute right to bodily autonomy’? You don’t have the right to hold out your arm a split second before a bicyclist crashes into it, for example. Bodily autonomy may also be violated (to some degree) as punishment, such as imprisonment or the death penalty. You might also be compelled to give up your genetic material for adjudicating a crime, if the state has a compelling interest to do so. Do you also think my position on abortion means that I have to be against prisons too? Things are getting more than silly now.

      You have- except those things- a right to not have your tissues taken from you, and your bodily functions to not be compromised. You have a right to put whatever you wish inside your own body. And you certainly have the right to decide whether or not your own genetic material gets passed on.

      If you so fear dead skin cells coming off of you upon touching your child, I suppose you can always wear gloves (I hear Republicans want to give child tax credits for stuff like this), or walk around with a microscope to pick up the particles when you’re done. At that point, it’s your own concern to deal with, isn’t it?

      And if we have complete control of our bodies. Why not extend that out to our possessions. Why should the government be able to tax us or tell us what to do at all? Why have any sort of government? Why not just be an An-Cap and view the government as invalid and taxation as theft?

      I’m sorry, I don’t see the connection between control of your own body vs. control of your possessions, to the extent (of course) that they are in fact yours. The government taxes you because the little or the much that you own is directly related to govn’t itself- think of all crypto traders, for example, who wouldn’t really be able to trade much in Somalia. Government tells you what to do so that you are not infringing on what others can do and can have. We have a government because we have decided over many years that it’s preferable to no government. Some people disagree, and so they flee to remote areas but there are governments there, too, where the people have likewise decided that they like their roads and their supermarkets and the 100X reduction in violence since Paleolithic times, and so they’re out-numbered. Yeah, it sucks, but you can’t always get what you want, there’s government everywhere, boo-hoo.

      A man has protected consensual sex (condom fails). The woman tells him she is pregnant and is going to keep the baby. He wants nothing to do with the baby and is willing to give up any custody rights. He wants the women to abort or adopt but she will not! Currently the law says he must still pay child support to that women even though the only thing he consented to was sex. Do you agree with the law? If so, would you not say that the government views consent to sex as also consent to be responsible for the needy human who might be produced from said sex? Wouldn’t you view 18 YEARS of child support as quite a high degree of burden for anyone? How can you justify this after all the arguments you just made?

      In a world of ‘normal’ pregnancy, where the mother is the physical host, she has the right to 1) abort or not, 2) get support for a child, if she requires it.

      In a more ideal world, we will eventually have genetic consent from both parents before a fetus is grown artificially.

      Even if a father doesn’t wish to financially responsible, the issue is that SHE is refusing to abort (what happens in/to her body trumps his financial desires), which means a child WILL be produced- and will need help, in most circumstances. I do think there ought to be income-related judgments, though, so that- for example- a multi-millionaire mother cannot ask for money from a low-income father.

      The government does not view consent to sex as responsibility for sex, unless you mean in the technical sense of being willing to either birth a child or abort a child (your only two choices). The responsibility comes in after the birth because we obviously need a cut-off point.

      Re: burden, are we not discussing burdens to one’s bodily autonomy? At some point, you shifted into possessions, and a host of other unrelated things.

    6. Nick

      “But personhood does not necessarily entail “the same rights,” as Thomson points out multiple times. The only right persons have (in the category of what we’re discussing) is to not be killed unjustly. Think about what you said- that a fetus is the closest thing to an infant. Really? An infant has much more in common with a 4 year old child than with an unfeeling, unthinking clump of cells which has a decent chance of being spontaneously ejected from its host. Don’t see how this is even worth debating.”

      Well my point was that if we were going to compare a fetus to a person that we already both agree on, it shouldn’t be an adult or even a 4 year old. It should be a newborn since a fetus is most like a newborn (lacks reason, extremely dependent). But I guess you are not comparing it to any person we agree on you just assigning it the quasi personhood definition that Thompson has come up with that doesn’t really apply to any other recognized person.

      What confuses me is that if the only right an unborn has is a right to not be killed than what is the point of her thought experiments? All she had to do is say a fetus is a person but unlike any other person in that it only has one right. That is a right to not be killed. Then she could just say therefore it has no right to care period. Violation of bodily autonomy wouldn’t even be needed. It seems like Thompson is winning the argument through defining her conclusion into her personhood definition. Her personhood definition is controversial to begin with, so it really does nothing to further the discussion.

      It’s like if you were arguing against someone who thought infanticide through abandonment was ok. Someone who thought 1 day old newborn’s were not person’s but then said for the sake of the argument that he would consider them persons. But then in his personhood definition he only gave them a right to not be killed and nothing else because they were not rational yet. And then started giving all the scenarios where parents could abandon their newborns in the woods and there would be no legal repercussions because the parents are not violating the newborns right to not be killed. Therefore, abandoning newborns should be legal even if they are persons.

      My point is that this seems to take us away from the violinist thought experiment and back to the well-worn personhood debate (this debate not only includes personhood but what rights accompany that personhood and why). It is debate I don’t really feel like starting right now. So, I think I’ll just end it here. Thanks for the discussion. You provided a lot of food for thought.

    7. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hello,

      “Well my point was that if we were going to compare a fetus to a person that we already both agree on, it shouldn’t be an adult or even a 4 year old. It should be a newborn since a fetus is most like a newborn (lacks reason, extremely dependent).”

      Again, I don’t even know what this means. A fetus is NOT like a newborn, at all, even if it’s “more like” an infant than an adult. It’s just not a sensible comparison given the actual gulf between an infant and a fetus. I already gave you examples, but here’s another: only one- just think about this!- has even been born. It’s amusing how such a critical point is just taken for granted.

      But I guess you are not comparing it to any person we agree on you just assigning it the quasi personhood definition that Thompson has come up with that doesn’t really apply to any other recognized person.

      No, that’s wrong. Thomson gives a fetus full personhood, the same personhood that a child or an adult would get.

      I suggest you re-read her essay. It is actually far richer and more nuanced than you think it is. I know, because I read the essay years ago and did not really appreciate it until much later.

      What confuses me is that if the only right an unborn has is a right to not be killed than what is the point of her thought experiments? All she had to do is say a fetus is a person but unlike any other person in that it only has one right. That is a right to not be killed. Then she could just say therefore it has no right to care period. Violation of bodily autonomy wouldn’t even be needed. It seems like Thompson is winning the argument through defining her conclusion into her personhood definition. Her personhood definition is controversial to begin with, so it really does nothing to further the discussion.

      I think I see the reason for confusion. She does not say that the unborn only has ‘one’ right. In fact, she says the unborn has every right that any person has.

      When I said ‘the category that we’re discussing’, I only meant the category of rights related to killing/not being killed. Thomson says a fetus (like all people) does not in fact have the right to not be killed, only to not be killed unjustly. One example Thomson gives is being stuck in a house with a rapidly expanding baby, and the need to kill it in order to save your own life. The baby is killed, but not unjustly. Of course, she gives many more examples too.

      Anyway, you’ve misunderstood much of Thomson’s essay. I suggest you re-read it and see if it changes your mind.

      I assume you’re against abortion on a personal level, and are not simply playing devil’s advocate?

    8. Nick

      “I did not say it was a barometer for RIGHTS, but it is at least one barometer for personhood. Do you not understand why a mother who spontaneously aborts 1 week after conception might feel differently than when her fully-grown child dies? Only a demented person loves her zygote as much as her infant, or her husband. She loves the idea, she loves an imagined future which has not yet come to pass. She has no relationship, no memories, no struggles upon which to base this love.”

      So how much your mother cares about you is a good way to measure personhood. I am sorry but I still see this as an insanely subjective way of assigning personhood. So does that mean homeless children in foster care are less of persons than others because no one would care if they die. I hope you can see how ridiculous this line of reasoning is.

      “You MIGHT have prosecution, in exchange for a far broader set of laws that will ensnare thousands of other situations. Note that I am not even against the concept of bare minimums, but think about what you are suggesting from a purely legal (not moral) framework. You’re accusing me of ignoring legal consequences, when I am in fact saying this is a completely different realm. You, on the other hand, are extending your own moral fixations (right or wrong) into legal territory that will create problems you yourself might be willing to shoulder, but no one else is.”

      Look I do not care particularly about your personal morals and I am sure you are not to concerned about mine. What we both care about is how our legal system should be set up. This whole discussion is about what the laws and rights should be. You keep on going back to your personal moral views and they simply do not belong in this discussion. I am not sure how else I can make you understand this concept. If you think that we do not already legislate our morals into law than you are delusional. Every behind every law there is a moral principle that some one believes is significant enough to be put into law.

      “But all you’re doing is changing some definitions, and saying “there!”. To “use” her body to feed the child- and milk and everything within her body that churns in such-and-such way to produce this milk can’t be considered part of this body? What if the baby is rather aggressive, and continually shears away tiny particles of nipple-tissue every time he feeds? She is thus forced to feed her body by way of “using” her body to feed, and it now fits your ever-narrowing criteria for violation. Don’t you see how you’re putting yourself into a shrinking box? This is not an argument that will end well for anyone.”

      So you accuse me of reductionism and then you give me this argument? And at least I have a criteria. You simply say current law is good. Without any further explanation of why it is so. You have no principles or criteria. You literally could justify ANTHING with the current law is good and do not need to give my criteria. So I guess the Nazi’s weren’t wrong in killing the Jews because the current law is good. Such a terrible argument.

      “You are also ignoring the implications of the rest. I very clearly outlined a scenario in which a mother has a history of sexual abuse and enters a non-fatal panic/comatose state for X amount of time after feeding. But YOU have stated the child is a person will FULL rights, and the mother is OBLIGATED to feed it (unless, for example, it means her own death). Yet the mother is not dead- she just feels hyper-emotional, and surely she can allow her child to feed while she’s comatose, then wake up and go eat coconuts? She can even reason this out in her head, and have a plan of attack. But because the child is now an inconvenience to her life on Paradise Island, you are asserting that her own subjective emotional state is more important than the child’s life.

      See where this is going?”

      What if instead of breastfeeding the mother has a non-fatal panic attack every time, she touches the baby bottle to her child’s lips would she be OBLIGATED to feed it. Well guess not so I guess we can’t make a law saying woman should have to feed their children because we have one example of a non-fatal/ comatose mother. What if she experienced this every time she paid taxes. Oh well I guess we can’t force people to pay taxes anymore because this one situation.
      See where this is going??

      “A slippery slope? Really? You don’t think a judgment delivered, say, by the Supreme Court, which states that your body must be used to keep another person alive would be a problem? Even if we amend it to ‘persons over which you are a guardian’? It will be either be deemed unconstitutional in a later ruling, or expanded to other situations. That’s generally how laws work, and why people get very nervous about any potential scope.”

      A judgement from the supreme court saying that people need use their bodies to feed their children. Would not create terrible precedent. All the counter examples you have given me have been either counter to my principle (involve tissue/blood/organ donation). Or are so bizarre that they might never even happen. So no the scope would be limited. But again at least I have principles and criteria. You certainly are not offering any other than current law is good.

      “It depends? You are a minor of any age. He’s away for whatever reason but not in a situation that makes him non-responsible for you (obviously). I assume this is what we’ve been talking about, yes?
      And so, under the circumstances, because 1) you needed his cool hand on your fevered brow, 2) he failed to buy the plane tickets when he had the time and means to do so in that 12 hour time-frame, 3) he is now going to be imprisoned?”

      I mean its kind of a bizarre circumstance, but I guess if he is the parental guardian of the child. He certainly would be held liable for not taking his kid to the hospital for necessary medical treatment (waiting 12 hrs. while the child dies) so if you consider this medical treatment than yeah, he would be liable. Now if he didn’t book the tickets and it was no fault of his own (didn’t know in time) than certainly he wouldn’t be liable. A doctor who has a child would certainly be liable to perform CPR on the child if needed so I really don’t see what this has to do with anything. It just seems like a crazy example that proves nothing.

      “A legal duty to pick up what baby? What specific situation are we talking about?”

      I am talking about if a mother gives birth to baby while out on a run in the forest (cryptic pregnancy). Does she have ANY legal obligation to that baby? Can she legal leave it to die with no repercussions? Or must she pick it up and at least leave it at the nearest fire station?

      “But if the state imprisons you, they ARE responsible for your well-being (feeding, toilet rights, discipline, medical care, etc.), just like a parent. If they fail to do this, either as individuals or as a collective, there is (ideally, but very often not) punishment related to negligence.
      Under your criteria, the female officer would have to breast-feed this infant or risk criminal negligence.”

      Well it depends if the legal officer also consented to caring for the newborn as well as the mother. The officer must have consented to take the job but if she didn’t know at the time that she had care for the newborn than she couldn’t be required. Because a) She is not the default biological mother b) she did not consent to care for the newborn. Her duties as an officer are limited to what she consented to.

      “But it can’t include mental health (as I described it) and this other fluff, unless you are suggesting a parent’s emotional well-being supersedes the life of the parent’s child.”

      No I take the position that in both cases the parent has a legal duty to care for the child. You’re the one arguing that degree of burden supersedes the right to care the child has. The only time that I care about the burden is when it threatens the life of the parents. You’re the one justify infanticide via mental health burdens. How did you get this so turned around?

      “I gave you the natural/unnatural distinction as an explanation for why people might feel X, Y, or Z, not as a justification for anything.”

      Good to know. Not sure why you brought it up then. You seem to keep on bringing up things and then when I point out how they can be used against your arguments and you just they don’t really matter anyway. Not a great way to communicate in my opinion.

      “It doesn’t have to be too hard. You are a guardian, and a baby can’t feed/clothe/etc. itself. You need to physically manipulate it, you need to feed it or at a minimum need to have food available. Do you consider lifting up a child to be lending your body to it? You can be reductive and say yes, but then you would have to say yes to organ donation, and a plenum of less dramatic things in between.”

      No I don’t. You see unlike you. I have proposed principles that back up my arguments. Parents have a duty to use their bodies to feed and provide care for their children. This does not include giving blood/tissue/organs to their children. Now I would LOVE to know how you justify the many laws that are on the books. I am still waiting….

      “I’ve not offered any specific laws, myself, because the laws on the books are sufficient. Yeah, it won’t catch that almost impossibly rare instance of a mother with zero food and civilization around except her own breast from which she bats the child away, but it also won’t- for example- necessitate that a mother must give her kidney to a dying child, either. I’ll take that trade any day. Still curious as to why you would not.”

      I have explained the reason why kidney donation would not be legally required. I have given my reasons. You have not. You have just referred to already established law as sufficient. An argument that could justify slavery if that was the law. It is lazy and does a disservice to this discussion.

      “I’m sorry, I don’t see the connection between control of your own body vs. control of your possessions, to the extent (of course) that they are in fact yours. The government taxes you because the little or the much that you own is directly related to govn’t itself- think of all crypto traders, for example, who wouldn’t really be able to trade much in Somalia. Government tells you what to do so that you are not infringing on what others can do and can have. We have a government because we have decided over many years that it’s preferable to no government. Some people disagree, and so they flee to remote areas but there are governments there, too, where the people have likewise decided that they like their roads and their supermarkets and the 100X reduction in violence since Paleolithic times, and so they’re out-numbered. Yeah, it sucks, but you can’t always get what you want, there’s government everywhere, boo-hoo.”

      Ok so you are telling me that the government cannot force a father to place his hand on his son’s brow to save is life but if can tell a father who only ever had sex and consented to nothing else must legally pay 18 YEARS of child support. Seems like a very impractical and inconsistent law to me but i guess its the law so it must be good. Hey, am all for laws you’re the one who seems so opposed to laws that you can’t even seem to discuss them when it comes to parental obligations. I am just wondering what laws you even think should exist and why. And what law is perfect that if doesn’t risk apply incorrectly in a couple bizarre cases. Your precedent principle seems to point to the abolition of all laws.

      “In a world of ‘normal’ pregnancy, where the mother is the physical host, she has the right to 1) abort or not, 2) get support for a child, if she requires it.”

      Yes that is how it is right now. That doesn’t mean it is right or just. This is not even an argument. Just a statement of the current law which I guess needs no justification according you.

      “In a more ideal world, we will eventually have genetic consent from both parents before a fetus is grown artificially.”

      Cool story. Now please come back to reality where we are having this discussion. Sorry we don’t live in your future utopia yet.

      “Even if a father doesn’t wish to financially responsible, the issue is that SHE is refusing to abort (what happens in/to her body trumps his financial desires), which means a child WILL be produced- and will need help, in most circumstances. I do think there ought to be income-related judgments, though, so that- for example- a multi-millionaire mother cannot ask for money from a low-income father.\”

      So pretty much your saying a mother has all the say. She can choose to keep the fetus or kill it if she doesn’t want it. She can give it up for adoption or raise it on her own. But not the man. He can’t even get a legal abortion of child support. He consented to sex so therefore he consented to 18 years of child support against his will. That seems fair. This is just an absolute contradiction in the law. Can’t you see that?

      “The government does not view consent to sex as responsibility for sex, unless you mean in the technical sense of being willing to either birth a child or abort a child (your only two choices). The responsibility comes in after the birth because we obviously need a cut-off point.”

      What? What technical sense? Well the only thing the man obviously consented to was sex but he ended up paying child support so obviously there is more going on here. I can even comprehend your argument on this one. I think you are saying consent to sex is consent to responsibility to the child that comes from the sex but I am really not sure. What I am sure is the inequality of the situation is baffling to me. It’s like the woman has multiple options to opt out of her parental obligations but the man has none.

      “Re: burden, are we not discussing burdens to one’s bodily autonomy? At some point, you shifted into possessions, and a host of other unrelated things.”

      The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is interesting that you put so much value in a person’s bodily autonomy but seem to care NOTHING about a person’s possession. The problem is that most people care about their possessions and often times these are possessions that they have earned through strenuous or even dangerous labor. So your flippant disregard to their importance would be a slap in the face to a lot of people. So perhaps you need to reevaluate what people value in this life. I think you are in a very small minority in your views on this one.

      Recap: You refuse to answer my thought experiments, you refuse to offer any criteria to justify law yourself, you seem to care very little about equality which is very ironic considering the position you hold. You feel completely justified to taking my views to their extreme ends but when I do the same thing you accuse me of reductionism. I really want this conversation to be fruitful but I having a hard time seeing the light at the end of this comment section.

      “Again, I don’t even know what this means. A fetus is NOT like a newborn, at all, even if it’s “more like” an infant than an adult. It’s just not a sensible comparison given the actual gulf between an infant and a fetus. I already gave you examples, but here’s another: only one- just think about this!- has even been born. It’s amusing how such a critical point is just taken for granted.
      No, that’s wrong. Thomson gives a fetus full personhood, the same personhood that a child or an adult would get.
      I suggest you re-read her essay. It is actually far richer and more nuanced than you think it is. I know, because I read the essay years ago and did not really appreciate it until much later.”

      So it has the same personhood as a newborn but not the same rights as a newborn? Is that what you are saying? I really can’t understand this line of reasoning. It seems nonsensical to me. It has a right to not be killed unjustly but then an unjust killing is justified because you have stripped away any other legal rights that most pro-lifers would apply to the personhood of the fetus. It really seems like a begging of the question. The premise seems to support itself.

      “I think I see the reason for confusion. She does not say that the unborn only has ‘one’ right. In fact, she says the unborn has every right that any person has.

      When I said ‘the category that we’re discussing’, I only meant the category of rights related to killing/not being killed. Thomson says a fetus (like all people) does not in fact have the right to not be killed, only to not be killed unjustly. One example Thomson gives is being stuck in a house with a rapidly expanding baby, and the need to kill it in order to save your own life. The baby is killed, but not unjustly. Of course, she gives many more examples too.

      Anyway, you’ve misunderstood much of Thomson’s essay. I suggest you re-read it and see if it changes your mind.”

      This issue with this is that in order to determine whether it was an unjust killing we must first determine what other rights and obligations are involved. We can’t approach a thought experiment with only one right and then when it is deemed just extrapolate that to all cases involving the rest of the rights. The justice of an action depends on ALL the rights and obligations involved not just the ones that make the killing just. Like in my earlier example, the person could advocate for infanticide because he only took into account the right to not be unjustly killed and in his thought experiment with that right in isolation of others it appeared be a just killing. Therefore, when we apply all the other rights it still must be a just to abandon newborns and not an unjust killing. It removed any responsibility the parents had to the newborn. It justified the killing in a vacuum without many rights that most pro-lifers would say are present and important in determining whether the killing was just or not.

      I would agree with the house analogy for the same reason I argue that abortion should be permissible for the life of the mother cases because 1) Life threatening care does not fall under parental obligation 2) the principle of double effect. So that thought experiment proves nothing for me.

    9. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Hi Nick,

      I did not see this comment, as I replied to your first one.

      But like I said there:

      Based on a number of your claims, it’s clear you haven’t read or perhaps misunderstood Thomson’s essay. In some cases, you’re attributing to her the exact OPPOSITE argument than the one she’s making, or asking to clarify things she already clarified. I suggest you actually read the piece and think about it for a couple of weeks. Then, if you still stand by what you’re saying in this comment, I’ll answer your arguments again, like I answer every other comment. This is taking too much time otherwise.

    10. Nick

      Hi Alex,

      I admit I have never read Thompson’s entire work. I was assuming that you had and that that you could accurately represent her arguments. And I believe that I have responded to all of your arguments in a logical manner. So the only conclusions I can draw from this response is either 1) You have misrepresented her arguments in this blog/comment section or 2) The arguments I refuted were indeed her arguments.

      You can claim that I have misunderstood or misrepresented her arguments but without evidence that claim is baseless. It is an unfounded opinion.

      I will probably end up reading her entire work at some point. So at that time, i’ll be able to come back and say which of the two options it truly was.

      Anyway thanks for the discussion. It was very stimulating and enjoyable.

    11. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Nick,

      You are getting needlessly defensive. On multiple occasions, you’ve asserted that Thomson creates a ‘person’ out of a fetus that doesn’t in fact have personhood- that’s false. You asserted that Thomson’s definition of personhood is controversial- it isn’t, because it is the same definition most philosophers would go by. You asserted that Thomson’s argument is ‘infanticide’ through ‘abandonment,’ then imply that if this caricature is NOT Thomson’s argument, it is simply my misrepresentation of her argument, and you’re perfectly blameless here. Then, as if to punctuate your own carelessness, you keep typing her name out as ‘Thompson’, despite having read the correct spelling many times in our back-and-forth, as well as in the video transcript. Am I really to think that I’m the one who is being unfair here?

      Like I said, actually read the essay- it’s available online. Then, tell me what I misrepresent (if anything), and tell me if you stand by your last comment, or wish to amend anything in it. I’ll respond to the rest of your arguments then.

    12. Nick

      Alex,

      I am sorry that you interpreted my last comment as needlessly defensive. I’m not sure what seemed defensive about it but if that’s the way you feel I am sorry.

      I have read Thomson’s essay to avoid misrepresenting her.

      “I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So, the fetus has a right to life.”

      Fair enough but a right to life is not specific enough as many people have a different opinion about what that right entails. That is the entire question of the essay: 1) what is a right to life and how does it interact with a woman’s right to her own body?

      “(Violinist argument) All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So, you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

      In this case, of course, you were kidnapped, you didn’t volunteer for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn’t come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn’t turn on the question of whether you are a product of a rape. And in fact, the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.”

      Objection 1) to this thought experiment is that it is not analogous to pregnancy because it requires the transfer of blood/tissues/organs where as in pregnancy this does not occur (the same is true in breastfeeding which I have shown we require of certain biological mothers).

      Note 1: As you so aptly pointed out, perhaps there is even a natural vs unnatural principle at play here. Ex. The primary biological function of a woman’s breasts/uterus is to sustain and feed her children where as the primary biological function of her kidneys would be to filter her own blood and is not naturally designed to be used by another. This principle would obviously not be enough by itself but perhaps if an obligation to care existed then it would be supported…

      Objection 2) is that Thomson assumes that this is a good analogy to a pregnancy resulting from rape, but I disagree. As I have shown through cryptic pregnancy and child support laws, a child does not receive a right to parental care (conversely a parent does not receive parental obligations/rights) only through explicit consent. Biological parents have a default obligation to care for their children until they can transfer those rights/obligations to another. The way in which that child was conceived does not affect these rights/obligations.

      Note 2: This parental obligation does not extend to putting your life in danger to save the life of your child. This is already in established law and is why abortion in the case of life of the mother is permissible. Most of these cases also would include the principle of double effect. It is justified to do one good deed (treating the mother’s ailments – removing the damaged fallopian tube) even if there is a foreseen yet indirect and undesired outcome where the embryo dies).

      But perhaps Thomson will address these objections later in her paper….

      1.She falsely assumes her critics view all abortions as, the direct killing of innocent human persons when in fact most pro-lifers make a distinction between abortions involving direct and indirect killing (see note 2).

      2. I believe a better analogy would be a lifeguard who is responsible for two lives, but both are drowning he knows that by saving one the other will die but just the same does not directly desire or intend the others death. In the same way a doctor may in trying save one patient (the mother) but unintentionally cause the death of the unborn. Neither doctor or lifeguard would be held responsible for the death of the one not saved (see note 2)

      3.Henry Fonda case assumes no obligation to the child (see objection 2) so that is why it fails. Again, the violinist is not a good analogy for pregnancy (see objection and note 1). But perhaps she is still getting to all these objections…

      4.Here is where Thomson attempts to answer Objection 2 but fails. She falsely assumes that any obligation that the mother might have to her child would have to come via consent. But I have shown that not to be the case in my cryptic pregnancy thought experiment. More so, her person seed analogy deals directly with a child’s lack of right to your property (your house) which directly contradicts our current child support laws. If right, it is a VERY strong argument against forced child support, yet you still say those laws are just. If you subscribe to her conclusions in this thought experiment, then you must be against child support!

      5.Here she continues to build her arguments from her already flawed logic, Assumptions such as 1) The mother has no obligation to the child 2) kidney donation is a valid comparison to pregnancy.

      6.I don’t make a good Samaritan argument, so it doesn’t deal with any of my objections.

      7.References (Section 4) and again makes the false assumption that parents always have choice in assuming parental obligations/responsibilities which I have already disproved via cryptic pregnancy.

      8.Thomson admits that even if all her arguments and logic follow (which they do not) then they still wouldn’t justify the killing of the unborn after it is viable. She then sympathizes with mothers who would rather kill their viable children then give them up to adoption and accuses those who see that as beneath contempt as “insensitive.”

      Conclusion. She does not take current pro-life arguments seriously. She makes unfounded assumptions 1) The only way to incur a parental obligation is through consent. 2) Pregnancy and Kidney transplants are adequately analogous.

      Perhaps the objections I make now did not exist at the time that she was writing this. But they are certainly more popular now and deserve an answer. Since Thomson can’t answer these objections perhaps you can?

    13. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Fair enough but a right to life is not specific enough as many people have a different opinion about what that right entails. That is the entire question of the essay: 1) what is a right to life and how does it interact with a woman’s right to her own body?

      I think Thomson’s definition suffices- it is the right to not be killed unjustly. So, for example, self-defense is justified, as if the execution of a criminal, as is the killing of some rapidly growing child who is about to crush you against the wall of a house, although (of course) we can argue about some of those specific values, as they will change. It was once ‘just’ to do all sorts of things.

      Objection 1) to this thought experiment is that it is not analogous to pregnancy because it requires the transfer of blood/tissues/organs where as in pregnancy this does not occur (the same is true in breastfeeding which I have shown we require of certain biological mothers).

      My first response is that transfer, etc., is irrelevant, as we’re asking whether what happens inside and because of your own body should be fully up to you, if you are in fact able to take control of these processes. So, suicide is legal, as is abortion, as is drug use, as is the refusal to give up organs or to jerk someone off.

      My second response is, of course *substantive* transfers do occur in pregnancy- how is this even an objection? You have transferred your own genetic material (literally, your specific, 100% make-up as a human being), you are transferring nutrients from your own chews, you are certainly SHARING tissues, you are literally giving up your body as a house to be used in a million complex ways by another for an extended period of time, and all the physical consequences this entails. Really, it’s a waste of time to even go here if we are to maintain any meaningful definition of bodily autonomy.

      Objection 2) is that Thomson assumes that this is a good analogy to a pregnancy resulting from rape, but I disagree. As I have shown through cryptic pregnancy and child support laws, a child does not receive a right to parental care (conversely a parent does not receive parental obligations/rights) only through explicit consent. Biological parents have a default obligation to care for their children until they can transfer those rights/obligations to another. The way in which that child was conceived does not affect these rights/obligations.

      But that’s exactly the issue- biological PARENTS have a default obligation. You are not a PARENT to a fetus. You can’t just slip in a word with highly specific connotations (legal and otherwise) into another situation merely because YOU define a zygote as having parity with a 4 year old child.

      In the way that I’m framing it, there is no parental care to be given to a child until the child is actually born. Thus, such obligations begin with birth, and ‘explicit consent’ only matters to whether or not that child is allowed to be born- i.e., the start of those obligations. And this consent is the mother’s decision only, although everything after the fact is no longer just her decision. There is also the question (of course) of how far these obligations go, vis-à-vis the parent’s body.

      1.She falsely assumes her critics view all abortions as, the direct killing of innocent human persons when in fact most pro-lifers make a distinction between abortions involving direct and indirect killing (see note 2).

      Keep in mind Thomson was one of the first to treat the subject seriously, in philosophy. She actually does address these distinctions elsewhere, and she had a fantastic follow-up here. Not sure if you want me to answer this distinction, or what? Yes, more has been written post-Thomson, but you should say what, specifically, is relevant about the direct/indirect killing objection.

      2. I believe a better analogy would be a lifeguard who is responsible for two lives, but both are drowning he knows that by saving one the other will die but just the same does not directly desire or intend the others death. In the same way a doctor may in trying save one patient (the mother) but unintentionally cause the death of the unborn. Neither doctor or lifeguard would be held responsible for the death of the one not saved (see note 2)

      Why do you think this is relevant to the question of abortion’s permissibility? I know these distinctions exist, but I’ve never found them to matter to the core of either the personhood argument or the bodily autonomy argument.

      3. Henry Fonda case assumes no obligation to the child (see objection 2) so that is why it fails. Again, the violinist is not a good analogy for pregnancy (see objection and note 1). But perhaps she is still getting to all these objections…

      But no father of a minor would be held criminally liable for failing to act on a 12-hour deadline to take a plane from California to New York to place his hand upon his dying child’s forehead to save him.

      The point is that there are bodily-related limits, and it’s important to explore them.

      4.Here is where Thomson attempts to answer Objection 2 but fails. She falsely assumes that any obligation that the mother might have to her child would have to come via consent. But I have shown that not to be the case in my cryptic pregnancy thought experiment. More so, her person seed analogy deals directly with a child’s lack of right to your property (your house) which directly contradicts our current child support laws. If right, it is a VERY strong argument against forced child support, yet you still say those laws are just. If you subscribe to her conclusions in this thought experiment, then you must be against child support!

      But the mother’s obligations don’t come from consent. Her obligations come from the child being BORN. She has to consent to the BIRTH, at which point (after the birth) a number of obligations become automatic.

      Re: child support, I am not 100% committed to the child support laws as they exist, but you keep making this conflation between personal property rights (such as owning a purple dildo) and the right to your own bodily autonomy (such as not having the purple dildo enter your anus). You can own a purple dildo, but that purple dildo can also be confiscated from you for different reasons. But the purple dildo cannot enter your anus if you say No, even if it’s been legally confiscated and is now threateningly held in another person’s hand.

      I already explained my disagreement with your other objections, but do you not see what’s at the base of this? You keep conflating a consent to GIVING BIRTH (which must be consented to) with a consent to ‘having parental obligations’ (which are not up to you, IF you are in fact a parent). Let’s be clear about what I’m saying, and that is those parental obligations can only begin AFTER birth, not before. You are not even a parent yet.

    14. Nick

      “I think Thomson’s definition suffices- it is the right to not be killed unjustly. So, for example, self-defense is justified, as if the execution of a criminal, as is the killing of some rapidly growing child who is about to crush you against the wall of a house, although (of course) we can argue about some of those specific values, as they will change. It was once ‘just’ to do all sorts of things.”

      Ok fine the argument is rather or not the killing is just. There are examples of just killing and unjust killing so I guess we need to decide which this is.

      “My first response is that transfer, etc., is irrelevant, as we’re asking whether what happens inside and because of your own body should be fully up to you, if you are in fact able to take control of these processes. So, suicide is legal, as is abortion, as is drug use, as is the refusal to give up organs or to jerk someone off.”

      Well yes in most cases that is true but as I’ve already illustrated there can be situations where you have an obligation to give of your body to someone else. I am thinking specifically of a mother her finds herself in a situation where to keep her newborn alive she must breastfeed that newborn. She doesn’t have a right to refuse that newborn her breast milk.

      “My second response is, of course *substantive* transfers do occur in pregnancy- how is this even an objection? You have transferred your own genetic material (literally, your specific, 100% make-up as a human being), you are transferring nutrients from your own chews, you are certainly SHARING tissues, you are literally giving up your body as a house to be used in a million complex ways by another for an extended period of time, and all the physical consequences this entails. Really, it’s a waste of time to even go here if we are to maintain any meaningful definition of bodily autonomy.”

      No that is incorrect. The fetus is not receiving any of the mother’s blood/tissue/organs. The unborn receives nutrients it needs to grow from its mother. This is most like breastfeeding in which the same occurs. Both cause changes in the woman. They trigger the release of certain hormones which cause mental physical and emotional changes in the woman. The nutrients transferred in both are formed and facilitated by the woman’s organs and blood. Both are natural processes. To me they seem more similar. And since we expect mothers to breastfeed their newborns if necessary, for survival then we should also expect mothers carry on a pregnancy when necessary for the unborn survival. You have yet to give a good argument why this should not be the case. The only objection you have given is the burden is different which I countered with a low burden donation (blood) and your only response was it the difference is one is natural and the other is not which is part of why I think pregnancy is different from other burdensome organ donations.

      “But that’s exactly the issue- biological PARENTS have a default obligation. You are not a PARENT to a fetus. You can’t just slip in a word with highly specific connotations (legal and otherwise) into another situation merely because YOU define a zygote as having parity with a 4 year old child.”

      Biologically speaking they ARE parents just as the unborn ARE their offspring. Again we are debating about how one becomes a legal parent with legal obligation. I say that begins when the mother becomes a biological mother and you say it occurs at birth. You have not given a good reason for birth to be the demarcation line. I have even given examples where the woman is not aware that she is pregnant until she is giving birth so its not like she consented to giving birth. It just happened. That doesn’t change the fact that she still has responsibilities to that newborn. So you must give a good reason why birth is a good line to draw. What if a child is removed from the womb for surgery via c-section and then replaced back into the womb to continue the pregnancy? Did that woman gain obligation for the moments of surgery and then lose them when the baby was placed back in her uterus? Did the same happened to the baby? Rights were gained and then lost? Basing rights off location of person seems like an extremely arbitrary and problematic view of rights. I hope you can see this.

      “In the way that I’m framing it, there is no parental care to be given to a child until the child is actually born. Thus, such obligations begin with birth, and ‘explicit consent’ only matters to whether or not that child is allowed to be born- i.e., the start of those obligations. And this consent is the mother’s decision only, although everything after the fact is no longer just her decision. There is also the question (of course) of how far these obligations go, vis-à-vis the parent’s body.”

      Well how do you respond to my cryptic pregnancy example. Does the woman have any obligation to the child? I keep giving the same scenarios and objections, but you will not answer them. It seems like you are using born vs unborn in an ad hoc way. You can’t just rights begin at X point without giving some sort of justification or example for why they do.

      “Keep in mind Thomson was one of the first to treat the subject seriously, in philosophy. She actually does address these distinctions elsewhere, and she had a fantastic follow-up here. Not sure if you want me to answer this distinction, or what? Yes, more has been written post-Thomson, but you should say what, specifically, is relevant about the direct/indirect killing objection.”

      What is relevant is that the indirect killing distinction allows the pro-lifer to consistently say that abortion is permissible in some cases when the life of the mother is in danger. If you have no issues with that statement then I guess we can drop it.

      “Why do you think this is relevant to the question of abortion’s permissibility? I know these distinctions exist, but I’ve never found them to matter to the core of either the personhood argument or the bodily autonomy argument.”

      See my response above but essentially, it’s an approach pro-life people take in showing how it is permissible for the doctor to perform an abortion in the case of life of the mother and still stay consistent in their logic. Again if you have no issue with this than ignore it.

      “But no father of a minor would be held criminally liable for failing to act on a 12-hour deadline to take a plane from California to New York to place his hand upon his dying child’s forehead to save him.
      The point is that there are bodily-related limits, and it’s important to explore them.”

      Yes, I admit there are limits to what a parent is expected to do with their body, but this is just a terrible example. If the parent was in the same room and chose not to lay his/her hand on the child then I think you could say justly that the parent is guilty of negligent homicide. So how does this example show anything useful? Parents are expected to do all sorts of things with their hands to care for their children and if they don’t, they go to jail!

      “But the mother’s obligations don’t come from consent. Her obligations come from the child being BORN. She has to consent to the BIRTH, at which point (after the birth) a number of obligations become automatic.”

      You can scream from the rooftops that parental obligations occur at birth but until you give substantive reason why this is the case then it doesn’t matter. You are saying the baby’s rights are totally determined by its location? So two babies at the same level development have completely different rights because one is located inside the womb and the other is not? Again if the baby is removed from the uterus for surgery it gains rights but when it is replaced it loses the rights? This seems like an extremely arbitrary ad hoc reason. You need a good foundation to make such a bold claim. You cannot just proclaim it to be. I strongly disagree with your statement, so you need a good reason or again you are just spouting unfounded, unsupported opinions.

      “Re: child support, I am not 100% committed to the child support laws as they exist, but you keep making this conflation between personal property rights (such as owning a purple dildo) and the right to your own bodily autonomy (such as not having the purple dildo enter your anus). You can own a purple dildo, but that purple dildo can also be confiscated from you for different reasons. But the purple dildo cannot enter your anus if you say No, even if it’s been legally confiscated and is now threateningly held in another person’s hand.”

      THOMSON used the example of personal property (a person’s house) in her people seeds thought experiment. So, if you want to blame someone. Blame Thomson! Furthermore, child support laws do show that biological parents have some sort obligation to their children even without explicit consent. This does not mean that it justifies the obligation to use one’s body, but it does indicate that biological parents have some sort of legal obligations to their kids. I show that this can extend to bodily autonomy obligations through my breastfeeding examples. Honestly, I keep giving you the same answer and you just ignore my reasoning and thought experiments and reword your prior unsubstantiated claims. It’s getting a bit ridiculous.

      “I already explained my disagreement with your other objections, but do you not see what’s at the base of this? You keep conflating a consent to GIVING BIRTH (which must be consented to) with a consent to ‘having parental obligations’ (which are not up to you, IF you are in fact a parent). Let’s be clear about what I’m saying, and that is those parental obligations can only begin AFTER birth, not before. You are not even a parent yet.”

      I have already shown why birth is a terrible line to draw when it comes to parental obligations. It creates situations where a child gains the right to parental care and then loses it when it is replaced back inside the uterus. Giving birth is NOT always consented to. In a cryptic pregnancy the woman does not know she is pregnant until she is giving birth. So the statement “birth must be consented to” is patently false. I understand that you BELIEVE parental obligations should only begin after birth but until you give me a GOOD reason for your belief, I will not be convinced, and neither will anyone else. Usually when you make controversial statements you need to back them up with solid foundations and logic. You have not done so yet.

    15. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Well yes in most cases that is true but as I’ve already illustrated there can be situations where you have an obligation to give of your body to someone else. I am thinking specifically of a mother her finds herself in a situation where to keep her newborn alive she must breastfeed that newborn. She doesn’t have a right to refuse that newborn her breast milk.

      I disagree, and you’ve not illustrated this obligation, merely posited it.

      No that is incorrect. The fetus is not receiving any of the mother’s blood/tissue/organs. The unborn receives nutrients it needs to grow from its mother. This is most like breastfeeding in which the same occurs. Both cause changes in the woman. They trigger the release of certain hormones which cause mental physical and emotional changes in the woman. The nutrients transferred in both are formed and facilitated by the woman’s organs and blood. Both are natural processes. To me they seem more similar. And since we expect mothers to breastfeed their newborns if necessary, for survival then we should also expect mothers carry on a pregnancy when necessary for the unborn survival. You have yet to give a good argument why this should not be the case.

      Oh, sure, if you wish to limit bodily autonomy ONLY to “blood, tissue, and organs,” I guess you’re right- but I’ve not elected to do so. I see no magical barrier that presents an ethical dilemma in being forced to give up your kidney as punishment (say, for causing kidney failure in another), but prevents this same ethical dilemma if you’re forced to give up your anus for penetration as corporal punishment. The fetus IS receiving EVERYTHING it needs to survive from the mother’s body and ONLY from the mother’s body. It is, by almost every tangible metric, literally an extension of the mother’s body for much if not most of her pregnancy.

      “And since we expect mothers to breastfeed…” – that’s question-begging. I get that’s your premise, but I need to see how you actually get to the conclusion without merely re-asserting your premise.

      The only objection you have given is the burden is different which I countered with a low burden donation (blood) and your only response was it the difference is one is natural and the other is not which is part of why I think pregnancy is different from other burdensome organ donations.

      I said the reason why blood is perceived differently is because blood-donation is unnatural. Breastfeeding is seen as a lesser burden, because it is natural. Note that neither of these, alone, are an argument for/against anything. But a blood-donation is not low-burden for this reason, and why you yourself have put the threshold at “blood, tissue, and organs,” but exempted everything that might churn in the blood itself.

      Biologically speaking they ARE parents just as the unborn ARE their offspring.

      Yes, biologically speaking, a mother’s genetic material makes up a large portion of this potential being’s genetic material. Is that what we’re talking about? A tumor contains your genetic material, as well.

      If your objection is “but you are responsible for its creation,” Thomson (as well as some of my own follow-ups) tackle the deeper issue of ‘responsibility’ separately, which is unrelated to the argument you’re making now.

      And a raped woman is not any more responsible for creating offspring than she is for creating her own cancer.

      Again we are debating about how one becomes a legal parent with legal obligation.

      But we KNOW how one becomes a legal parent with legal obligations. Your child is BORN, and THEN you are a legal parent with legal obligations. It’s not up for debate either, because that’s the LAW- after all, you said “legal”. Now, we can certainly debate what OUGHT to be the law, but right now, you’re firmly outside of the legal realm, so adjust your language accordingly.

      And, no, you are not the legal parent to a zygote, and the state is not responsible for producing a death certificate if you miscarry.

      I say that begins when the mother becomes a biological mother and you say it occurs at birth. You have not given a good reason for birth to be the demarcation line. I have even given examples where the woman is not aware that she is pregnant until she is giving birth so its not like she consented to giving birth. It just happened. That doesn’t change the fact that she still has responsibilities to that newborn. So you must give a good reason why birth is a good line to draw.

      Birth is the demarcation line merely because we need a politically expedient demarcation. And we need a politically expedient demarcation that balances two things: 1) the mother’s right to bodily autonomy, as well as the *severe* ethical and social consequences of forcing unwanted children to be brought into a harsh world, 2) the right to life of a human, or potential human. Both are important to me.

      Yes, a potential child can be flushed out of a woman’s body under my rubric before she gives birth (a 9-month window), for- to give just one example- genetic self-control, but the mother does not have the opportunity to exercise genetic self-control after this 9-month window. She can no longer say that her infant- who is now sentient, forming memories, independent of her body, and having exactly zero effect on her in a purely physical sense- should be killed because she changes her mind about passing down her genetic material. If you’re asking why not 7 months or 1 month or 1 week, it’s because the key arguments don’t change from month to month (as ‘partial birth abortion’ bans pretend they do). This puts me in the minority of people who believe in legal abortion all the way until birth, but that’s because I don’t see the state of birth/non-birth as an arbitrary distinction.

      Yet you are beginning with #2 as something that trumps #1, though that’s an impossible argument even if we don’t get to the question of social ramifications of children unwillingly brought into bad circumstances, the problems of back-alley abortions, etc.

      What if a child is removed from the womb for surgery via c-section and then replaced back into the womb to continue the pregnancy? Did that woman gain obligation for the moments of surgery and then lose them when the baby was placed back in her uterus? Did the same happened to the baby? Rights were gained and then lost? Basing rights off location of person seems like an extremely arbitrary and problematic view of rights. I hope you can see this.

      If the fetus is unwillingly removed, that’s a violation. If the fetus is willingly removed then unwillingly placed back into the womb, that’s a violation. If the fetus is unwillingly removed and unwillingly inserted back in, that’s a violation. If she WANTS to be pregnant, and her boyfriend kicks her in the stomach, that’s a violation. If she does NOT want to be pregnant, and attempts suicide because abortions are just so shameful, she might be institutionalized for a bit but not charged with attempted murder of two human beings.

      Well how do you respond to my cryptic pregnancy example. Does the woman have any obligation to the child? I keep giving the same scenarios and objections, but you will not answer them. It seems like you are using born vs unborn in an ad hoc way.

      What am I not answering? I already explained my position re: where and when a mother does/does not have obligations.

      Born and un-born is not ad-hoc. Why would you even think this? But, I do find it fascinating that anti-abortionists dismiss what is literally the most important day of your life- your own birth- as arbitrary or otherwise un-important.

      You can’t just rights begin at X point without giving some sort of justification or example for why they do.

      Of course you can! That’s precisely how rights work. You had the right to own slaves in 1860, and you have the right to universal healthcare in Germany. You don’t have the right to draw Putin as a gay clown in Russia. You don’t have the right to be free of medical experiments if you’re held by some strange beings on another planet. And you certainly don’t have ‘the right to life’ if you pay a bunch of Indians to take you to some remote island of violent natives, and get shot to death with arrows.

      Now, ideas surrounding the justice/injustice of such things change over time, and we can certainly drill down to specifics in a way that we couldn’t before. We can even make complex calculations re: the death of a would-be child vs. the body of the mother, or even just boiling everything down to whether it’s just or unjust to bring unwanted children into the world, against their consent into probable poverty and other obstacles to positive life outcomes. I say birth/non-birth is a perfectly logical point of demarcation for a myriad of reasons. You happen to think that one’s birth is not very important. Ok, what now?

      Yes, I admit there are limits to what a parent is expected to do with their body, but this is just a terrible example. If the parent was in the same room and chose not to lay his/her hand on the child then I think you could say justly that the parent is guilty of negligent homicide. So how does this example show anything useful? Parents are expected to do all sorts of things with their hands to care for their children and if they don’t, they go to jail!

      It’s not a terrible example- I specifically gave an uncomfortable but perfectly doable window (12 hours, from California to New York) to present ‘just enough’ of an obstacle for most people to plausibly deny that this is criminal negligence. You then deflate the specifics of my example down to ‘being in the same room’ (thus omitting most of the obstacles) and call it criminal negligence only under those circumstances.

      But here’s the deeper point, none of these examples, whether your ‘deserted island’ or my fly-to-NY scenario are bad…just highly unlikely, and often problematic for a broad-based *legal* platform of what ought to be allowed. And they can always be met with more ante, because that’s just in the nature of thought experiments. Say, for example, that it’s not even the parent’s touch- the kid is dying because he felt very much unloved, and only his father’s love can save him. Yet the father is steely, cold, and finds it difficult to express emotion. He does not deliver the love his child needs on his deathbed by crying and uttering those words- shall he be held criminally responsible? But he could have just pretended to cry! Quick- cut an onion! And he could say those words but never mean them!

      And so on.

      Really, there are limits, and these limits are far less comfortable in their implications than most would like to admit.

      You can scream from the rooftops that parental obligations occur at birth but until you give substantive reason why this is the case then it doesn’t matter.

      I already gave my reasons. Did you? Give me a substantive reason why a woman has the same obligations to an unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring zygote fully dependent on its host, as she does towards her teenager. Perhaps more importantly, explain WHY she absolutely MUST bring an unwanted child to term, and how to deal with the very real social costs of criminal abortions. You can then explain who will pay the monetary cost of equalizing life outcomes for a child forced (against his consent) into an obstacle-rich environment. Or do the most important questions cease to matter once you’re no longer a fetus? Then- of course- the brat’s on his own.

      You are saying the baby’s rights are totally determined by its location?

      What baby? Or are we talking about a generic fetus? If the latter, then yes, location is a part of it. As is time- you know, actually being born, and having acquired the status of ‘baby’?

      Again if the baby is removed from the uterus for surgery it gains rights but when it is replaced it loses the rights? This seems like an extremely arbitrary ad hoc reason. You need a good foundation to make such a bold claim. You cannot just proclaim it to be. I strongly disagree with your statement, so you need a good reason or again you are just spouting unfounded, unsupported opinions.

      I must say, I do find it rather odd that, despite this being the second time you’ve brought up some ‘surgery’ a mother has to go through, where a baby is removed, re-inserted, removed again etc., not ONCE did you ever contextualize it, or say whether this woman is there willingly, or if something else altogether is going on. It’s almost as if whether she was raped, knocked over the head, and ended up in some non-consensual surgery is completely immaterial because, ooooh, ahhhh, what a cute baby is being cut out of her and sewn back in. My mind immediately went to why the hell this sort of grisly operation is happening, and if the mother is OK. Yet you’re worried about a fetus that might not even have physical sensations yet?

      THOMSON used the example of personal property (a person’s house) in her people seeds thought experiment. So, if you want to blame someone. Blame Thomson!

      But Thomson went on more explicitly- it is not merely that a baby is being housed somewhere. The mother, herself, IS the house- which is no longer a property issue. To quote her directly, “the mother is a PERSON who houses it”. Does this not strike as you as a little different?

      Furthermore, child support laws do show that biological parents have some sort obligation to their children even without explicit consent. This does not mean that it justifies the obligation to use one’s body, but it does indicate that biological parents have some sort of legal obligations to their kids.

      Yeah, which is what I said- obligations to *children,* not to the unborn. You don’t pay child support to fetuses, do you?

      I show that this can extend to bodily autonomy obligations through my breastfeeding examples. Honestly, I keep giving you the same answer and you just ignore my reasoning and thought experiments and reword your prior unsubstantiated claims. It’s getting a bit ridiculous.

      Interesting- I feel the same way. I keep giving you the same answer and you just ignore my reasoning and thought experiments (“that’s a terrible example!”) and reword your prior unsubstantiated claims. Sometimes, you don’t even bother to re-word them, so I guess- between the two of us- I’m at least making more of an effort?

      I have already shown why birth is a terrible line to draw when it comes to parental obligations.

      I have shown that it is in fact the only reasonable line to draw, IF you care about weighing complex rights of multiple parties and silly things like broad-based social outcomes.

      It creates situations where a child gains the right to parental care and then loses it when it is replaced back inside the uterus.

      Yeah, if a woman is being tortured back-and-forth in this way without her consent, she is at minimum not responsible for a fetus forcefully taken out of her, and perhaps even entitled to some compensation.

      Giving birth is NOT always consented to.

      In which case you are not responsible for the child, assuming- of course- we’re in civilization and bound by laws. Maybe Republicans can offer some tax credits to orphanages?

      In a cryptic pregnancy the woman does not know she is pregnant until she is giving birth.

      To be clear, while I have entertained cryptic pregnancy as a thought experiment, a true cryptic pregnancy does not happen. Most people who claim this are psychotics in denial, who then cash in on the psychosis.

      So the statement “birth must be consented to” is patently false. I understand that you BELIEVE parental obligations should only begin after birth but until you give me a GOOD reason for your belief, I will not be convinced, and neither will anyone else. Usually when you make controversial statements you need to back them up with solid foundations and logic. You have not done so yet.

      Hopefully, I’ve backed up my claims enough, but I did have a pleasant chuckle at “controversial statements”.

      How is my belief controversial? As far as I’m aware, every modern democracy allows abortions (i.e., “parental obligations only begin at birth”), including every state in America. Yeah, I know, I know, Saudi Arabia forbids abortion, North Korea is iffy on it, Russia wants to return to Eastern Orthodoxy, but back in the civilized world, I’m in the mainstream, and you’re in the minority. Now, if you wish to organize society more in line with- say- the Iranian model, you can certainly advocate for this, but please remember that YOU are the outlier here.

  6. Leftist murder machine

    Leftist fascinated with murdering babies going through the mental gymnastics necessary to make it OK. Did I sum it all up? Great!

    Ur buddy Schneider is a pedo….write a piece justifying that…I know u can!!

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Actually, I wasn’t going through mental gymnastics- I was merely pointing out yours.

      You think I’m friends with the writer and producer for Nickelodeon?

  7. replicationspork

    I think Judith Thomson’s thought experiments are good for establishing bodily autonomy as a legitimate value, but they are not strong arguments for establishing that “bodily autonomy trumps ALL other considerations” for terminating a pregnancy at any stage.

    Her thought experiments are arguments from analogy, and many of the conditions in her thought experiments are not the same as in pregnancy and its termination. Pregnancy–in which one life, being, or person exists inside another and is dependent upon the other for its life–and its termination is a unique situation in the first place, exacerbating the usual problems of arguments from analogy in general. The relevance of an analogy’s various points of similarities and differences are debatable, and the conclusion of an argument from analogy can easily be called into question by proposing a counteranalogy that leads to a contradictory or other unforeseen conclusion (e.g., in this case, showing that bodily autonomy should not justly trump all other considerations).

    For example, Koukl rightly points out some differences between the unconscious violinist scenario and the typical abortion (e.g., not a result of rape) that prejudice the narrative and our emotional and intuitional responses to it. Suppose we modify the unconscious violinist thought experiment to say that it is a person’s own actions that–known to them in advance–cause an unconscious violinist to be attached to them, through no fault of the violinist, who had zero say in the matter. Suppose further that this scenario happens as often as abortion does in the United States (say, between 500,000 to 1 million cases per year, as figures vary). That is, it’s not some shockingly freakish scenario so unlikely that we had to invent it for lack of pointing to an example in real life. Rather it’s as common and predictable from previous behavior as pregnancy. Suddenly, it is not so clear that unplugging the violinist and thus killing him is justified. Arguably, it would create in society a political expediency calling for criminal liability on the part of a person who decides to unplug the violinist after putting them into that situation. Sure, this may seem like a science fiction hypothetical, but it’s arguably no more fanciful than Thomson’s alternate worlds in which unconscious violinists can only be saved by being directly plugged into a specific individual’s circulatory system (as opposed to merely a blood transfusion from any number of people), rapidly growing children crush adults in houses, deadly illnesses can only be cured by Henry Fonda’s cool hand upon the brow, or seed-people fly into open windows.

    I believe your kidney donation examples are more straightforward than Thomson’s thought experiments for illustrating bodily autonomy as a real value, but, again, suppose we modify the example to make it more similar to abortion. Let’s say we live in a universe where most people know 1) that certain behavior will cause another person to lose function of their kidneys such that they become terminally ill, and 2) only a kidney donation from the very same person who caused the loss of kidney function of the other will save the other’s life. If this scenario were as as common in abortion, would there not be criminal liability laws for people who inflict this kidney-failure state upon others and yet refuse the kidney donation? And who would you say is the real victim in this scenario?

    Or suppose we modify the seed-people thought experiment to say that 1) the seed-people flying in through the windows are your own offspring, created through unprotected sex, 2) who fly into the house through no fault of their own, meaning no harm, and having no ability of their own to leave once they’re inside, 3) who will die if they stay outside the house for too long, and 4) the parents know that their seed-people children will die if not allowed to stay into the house, such that their decision is between letting them use the house or to in effect kill them. Are you not morally responsible providing for your children rather than consigning them to death, especially if you know that a natural outcome of leaving the windows open is this situation that will force you to have to make that decision?

    In one of your comments you defined birth as the “demarcation line” that balances “1) the mother’s right to bodily autonomy, as well as the *severe* ethical and social consequences of forcing unwanted children to be brought into a harsh world, 2) the right to life of a human, or potential human.” But if bodily autonomy trumps a right to life, why limit it to birth in all cases? We could propose a Thomson-style thought experiment in which, say, for every 10 mothers who carry to term, 2 mothers and their babies have a genetic mutation that causes her umbilical cord to last significantly longer than usual after giving birth to her baby, and causes the baby to die if the umbilical cord is cut before it naturally dries up. In this scenario, does the mother have a right to “unplug” her born infant and thus kill it?

    Now I myself realize that these counteranalogies don’t map precisely to the conditions of pregnancy and abortion. The point is that neither do Thomson’s, and since these counteranologies are more similar to pregnancy and abortion in some regards, especially in identifying which party is the bigger victim, in what way do Thomson’s analogies show that bodily autonomy trumps a right to life?

    Considering that taking a life is irreversible, I believe we should exercise caution in deference to the right to life. In a conflict between the values of bodily autonomy alone and a right to life, the burden of proof should be on bodily autonomy. Because the stakes here are so high, that if our arguments for what trumps a right to life are weak, we are in effect trying to justify and defend the legality of murder or unjustified killing with weak reasoning. Pro-lifers may very well be mistaken about many things related to abortion, and yet justifiably freaked out by liberals defending mass murder, and thus made more likely to pull the lever for Trump or whatever terrible Republican.

    Now if the right to life is to kick in and not be entirely trumped by bodily autonomy, I believe the concept of personhood as it relates to a right to life should kick in as well. I disagree with Thomson’s claim that “‘before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person’ is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given” and I disagree with your claim that “It IS arbitrary to create a dividing line between one point of pregnancy and another- it is, therefore, an all-or-nothing game.”

    Prior to ~24-25 weeks, a developing human fetus does not to have the physical brain connections in place to process stimuli, pain, thoughts, emotions, or be aware of their surroundings–such as a developed thalamo-cortical complex, the joining of the peripheral nervous with the cerebral cortex. Not only does the fetus lack any such experiences, but have yet to develop the very physical capacity for them in the first place.

    While an abortion prior to this time may be immoral (e.g., in cases where the father or mother could have prevented an unwanted pregnancy and thereby prevented its social consequences), it is simply not commensurable with murder as unjustified killing, because a person is not “there” yet. How could there be, when the very physical basis that makes it possible has yet to reach that stage? There exists genetically unique living machinery that has the natural potential to develop into a person in the future, but a person as a unique his or herself has yet to develop. And it is human persons who have rights.

    After this stage, there are scientific reasons to believe that developing human fetuses are capable of responding to pain after 24 to 26 weeks. There’s scientific evidence to suggests that fetuses in the womb after this stage may exist in a sedated, low-oxygen, anaesthetic, sort of “dreamless sleep” state, yet also evidence to suggest that fetuses at 33-41 weeks and possibly earlier exhibit attention, memory, and learning with regard to language and voice recognition. I would say that it is after this point–and not at any stage of pregnancy–that it really becomes arbitrary and slippery for defining when personhood begins. It gets into the iffy realm of trying to define the quality of experience, ever growing in capability as the brain develops. It’s less objective, measurable, and “on-off,” “yes-no” than whether or not the developing human fetus has or does not have the physical neurological connections that make higher brain function physically possible.

    I believe that after this crucial stage, in the principle of exercising caution in favor of life described earlier, weightier justification than bodily autonomy alone is necessary for an abortion to be a “just” killing, such as a life threat to the mother (or twin), fatal or major abnormalities that create tragic decisions more tantamount to euthanasia, or the social consequences of pregnancy as a result of rape. There’s a variety of legal and circumstantial reasons to believe that many or most abortions after ~24-25 weeks are done for these weighter reasons (often wanted pregnancies where something has gone terribly wrong). But I am unaware of real data being collected for the stated reasons for such abortions, and I would find it troubling (and perhaps involving murder/unjustified killing) to discover cases of terminating a healthy fetus after this time due to economic hardship, or of terminating a fetus with a genetic disorder like Down syndrome where their life expectancy may be lower but many with the syndrome want to live and do live satisfied lives. If current abortion laws need adjustment, I think it might be worth exploring to prevent these situations. However, I do doubt whether such laws could be actually enforced without creating some sort of surveillance state, essentially invading privacy just to preempt the very rare chance that a murder might be committed at that exact spot.

    Your follow-up discussion of the seed-people thought experiment, pinpoints the cruelty of conservatives who reduce one’s choices “either to remain an involuntary celibate, or to send your child off to become the ward of a welfare state these same conservatives are attempting to dismantle,” particularly those who are against easy access to birth control measures.

    But to demonstrate the strength of your own position that “bodily autonomy trumps ALL other considerations” for terminating a pregnancy at any stage, is not enough to knock down the conservative position. One can very well maintain that birth control and welfare should be made available to those who need it, that personal responsibility for the results of one’s sexual behavior should be factored if we’re going to invent arguments from analogy that are supposed to map to the conditions of pregnancy and abortion, and that bodily autonomy alone is not enough to trump a right to life at any stage.

    I believe societies should try to drive down the number of abortions and average weeks gestation of abortions via:
    1) availability of birth control, affordable healthcare, education, and assistance programs that alleviate economic hardship. Conservatives could do a much better job of this.
    2) not portraying sex merely in terms of consensual, consequence-free recreation but also in terms of social responsibility, as there are real social consequences. Liberals could do a much better job of this.

    Reply
    1. replicationspork

      A needed correction, because the mistake greatly alters the meaning:

      “But to demonstrate the strength of your own position that “bodily autonomy trumps ALL other considerations” for terminating a pregnancy at any stage, is not enough to knock down the conservative position.”

      Should instead read:

      “But to demonstrate the strength of your own position that “bodily autonomy trumps ALL other considerations” for terminating a pregnancy at any stage, >it< is not enough to knock down the conservative position."

    2. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Her thought experiments are arguments from analogy, and many of the conditions in her thought experiments are not the same as in pregnancy and its termination.

      This is true, but the deeper point I and others have been making about her thought experiments is that these conditions are not always relevant what is being fundamentally argued.

      Pregnancy–in which one life, being, or person exists inside another and is dependent upon the other for its life–and its termination is a unique situation in the first place, exacerbating the usual problems of arguments from analogy in general.

      It’s as unique as any other category, really, depending on what value you ascribe to some of those individual words and occurrences.

      For example, Koukl rightly points out some differences between the unconscious violinist scenario and the typical abortion (e.g., not a result of rape) that prejudice the narrative and our emotional and intuitional responses to it. Suppose we modify the unconscious violinist thought experiment to say that it is a person’s own actions that–known to them in advance–cause an unconscious violinist to be attached to them, through no fault of the violinist, who had zero say in the matter. Suppose further that this scenario happens as often as abortion does in the United States (say, between 500,000 to 1 million cases per year, as figures vary). That is, it’s not some shockingly freakish scenario so unlikely that we had to invent it for lack of pointing to an example in real life. Rather it’s as common and predictable from previous behavior as pregnancy. Suddenly, it is not so clear that unplugging the violinist and thus killing him is justified. Arguably, it would create in society a political expediency calling for criminal liability on the part of a person who decides to unplug the violinist after putting them into that situation. Sure, this may seem like a science fiction hypothetical, but it’s arguably no more fanciful than Thomson’s alternate worlds in which unconscious violinists can only be saved by being directly plugged into a specific individual’s circulatory system (as opposed to merely a blood transfusion from any number of people), rapidly growing children crush adults in houses, deadly illnesses can only be cured by Henry Fonda’s cool hand upon the brow, or seed-people fly into open windows.

      But you are saying that a person’s actions directly lead to a mature, sentient being getting attached to another, and requiring his body for survival. There’s a personhood argument there that doesn’t apply to a fetus.

      But ok, Thomson explicitly grants personhood for the sake of argument. But I’ve already provided objections to arguments pretty similar to the one you’ve presented. Let us say, for example, that you have a dangerous sword collection and decide to show off when a few friends come by. You know you’ve already hurt yourself and others when doing this before, but proceed anyway. This time, you slice open a friend’s kidney, who now needs your kidney as a donation. Is there a legal body in the world that would require you to make this donation in light of the fact that it is your own irresponsibility that’s responsible?

      Further, let’s say there is such a superpower as you describe- you can walk around, utter something, and that something will cause bodily harm to another person directly. There would obviously be laws in place to prevent this. But, again, courts would be reluctant to enforce the actual directive for you to remain attached to another adult. So, I don’t agree that it’s ‘not clear’- you just can’t set that precedent. And it’s going to be a lot harder to force another adult to supply her body to a non-sentient, un-feeling, etc. organism that may or may not grow into adulthood, and can be painlessly snuffed out beforehand. This is where personhood and bodily autonomy arguments tend to bleed together, and why reducing the question to a purely ethical dilemma is hard.

      I believe your kidney donation examples are more straightforward than Thomson’s thought experiments for illustrating bodily autonomy as a real value, but, again, suppose we modify the example to make it more similar to abortion. Let’s say we live in a universe where most people know 1) that certain behavior will cause another person to lose function of their kidneys such that they become terminally ill, and 2) only a kidney donation from the very same person who caused the loss of kidney function of the other will save the other’s life. If this scenario were as as common in abortion, would there not be criminal liability laws for people who inflict this kidney-failure state upon others and yet refuse the kidney donation? And who would you say is the real victim in this scenario?

      Well, if you are arguing that we need to keep these analogies stricter, consider yours- engaging in sex does not at all have a ‘certain’ outcome in terms of pregnancy. This is even more true if you are using contraceptives. Are you allowed to kill an innocent person (in your example) if the outcome was uncertain? If it was a complete accident? What about if a condom that has never broken after 1 billion tests (and was advertised as such) breaks this one time? You have a better chance of killing someone if you get into your car, and this opens up fresh ethical questions. And if you are dealing with them in terms of a broader society, they’re impossible to resolve under the rubric of legal questions unless you’re willing to bring on even harsher realities to sentient beings and those who will inevitably become them and must deal with bad consequences they are born into without their consent (for example, an unwanted child forced by the state to be born into poverty and gang violence).

      In your objection to my kidney example, you ask about criminal liabilities, and yes, as I’ve said, there would be if we had a way of observing the strict causal chain you describe. This is especially so between sentient beings, although even in that case one’s body would be completely off limits to the aggrieved party. But do you see why (even if we accept personhood) the world is less and less willing to punish such ‘certain’ outcomes as they relate to 1) a ‘risky’ (to use your parlance) activity that almost every single adult in the developed world engages on a continuous basis to relieve a basic biological drive, 2) non-sentient beings who carry the host’s reproductive material against the host’s consent? Really, I don’t think people spend time on the question of how absurd ANY national regimen of ‘enforced reproduction’ really is.

      I would answer your seed-people objection in much the same way.

      Considering that taking a life is irreversible, I believe we should exercise caution in deference to the right to life. In a conflict between the values of bodily autonomy alone and a right to life, the burden of proof should be on bodily autonomy. Because the stakes here are so high, that if our arguments for what trumps a right to life are weak, we are in effect trying to justify and defend the legality of murder or unjustified killing with weak reasoning. Pro-lifers may very well be mistaken about many things related to abortion, and yet justifiably freaked out by liberals defending mass murder, and thus made more likely to pull the lever for Trump or whatever terrible Republican.

      What is your burden of proof for bodily autonomy? What does it need to show? Pure self-defense (as in, your life must be at stake)?

      Also, I again disagree that the stakes are “so high”. Based on WHAT? I do not necessarily value nor fetishize life, but I will value some life above others and I will value policies that maximize the joy, ease, freedom, etc., within that “some life” that I do value.

      In this way, I will 100% value the right of a person to control her reproductive system even if it means killing (for example) a zygote.

      By that same token, I will 100% value the right of a child to be born into a world where he is wanted, not poor, not thrown to immediate obstacles upon birth, etc., over the alternative- the forced birthing of a ‘hypothetical’ child whose birth (as the result of a policy rule) exacerbates those very obstacles.

      Now if the right to life is to kick in and not be entirely trumped by bodily autonomy, I believe the concept of personhood as it relates to a right to life should kick in as well. I disagree with Thomson’s claim that “‘before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person’ is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given” and I disagree with your claim that “It IS arbitrary to create a dividing line between one point of pregnancy and another- it is, therefore, an all-or-nothing game.”

      Prior to ~24-25 weeks, a developing human fetus does not to have the physical brain connections in place to process stimuli, pain, thoughts, emotions, or be aware of their surroundings–such as a developed thalamo-cortical complex, the joining of the peripheral nervous with the cerebral cortex. Not only does the fetus lack any such experiences, but have yet to develop the very physical capacity for them in the first place.

      While an abortion prior to this time may be immoral (e.g., in cases where the father or mother could have prevented an unwanted pregnancy and thereby prevented its social consequences), it is simply not commensurable with murder as unjustified killing, because a person is not “there” yet. How could there be, when the very physical basis that makes it possible has yet to reach that stage? There exists genetically unique living machinery that has the natural potential to develop into a person in the future, but a person as a unique his or herself has yet to develop. And it is human persons who have rights.

      After this stage, there are scientific reasons to believe that developing human fetuses are capable of responding to pain after 24 to 26 weeks. There’s scientific evidence to suggests that fetuses in the womb after this stage may exist in a sedated, low-oxygen, anaesthetic, sort of “dreamless sleep” state, yet also evidence to suggest that fetuses at 33-41 weeks and possibly earlier exhibit attention, memory, and learning with regard to language and voice recognition. I would say that it is after this point–and not at any stage of pregnancy–that it really becomes arbitrary and slippery for defining when personhood begins. It gets into the iffy realm of trying to define the quality of experience, ever growing in capability as the brain develops. It’s less objective, measurable, and “on-off,” “yes-no” than whether or not the developing human fetus has or does not have the physical neurological connections that make higher brain function physically possible.

      But this IS arbitrary if by ‘arbitrary’ we mean a politically expedient decision (which it is). Life is life at every stage, and we can give personhood based on things like feelings or sentience. But we can also give personhood based purely on the fact that it’s alive and might become a person- and nations can and do define personhood in that way at times. Or we can grant personhood only on (you guessed it) the moment of birth. In other words, for you to be considered a person, you actually had to be born at some point. These are ALL political expedients based strictly around how we wish to negotiate society and individual values.

      There’s no real reason why your criteria for personhood need to kick in when you want them to, other than the fact that they align closer to your other values. My point is that my values are different, and my point of departure is therefore different.

      I believe that after this crucial stage, in the principle of exercising caution in favor of life described earlier, weightier justification than bodily autonomy alone is necessary for an abortion to be a “just” killing, such as a life threat to the mother (or twin), fatal or major abnormalities that create tragic decisions more tantamount to euthanasia, or the social consequences of pregnancy as a result of rape. There’s a variety of legal and circumstantial reasons to believe that many or most abortions after ~24-25 weeks are done for these weighter reasons (often wanted pregnancies where something has gone terribly wrong). But I am unaware of real data being collected for the stated reasons for such abortions, and I would find it troubling (and perhaps involving murder/unjustified killing) to discover cases of terminating a healthy fetus after this time due to economic hardship, or of terminating a fetus with a genetic disorder like Down syndrome where their life expectancy may be lower but many with the syndrome want to live and do live satisfied lives. If current abortion laws need adjustment, I think it might be worth exploring to prevent these situations. However, I do doubt whether such laws could be actually enforced without creating some sort of surveillance state, essentially invading privacy just to preempt the very rare chance that a murder might be committed at that exact spot.

      This is really strange to me- re-read what you wrote. Many people with Down Syndrome wish to be alive? Well, no shit, because they’ve BEEN BORN. Obviously, even a child sex slave wishes to be alive- your survival instinct still kicks in, no matter how miserable your situation is. The bizarre thing is that you are so readily transferring this desire to be alive from a fully birthed, sentient being with years of memories and relationships to a zygote, or a 24-week collection of dependent organs. Do you not see how wrong this is? Or the fact that unwanted children- while ‘allowed’ to be born- will always be born to great disadvantages they do not consent to? This is where sentience matters the most- it matters most when you are BORN. But you’re willing to make the post-birth environment for both mother and child a lot worse simply because you value the act of ‘bringing a pregnancy to term’ over the day of birth itself (which for some reason doesn’t play too prominently in your analysis) or the quality of the lived experience for those involved.

      Note, also, how you slip from a thought-experiment where consequences are always immediate and fully known to a situation where you’re now taking care of an adult baby for the rest of your life. Quite the reward simply because the spermicide failed, eh? You apply the same words (murder, etc.) to both situations even though the consequences of frequent, unprotected sex may be known, the idea that you’ll birth a kid with severe life-long difficulties is usually not considered.

      But to demonstrate the strength of your own position that “bodily autonomy trumps ALL other considerations” for terminating a pregnancy at any stage, is not enough to knock down the conservative position. One can very well maintain that birth control and welfare should be made available to those who need it, that personal responsibility for the results of one’s sexual behavior should be factored if we’re going to invent arguments from analogy that are supposed to map to the conditions of pregnancy and abortion, and that bodily autonomy alone is not enough to trump a right to life at any stage.

      What’s the personal responsibility? You had sex, and now the state tells you that you must reproduce? I don’t understand how the two cohere.

      I believe societies should try to drive down the number of abortions and average weeks gestation of abortions via:
      1) availability of birth control, affordable healthcare, education, and assistance programs that alleviate economic hardship. Conservatives could do a much better job of this.
      2) not portraying sex merely in terms of consensual, consequence-free recreation but also in terms of social responsibility, as there are real social consequences. Liberals could do a much better job of this.

      I agree with #1, not sure about #2. What do you mean by consequence-free? People get hurt feelings, catch diseases, get pregnant, etc. This is why we have pregnancy tests and romantic films and all this other stuff people concern themselves with, and why jokes about late periods are so easy to identify with. The fact that all this doesn’t exactly lend itself to enforced reproduction is beside the point.

    3. replicationspork

      I have a fuller response typed out, but wanted to deal with this issue before proceeding:

      Also, I again disagree that the stakes are “so high”. Based on WHAT? I do not necessarily value nor fetishize life, but I will value some life above others and I will value policies that maximize the joy, ease, freedom, etc., within that “some life” that I do value.

      Is it really that difficult to figure out? Whatever your subjective preferences, most societies would agree that killing a person without adequate justification is among some of the worst things one can do to someone, right? Furthermore, killing once done is certain and irreversible, while many other conditions concerning pregnancy or quality of life are dynamic or mutable. If our arguments for saying a killing is justified are tenuous or weak, then we are in effect trying to justify unjustified killing with weak arguments. You and I have likely been morally indignant at conservatives many a time for much less. That’s why the stakes are high. How can you not see this unless you either aren’t taking its possibility seriously, and/or are already finding your own arguments so supremely persuasive? It’s upon a similar basis that arguments against the death penalty or indifferent treatment of civilians/”collateral damage” in war (especially arguably unnecessary or unjust wars) proceed.

    4. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      Is it really that difficult to figure out? Whatever your subjective preferences, most societies would agree that killing a person without adequate justification is among some of the worst things one can do to someone, right? Furthermore, killing once done is certain and irreversible, while many other conditions concerning pregnancy or quality of life are dynamic or mutable. If our arguments for saying a killing is justified are tenuous or weak, then we are in effect trying to justify unjustified killing with weak arguments. You and I have likely been morally indignant at conservatives many a time for much less. That’s why the stakes are high. How can you not see this unless you either aren’t taking its possibility seriously, and/or are already finding your own arguments so supremely persuasive? It’s upon a similar basis that arguments against the death penalty or indifferent treatment of civilians/”collateral damage” in war (especially arguably unnecessary or unjust wars) proceed.

      There is a taboo against unjustified in-group killing in most societies, yes. Yet different societies have treated abortion (de facto in-group killing) in different ways, from outlawing it to total allowance, as far back as historical records have been kept. That fact alone suggests people don’t have the fetus = person equation in their heads much of the time, and even less so today unless we’re dealing with a religious society.

      The question will still go back to some forms of life vs. another. Look at the back-and-forth I had with the guy above- there is exactly zero consideration for the mother in some of his scenarios (forced surgical procedures, cutting open/sewing back/cutting open, etc.), an automatic preference for the unborn vs. the born just because, and a weird tactic of transposing sentient experiences and unwillingness to die as a fully grown adult to a fetus. This is just silly. Personhood, as *I* define it, will always be controversial (especially in religious societies), but what is not controversial is that outlawing abortion will lead to horrific consequences for those affected by such laws. The only ‘good’ that comes out of it is that ‘fetus X is allowed to be born every time’- which, again, is at best neutral in my eyes, and worse-than-neutral IF the fetus is brought into worse-than-average circumstances and is by definition an unwanted child. I am ‘thankful’ for having been born only insofar as ANY sentient being prefers life to death after accumulating positive experiences and developing a revulsion against their ceasing. To demand we pose the same question to a fetus is absurd, and to do it retroactively is even more absurd.

      If our arguments for saying a killing is justified are tenuous or weak, then we are in effect trying to justify unjustified killing with weak arguments. You and I have likely been morally indignant at conservatives many a time for much less. That’s why the stakes are high. How can you not see this unless you either aren’t taking its possibility seriously, and/or are already finding your own arguments so supremely persuasive? It’s upon a similar basis that arguments against the death penalty or indifferent treatment of civilians/”collateral damage” in war (especially arguably unnecessary or unjust wars) proceed.

      The stakes aren’t high because there is no going back to pre-abortion days, whether your arguments are good or bad or mediocre.

      The stakes aren’t high because no matter what argument you wish to present, stuff like ‘personhood’ is always an arbitrary, politically expedient definition, and we’ve long settled on one.

      The stakes aren’t high because excepting religious doctrine, the state of pre-birth vs. post-birth has always been treated differently. We have Roman cocktails for abortion and philosophers demanding the practice be stopped. We have legal abortion procedures in ancient Greece with the primary ‘negative’ being an affront to the patriarch who can’t pass down property (in which case, the fetus is seen merely as a tool). We have tribal societies where reproductive self-control is seen as essential. We have extremely religious societies which outlaw abortion, and almost every modern society now allows it.

      Killing re: abortion is justified because of bodily autonomy, the tangible consequences of a state-enforced pregnancy, the lack of demonstrable personhood of a fetus, the unwillingness of most societies to grant personhood to a fetus, the arbitrariness of positing 24 weeks vs. 4 weeks as the point of departure, and the collective refusal to give pre-birth equal weight to post-birth under the law, historically, psychologically, philosophically, as well as under universal customs which provide a clue as to how birth vs. non-birth is treated. Miscarriages don’t get burials nor death certificates, nor are fathers on the hook for child support before the child is born because that child is not a child.

      AGAIN- even conservatives admit this. Ben Shapiro screamed that Gosnell was a prolific serial killer, but why? Oh, that’s right- because Gosnell performed late-term abortions on ‘real’ babies, as opposed to the non-babies before 24 weeks, despite Shapiro’s alleged belief that it’s a person from conception. By his logic, Gosnell is as prolific as almost any other abortion doctor, and probably less so because his career ended prematurely. You can’t even get religious nuts to stand firm on their own beliefs once they’re plastered with emotional triggers.

      There is no weakness, and the stakes are only high if you’re convinced that there’s a mass campaign of infanticide.

  8. replicationspork

    The stakes aren’t high because there is no going back to pre-abortion days, whether your arguments are good or bad or mediocre.

    But I’m not arguing that we go back to pre-abortion days, so I don’t see what pointing this out accomplishes here.

    Many societies place restrictions on abortions after the point of viability.

    You’re arguing a controversial position that abortion, upon bodily autonomy alone, is fully justified and should be legal past the point of viability and up until birth even granting that the fetus is a person, which many people and societies don’t agree with and which even many pro-choice liberals aren’t confident in.

    We have legal abortion procedures in ancient Greece with the primary ‘negative’ being an affront to the patriarch who can’t pass down property (in which case, the fetus is seen merely as a tool)

    But the mere fact that such a practice existed doesn’t make it right or wrong. People in ancient Greece and Rome also practiced infanticide by exposure. At the height of the eugenics fad in the US, some progressives–including Helen Keller–believed infanticide was justified in certain conditions (such as medical juries for deformed babies) and defended an instance of it when it did happen. We’d had have to establish whether a law or social practice is just or unjust, and why.

    AGAIN- even conservatives admit this. Ben Shapiro screamed that Gosnell was a prolific serial killer, but why? Oh, that’s right- because Gosnell performed late-term abortions on ‘real’ babies, as opposed to the non-babies before 24 weeks, despite Shapiro’s alleged belief that it’s a person from conception.

    There is no weakness, and the stakes are only high if you’re convinced that there’s a mass campaign of infanticide.

    Those an arguments against “personhood begins at conception” position, correct? Which, firstly, is not my argument. Secondly, it underscores the reality that many people intuitively make “personhood” distinctions between zygotes and human fetuses that are more fully developed.

    Reply
    1. Alex SheremetAlex Sheremet

      But I’m not arguing that we go back to pre-abortion days, so I don’t see what pointing this out accomplishes here.

      No, you don’t, and you might not even be personally against abortion, just playing devil’s advocate. That’s not at issue. The more salient point, here, is that you keep framing your arguments as if you are searching (or feel that we need to search for) some sort of ‘ultimate’, all-encompassing argument for/against abortion that settles that issue in a purely philosophical way. You seem to think that if even one of these arguments (personhood, autonomy, etc.) fail on the level you yourself define, that the whole thing fails, or at least that I’m not taking the issue seriously. You are also driving towards your preferred values (life as inviolable life, etc.) as if they were an objective good, when I and so many others find them arbitrary, and not preferable to some other values. There’s also not much evidence in your comments that you see any of this.

      Many societies place restrictions on abortions after the point of viability.

      This is true. My point is bringing up the history of abortion is that there is a clear distinction that societies tend to make between an unborn and a born person- legally, philosophically, surrounding customs, etc. It’s not as simple as, ‘this is high stakes because’. Everything that comes after ‘because’ has been and still is in flux, and is getting even more so. Reproductively, we probably have more rights now than ever, and yet, people have become more tame, more respectful of life especially in the fullest definition of that word. They have decided (as a political expedient) that a person for all intents and purposes begins at birth and are willing to do everything they can to protect the born with social safety nets, highly protective laws, as well as make life easy for a would-be matter no matter her choice- again, because she is born and because her desires trump the unborn’s. IF you cannot properly argue for your specific values over the status quo in a way that’s not mere question-begging, it will be an uphill battle to advocate either policies or personal choices that- if undertaken- will create lots of objective suffering to those that are born, now, and in fact will be born to suffer as a result of those choices.

      You’re arguing a controversial position that abortion, upon bodily autonomy alone, is fully justified and should be legal past the point of viability and up until birth even granting that the fetus is a person, which many people and societies don’t agree with and which even many pro-choice liberals aren’t confident in.

      Yeah, I agree- the position I’ve given (personhood only at birth + bodily autonomy) is controversial, and will remain so for a long time. The difference is that, in staking out MY position, I fully admit that it is politically expedient and perfectly arbitrary by every measure except that of increasing/reducing suffering for the actually-born. By contrast, the anti-abortion position (whether it’s from personhood or autonomy) depends NOT on this admission, but in pushing its specific values and its privileging of the unborn over the born, then abandoning the then-born to the obstacles and negative life outcomes these values engender. Given the arbitrariness of both values, it’s awfully tough to argue for the set that will degrade life for those who have been born and that EVERYONE agrees has both personhood and bodily rights.

      And that’s not to say that I even find the technicals of the anti-abortion arguments good from a philosophical standpoint. That’s not convincing either.

      Those an arguments against “personhood begins at conception” position, correct? Which, firstly, is not my argument. Secondly, it underscores the reality that many people intuitively make “personhood” distinctions between zygotes and human fetuses that are more fully developed.

      They do. And they more fluidly believe that “it’s more of a baby” at week 4 than week 0, and even more so at weeks 8, 12, 16, 20, and 24. We’re also not sure, philosophically, whether monkeys have personhood- they’re a lot like us, after all, and are our closest relatives. Lots of people refuse to eat squid out of respect for squid intelligence. Lots of people don’t eat meat, period, for similar reasons. But so what? It is obvious that our emotions and categories change or at least intermix when we move up and down this hierarchy. We still need to make arbitrary decisions (humans have a right to life, monkeys don’t) based on some expedient.

      We’re allowed to eat meat because we’re people, and they’re not. That will probably change in the future with lab-grown meat.

      We’re allowed to abort fetuses, but not kill born children. That will probably change in the future, not because we’ll see fetuses/bodily rights in a new light, but because contraceptive success will reach 100% and this question will die out.

      In the meantime, though, it’s ludicrous to suggest that- in aggregate- the question has NOT been settled in pretty much every developed nation in the world. And where the controversy still rages on, it’s usually a religious debate.

    2. replicationspork

      The more salient point, here, is that you keep framing your arguments as if you are searching (or feel that we need to search for) some sort of ‘ultimate’, all-encompassing argument for/against abortion that settles that issue in a purely philosophical way. You seem to think that if even one of these arguments (personhood, autonomy, etc.) fail on the level you yourself define, that the whole thing fails, or at least that I’m not taking the issue seriously. You are also driving towards your preferred values (life as inviolable life, etc.) as if they were an objective good, when I and so many others find them arbitrary, and not preferable to some other values. There’s also not much evidence in your comments that you see any of this.

      I don’t see on what grounds you’re so keen to fault me for taking a philosophical approach, one that is a common serious subject of bioethics courses. I’ve taken on multiple specific arguments of yours at length, not claimed that if even one fails the whole thing fails. I haven’t proclaimed “life as inviolable,” but regularly made distinctions between different stages of life, and claimed weightier justifications are needed taking for killing at later stages.

      You and many others may find my values “arbitrary, and not preferable to some other values.” So what? That doesn’t demonstrate that your values are to be preferred. Many would take serious issue with your values. That’s the point of having a debate and it informs I’m responding to your post.

      In your actual post you were taking a controversial, philosophical, abstract argument from analogy approach to claim that bodily autonomy trumps consideration of the personhood of the fetus at every stage, (emphatically “for abortion”), which isn’t really how the problem is solved as a political expedient in most societies either. As previously discussed, many societies place restrictions on abortions after viability. Polls still show support for legal/justified abortion goes down as trimester goes up (a 2018 U.S. Gallup poll has it at 60% 1st trimester, 28% second trimester, 12% trimester: https://news.gallup.com/poll/235469/trimesters-key-abortion-views.aspx). Arguably my position falls closer in line with this than yours.

      You’ve defined “murder” as unjustified killing, which implies a killing may be justified or unjustified, which implies a value judgment that is in some sense objective, not a matter of mere taste or preference. Concerning this matter, the Thomson thought experiments, and the matters you bring up to claim that “the stakes aren’t high,” are your arguments for why you think abortion is justified until birth even granting that the fetus is a person. Your arguments and conclusions are controversial, debatable, not self-evident, and have to be defended on their own merits (just as mine do, if I’m arguing there are valid reasons not to consider a fetus a person before a certain point of development). If these arguments fail, then we’re back to the high stakes of killing people or taking lives without adequate justification (surely higher stakes than many matters we could name). That this is a philosophical consideration doesn’t show it should be rejected out of hand, or not debated, to see what might come out of it. For example, slavery being legal, accepted, or tolerated in most societies for centuries as a matter of political expedient doesn’t tell us whether “it is immoral and should not be legal to own another person” is a valid philosophical proposition, or–even if granting that slavery is acceptable in some circumstances–what moral trajectory societies should try to follow.

      I grasp what you’re saying. I just don’t find it particularly persuasive, given your portrayals of how the expedient already supposedly is or should be decided:

      The stakes aren’t high because no matter what argument you wish to present, stuff like ‘personhood’ is always an arbitrary, politically expedient definition, and we’ve long settled on one.

      They have decided (as a political expedient) that a person for all intents and purposes begins at birth

      Well, have you actually shown this to be the case? For example, in the U.S., the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, define a fetus as a legal victim in over 60 federal crimes of violence, and there are similar state laws. And if were truly case, why do so many societies restrict abortions after the point of viability? In Japan, abortion is de jure illegal; it’s a common practice because the law has many exceptions, but why is it de jure illegal in the first place?

      You yourself later, when arguing another point, claimed that “But we can also give personhood based purely on the fact that it’s alive and might become a person- and nations can and do define personhood in that way at times.”

      The stakes aren’t high because excepting religious doctrine, the state of pre-birth vs. post-birth has always been treated differently.

      “Differently.” So what? Abortion has not always been legal or socially accepted. Infanticide has not always been illegal or socially unacceptable. And even if abortion always was legal and socially accepted in some cases, earlier versus later stages of pregnancy are often treated differently even until today, with more restrictions for later stages.

      Further, many laws and social are shaped by religious doctrine, or religion-inspired traditions and philosophies with different values than your own. Why exclude them from consideration of what is the politically expedient definitions societies have supposedly settled on? After all, it’s not clear that the world’s developed societies are going to march inexorably unto some sort of secular, liberal enlightenment project. We very well see a resurgence of religious or traditional thinking.

      Life is life at every stage, and we can give personhood based on things like feelings or sentience. But we can also give personhood based purely on the fact that it’s alive and might become a person- and nations can and do define personhood in that way at times.

      But here we’re already drawing a distinction between a human life that “might become a person” (in the future, because it’s not a person yet) and a “person.” The distinction is obvious. So why define a “person” as a “human life that might become a person in the future”? A human life that might become a person may have more value to the parent or society than, say, a non-living thing or a “lower animal,” and yet not be a “person.”

      And if nations define “personhood in that way at times,” well, why do they do that? Is it based in religion, tradition, or intuition, apart from scientific discoveries? What is the concept of “ensoulment” based on? How about traditional/classical Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian teaching against abortion upon the idea that innocent human life is sacred? The Islamic belief that a fetus becomes a “living soul” at four months’ gestation? That some may define it one way doesn’t mean it’s right, and that others define it another way doesn’t mean the issue is completely intractable. And again, your post is arguing a controversial position that abortion is justified and should be legal past the point of viability and up until birth, even granting that the fetus is a person, which many people and societies don’t agree with and which even many pro-choice liberals aren’t confident about.

      So what I’m saying is, what–apart from an immaterial soul–could make a human zygote or fetus a “person” (as opposed to a human life or organic machinery that might become a person at some point in the future) before it develops the very physical capacity for processing information, awareness, feelings, pain, etc. the first place? One could say that they don’t know when a fetus becomes a person, or if a newborn is even a person (as it lacks self-awareness, or a concept of time), but that it’s not before that point.

      But ok, Thomson explicitly grants personhood for the sake of argument. But I’ve already provided objections to arguments pretty similar to the one you’ve presented. Let us say, for example, that you have a dangerous sword collection and decide to show off when a few friends come by. You know you’ve already hurt yourself and others when doing this before, but proceed anyway. This time, you slice open a friend’s kidney, who now needs your kidney as a donation. Is there a legal body in the world that would require you to make this donation in light of the fact that it is your own irresponsibility that’s responsible?

      Again, this type of analogy obscures major differences with pregnancy and abortion, so we get a sleight of hand effect similar to other Thomson analogies.

      The analogy presents a bizarre accident, NOT something that a) happens as often as pregnancy, which happens as often as it does because it’s an organic result of eons of evolution written into our DNA, or b) happens as often as abortion. If we lived in an alternate world where this specific scenario happened as often and predictably as pregnancy and abortion, and the person with the damaged kidney will die without the donation, and only the kidney of the person who did the accidental slicing will work as a donation, then we very well might find legal bodies saying that the donation must be done, or else the slicer would face criminal liability. But even without the kidney donation issue, in the real world the slicer would likely face criminal liability for the damage done to the body of his innocent friend, who’s the biggest victim in all of this. (If we grant personhood to the fetus, should Thomson analogies for abortion present the killed fetus as a victim, or the biggest victim?) Societies already do serve DUI manslaughter with gross negligence or DUI murder charges if you kill someone while driving drunk. That someone may drive drunk often and only crash into someone only part of the time doesn’t mean that they’re not culpable for risk-taking behavior. Arguably, that plays into why we find legal restrictions on abortions in many societies rather than letting it be completely elective after the point of viability until the point of birth.

      Also worth mentioning: Carrying a pregnancy to term rather than aborting a pregnancy does not result in a permanent loss of an organ. In societies where safe abortions are available in the first place, many of the health conditions that may result due to pregnancy can be treated without terminating the pregnancy. (There are cases where a fetus must be terminated to save the life of the mother, or a twin, but it’s more rare.) Fetal viability also undercuts some arguments for abortion up to the point of birth upon the principle of bodily autonomy, because in certain cases labor/delivery could be induced (and the autonomy issue resolved) without purposely killing the fetus, comparable to “unplugging” the Thomson violinist and finding that he lives, without purposely taking actions that are known to kill him.

      Well, if you are arguing that we need to keep these analogies stricter, consider yours- engaging in sex does not at all have a ‘certain’ outcome in terms of pregnancy.

      Yes, I meant “certain” behavior (i.e., sex) is what can or will product a pregnancy, not that sex certainly will result in pregnancy. However, reproduction is a natural/organic result of sex written into human DNA. A woman becoming pregnant with her own child as a result of willingly having sex with someone is not as unpredictable, random, or freakish as waking up attached to a stranger violinist, or even finding someone else’s baby in one’s womb, or any number of analogies that may predispose our intuitions in certain ways.

      Yes, it’s fair to point out that birth control can fail, so not all pregnancies are in that sense “expected,” even if it’s a natural result of sex, especially a lot of sex. In such cases, it’s arguably more ethical, as well in the best interests of the mother in most cases, to have an abortion done at an early state in the pregnancy rather than later (where the operation is more medically complicated, expensive, and the fetus more developed) wherever possible. (Hence I’m against conservatives placing the kind of restrictions that tend to unduly delay the stage/week before an abortion can be performed.)

      This is really strange to me- re-read what you wrote. Many people with Down Syndrome wish to be alive? Well, no shit, because they’ve BEEN BORN. Obviously, even a child sex slave wishes to be alive- your survival instinct still kicks in, no matter how miserable your situation is. The bizarre thing is that you are so readily transferring this desire to be alive from a fully birthed, sentient being with years of memories and relationships to a zygote, or a 24-week collection of dependent organs. Do you not see how wrong this is?

      That’s not my point, so I don’t have to re-read what I wrote, though admittedly I could have been clearer. I brought up Down syndrome as a contrasting example to the “fatal or major abnormalities that create tragic decisions more tantamount to euthanasia” that I mentioned as being one of the weightier reasons to terminate a fetus after 24 weeks. Based on testimonies, many later-term abortions are wanted pregnancies where the fetus, due to a major abnormality, is tragically going to die very soon anyway, or have a short nightmarish-torturous existence before dying that resuscitation attempts would only prolong. In such cases, it’s more plausibly merciful, or in the best interests of the fetus, to terminate the pregnancy rather than to prolong that suffering unto death. An adult in a similar situation very well might consciously make the same choice, i.e., they may want to die sooner rather than suffer immensely and then die if given the option. But as it’s not typically the case of persons with Down syndrome, I see it as a less weighty justification for termination after 24 weeks. In short, there are extreme, terminal situations where many people including the person suffering would consider a person “better off dead,” but it’s far less clear in the case of a person with Down syndrome. I wasn’t saying “well every adult has a conscious desire to live” and transferring it to a fetus, but contrasting an extreme situation where death very well may be preferable or merciful, to most human experience where it’s typically not considered so, including physical or mental handicaps.

      Or the fact that unwanted children- while ‘allowed’ to be born- will always be born to great disadvantages they do not consent to? [….] But you’re willing to make the post-birth environment for both mother and child a lot worse simply because you value the act of ‘bringing a pregnancy to term’ over the day of birth itself (which for some reason doesn’t play too prominently in your analysis) or the quality of the lived experience for those involved.

      No one consents to being conceived or born, or having the parents they do, and we all have disadvantages and hardships as part of existence. That’s nature, or Necessity. Yes, many may be said to be born with “great disadvantages” (such as being unwanted) that others don’t have, and many children make life more difficult for the mother or parents, but the question is does that justify killing that person? Saying that if a new person is to be brought into existence, it’s better that they enter better circumstances than worse ones (e.g. being wanted versus unwanted) where one can help it, is one thing. Saying that one a person already exists, it’s better that they die than go on living, is another.

      If a child has “great disadvantages,” how great do their disadvantages have to be relative to others before the child is therefore “better off dead”? Being “wanted” or “unwanted” is dynamic, not static; a parent may undergo a change of perspective, or a child may undergo a change in condition (as my mother who was unwanted by her biological mother, put up for adoption, and adopted by adoptive parents who very much wanted her), whereas dying is irreversible. In many cases, government support is available to poor women in countries where safe abortions are available. The situation of the mother and child may be disadvantaged and yet still better off than the great mass of families in, say, third-world countries with less food, medicine, shelter, and other resources we may take for granted. Does that make children in third-world countries more “better off dead,” less fitted for existence, compared to those in more developed countries?

      This is where sentience matters the most- it matters most when you are BORN.

      Well, there’s scientific reasons to believe that not even a newborn infant makes sentient choices or judgment calls even concerning a desire to go on living in the future. They lack a concept of self and of the future, and live in a sort of stream-of-present-moment without making conscious choices about the future. However, it would be immoral and cruel to kill a newborn on account of a deformity, economic hardship, or low quality of life, unless you’re prepared to accept that infanticide is justified and should be legal in such cases (as does Peter Singer, moral philosopher and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton). They do have a conscious perception of pain, emotions, awareness of surroundings, etc. and an instinctual drive to life, which a human fetus arguably also does at later stages of development. Sentience as conscious perception in this sense may matter more in various areas once someone is born, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter at all late in the womb. A fetus may suffer without their consent from the drinking, drug, or poor dietary habits of the mother and/or father, or other avoidable toxicological effects.

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