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My ethics class has an argument re: Abortion that I've never heard before


Larry

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OK, so my Intro to Ethics class is spending two weeks on abortion, now.

Now, I figured that there hadn't been any new arguments on this issue in the last 20 years. But one of our required readings (Judith Thompson: A Defense of Abortion) had an analogy I'd never seen argued before.

(I'm going to try to paraphrase, both to make things shorter and to avoid possible copyright problems.)

You awake one morning, and discover that your back has been surgically attached to the back of someone else. A nearby nurse explains:

The person you're attached to is a world famous violinist. And he has a medical condition which has caused the complete failure of his kidneys. The Association of Music Fans scoured the world, and you are the only person who is a genetic match.

If the violinist is disconnected from you, then he will die. (Unless the two of you remain joined, back to back, for nine months, at which time the disease will have passed, and his kidneys will once again sustain him.)

Do you have the right to demand that he die, so that you can have your body back?

----------

Yeah, it's a really hokey, contrived, analogy. (And yes, I know that dialysis machines exist. But let's pretend that there's some reason why that won't work.)

(And I'll admit that I've only read the first page of the essay, so far.)

But the author's point is: Even if we create a situation in which it is impossible to argue that the "other life" is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a fully functional human, endowed with every Constitutional protection . . .

Do you have the right to chose not to have your body function as somebody else's life support system? Even if that other person will die without your support?

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Thats pretty much the entire approach that I take towards abortion. (and all liberty for that matter).

You are groovy until you cause another harm or take away their liberty.

In the case you mention, I would say yes, you have the right to let him die so you can have your body back.

I'd feel the same in the case where an unborn baby is endangering the mother's life too.

---------- Post added February-27th-2011 at 01:08 PM ----------

That seems like a rather poor analogy on the basis that it doesn't account for the difference in sentience.

It shouldnt matter

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That is a silly analogy. Most people get abortions not because they have a child inside them for 9 months and want their bodies back but because of what happens after they are born. It is the whole notion of I cannot take care of a baby, I don't have money, I cannot change jobs, etc.

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That is a silly analogy. Most people get abortions not because they have a child inside them for 9 months and want their bodies back but because of what happens after they are born. It is the whole notion of I cannot take care of a baby, I don't have money, I cannot change jobs, etc.

Thus the reason many are against abortion. None off what you outlined as reasons are justification to end another's life.

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That seems like a rather poor analogy on the basis that it doesn't account for the difference in sentience.

Well, if your point is that the violinist is sentient, whereas the fetus is, at best, debatable, then you're right.

But I suspect the author's point is to say that the whole argument about whether a fertilized egg is a person doesn't end the debate, even if it's proven. She's attempting to argue that even if we assume that you are supporting what is clearly a person, by any definition you want to make, then that still doesn't grant society the power to demand that you donate your body to serve as another person's life support system.

---------- Post added February-27th-2011 at 01:17 PM ----------

In the case you mention, I would say yes, you have the right to let him die so you can have your body back.

I'd feel the same in the case where an unborn baby is endangering the mother's life too.

The violinist is not threatening the life of the "mother" in any way.

---------- Post added February-27th-2011 at 01:19 PM ----------

That is a silly analogy. Most people get abortions not because they have a child inside them for 9 months and want their bodies back but because of what happens after they are born. It is the whole notion of I cannot take care of a baby, I don't have money, I cannot change jobs, etc.

So your point is that it's not about being a life support system for nine months, it's about being a life support system for 20 years?

Well, if you think it would be a better analogy for the violinist to be attached to you for 20 years, feel free to respond to that one. :)

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Well, if your point is that the violinist is sentient, whereas the fetus is, at best, debatable, then you're right.

But I suspect the author's point is to say that the whole argument about whether a fertilized egg is a person doesn't end the debate, even if it's proven. She's attempting to argue that even if we assume that you are supporting what is clearly a person, by any definition you want to make, then that still doesn't grant society the power to demand that you donate your body to serve as another person's life support system.

---------- Post added February-27th-2011 at 01:17 PM ----------

The violinist is not threatening the life of the "mother" in any way.

I must have misunderstood. I thought it was endangering.

One key difference that I think hasnt been mentioned is that this violinist was just suddenly attached to the mom without any apparent act that the mom did to cause the situation.

In abortion, the Mother is almost always responsible for the act of getting preggers to some degree. (except in the one half of one percent for rape/incest cases)

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Well the analogy in the OP is an apt analogy as far as rape is concerned: something you had no control over happens and suddenly you're faced with the choice of whether another living thing that's dependent on you for life support is separated from that support. You didn't ask for this violinist to be hooked up to you, and until the moment it happens you'd made no plans to have a violinist hooked up to you. It kinda falls apart if there were a logical sequence of event that you had control over that lead to you having another lifeforce dependent on you (like say, unprotected sex leading to a pregnancy). This scenario works because it's shocking and unexpected.

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I don't have a problem with it except:

I also entered a raffle that there was a great percentage of having a great time and a small percentage of having the attachment. (my first choice)

there are apparently 30 million violinists and after the 9 months the Violinist care is horrible with a good percentage going to jail and spending the rest of their career is poor.

If we could fix the violinist foster care we could ask more from our raffle entrants.

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The way the situation is described, I don't think in principal it's any different from a bone marrow transplant. If I don't allow a transplant of my bone marrow the violist dies, can I be forced to do it? Pretty easy to answer no to that situation, you can't force someone to donate.

(btw why is it a violinst, does it change the ethics at all if it's a redneck in a trailer park?)

So is this a reasonable analogy for abortion? I don't want it to be, because it reduces a complex and emotional problem to a simple resolution. Does the mother's role in creating the fetus make a difference? If so, what if the bone marrow transplant was for her baby, minutes after birth, could we force her to undergo the transplant if she was unwilling?

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One key difference that I think hasnt been mentioned is that this violinist was just suddenly attached to the mom without any apparent act that the mom did to cause the situation.

In abortion, the Mother is almost always responsible for the act of getting preggers to some degree. (except in the one half of one percent for rape/incest cases)

I've been reading some more of the essay. Paraphrasing again.

1) But if the fetus is a person, and all persons have a right to life, then rape or incest are irrelevant. Surely you cannot argue that all persons have a right to life, except people who were conceived by rape or incest.

2) Further, even if we assert that the fetus is a person, the mother is a person, too. Their rights would be equal. Until we get to the fact that the mother and fetus are not exactly in the position of two people who are both in the same apartment, because it was inadvertently rented to both of them. The Mother owns the house. Surely her rights of ownership must serve as a tie breaker to resolve the issue of equal rights.

3) Exactly how much of a consent did the mother give?

It's not as though there are babies floating around in the air, and Mom looked at one and said "I invite you in".

In at least many cases, it's more as though there are people spores drifting around in the atmosphere, and these spores have the ability to become lodged in carpets or upholstery, take root, and grow into humans. If a woman has her house fitted with special air filtration devices, and she has spore-proof screens on her windows, and she opens her window for some fresh air, and a spore gets in via a defect in her spore-proof window screen, then is she morally obligated to permit that person to live in her home for the rest of it's life, because well, she opened the window, knowing that there was a chance that her spore-proof screen might fail?

---------- Post added February-27th-2011 at 01:54 PM ----------

How do you remove this violinist who is attached to your back? Scissors to the base of his skull, vacuumed to pieces until he is all gone?

Your argument is that whether it's moral for me to chose not to function as someone else's life support system, depends on how icky the procedure is?

---------- Post added February-27th-2011 at 01:57 PM ----------

Well the analogy in the OP is an apt analogy as far as rape is concerned: something you had no control over happens and suddenly you're faced with the choice of whether another living thing that's dependent on you for life support is separated from that support. You didn't ask for this violinist to be hooked up to you, and until the moment it happens you'd made no plans to have a violinist hooked up to you. It kinda falls apart if there were a logical sequence of event that you had control over that lead to you having another lifeforce dependent on you (like say, unprotected sex leading to a pregnancy). This scenario works because it's shocking and unexpected.

(Not an argument from the essay. At least, not one I've read yet. I'm not finished.)

You went to one of his concerts. You weren't volunteering to be his life support system when you went to the concert. All you wanted was a pleasant evening.

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I must have misunderstood. I thought it was endangering.

One key difference that I think hasnt been mentioned is that this violinist was just suddenly attached to the mom without any apparent act that the mom did to cause the situation.

In abortion, the Mother is almost always responsible for the act of getting preggers to some degree. (except in the one half of one percent for rape/incest cases)

It feels like that should make a difference. But if so, does the mother's obligation end at birth, or can she be forced to undergo subsequent medical procedures to keep the baby alive? Or toddler? Or teenager?
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(btw why is it a violinst, does it change the ethics at all if it's a redneck in a trailer park?)

Been wondering that, myself. If the author had a reason for making it a famous violinist, I haven't got to that part yet.

Edit:

BTW, I assume that the reason the author created the scenario in the form of "you wake up and it's happened" is . . .

1) That's the way most pregnancies happen. The mother finds out about it after the fact.

2) To avoid the issue of "Well, it's one thing to force the mother to donate bone marrow, because that requires a surgeon to violate her skin integrity. But the fetus is already inside." To avoid the point that there's a difference between forcing someone to undergo a surgical procedure, and a pregnancy that has already happened.

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wouldnt it be the same for any child? I mean, whats the moms obligation to an infant now?
a parents obligation to their child is enormous. And they almost always 'deliver'.

Certainly both parents bear obligations towards the child. But could you strap them down and force a medical procedure against their will in order to save a child's life? Does the obligation extend to a legally enforceable control over the parents bodies after the child is born?

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Certainly both parents bear obligations towards the child. But could you strap them down and force a medical procedure against their will in order to save a child's life? Does the obligation extend to a legally enforceable control over the parents bodies after the child is born?

Why would a parent need to get a medical procedure after the child is born?

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The question is: Does a child (or any person's) "right to life", include the right to demand that someone else donate their body to being his life support system? Even when it's a case where that other person must function as a life support system, or the second person will die?

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The question is: Does a child (or any person's) "right to life", include the right to demand that someone else donate their body to being his life support system? Even when it's a case where that other person must function as a life support system, or the second person will die?

Well not according to the bone marrow and organ donor thread :)

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Would a transplant also potentially endanger the donor (either during the procedure or after)?

Trying real hard not to answer the question, aren't you?

All procedures have risks. So do all pregnancies.

But just to make the question easier, feel free to assume that the answer is no. Does that help?

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Would a transplant also potentially endanger the donor (either during the procedure or after)?
There are risks to any procedure. But assuming good medical care I would consider the risk to a mother during either an abortion, a childbirth, or a bone marrow transplant to be fairly minimal.
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