POS 252: Abortion Philosophy


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Provides an overview of philosophical issues related to abortion

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POS 252: Abortion Philosophy

  1. 1. Abortion – Philosophical Issues
  2. 2. What kinds of things have rights? <ul><li>Living Things </li></ul><ul><li>Moral Persons </li></ul>
  3. 3. Living things <ul><li>Plants & animals </li></ul><ul><li>“ The animal rights position is that at least some animals (such as most of the mammals and birds that eat, or use in experiments or for clothing or for entertainment purposes) possess sentience, or the ability to feel pain and experience pleasure, and that these animals also possess beliefs, desires, memory, perception, intention, self-consciousness, and a sense of the future. The attribution of these mental states also suggests that it is perfectly sensible to regard certain nonhumans as psychophysical individuals who fare well or ill during the course of their life. To put the matter in a nutshell: many animals possess the very same attributes and characteristics that lead us to the conclusion that humans possess inherent value, and that certain interests ought to be protected by a claim of right.” [http://www.animal-law.org/commentaries/ap18.htm] </li></ul>
  4. 4. “ Moral persons” <ul><li>[following text from http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/p/personho.htm] </li></ul><ul><li>The problem of moral personhood focuses on determining which beings are members of what we might call the moral community. </li></ul>
  5. 5. The moral community consists of all those beings who have moral duties, rights, or, in general, deserve moral consideration. <ul><li>Medieval theologians speculated about whether angels were members of the moral community and thereby had the same moral duties as humans. </li></ul><ul><li>Science fiction fans speculate about whether aliens from other worlds would have fundamental rights. </li></ul><ul><li>Animal rights advocates contend that at least some animals have the same moral status as humans. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Medical ethicists struggle to determine whether permanently comatose humans have any rights. <ul><li>The issue in all of these cases involves what it takes to be a morally significant person. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The term &quot;person&quot; in this sense is not necessarily restricted to human beings. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A morally significant person is any being who is a member of the moral community. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Several criteria of moral personhood have been suggested. <ul><li>Members of the Jain religion from India believe that all living animals -- even insects -- qualify as persons and thus have a right to life. Jains frequently wear cloths over their mouths to avoid accidentally inhaling bugs, and they sweep paths before themselves to keep from stepping on insects. </li></ul>
  8. 8. A less extreme criterion of personhood is that of consciousness. <ul><li>A conscious being is one which has sensory experiences and is aware of those experiences. </li></ul><ul><li>The notion of sentience -- the ability to experience pleasure and pain -- is often associated with consciousness. </li></ul><ul><li>If consciousness or sentience were the criteria of personhood, then insects would most likely not qualify as persons. </li></ul><ul><li>But even the criterion of consciousness is too inclusive since lower animals such as lizards and chickens are conscious and would thus qualify as morally significant persons. </li></ul>
  9. 9. A more narrow criterion of personhood which is widely adopted by contemporary ethicists is the notion of self- awareness, or the ability to conceive of oneself as existing in time. <ul><li>A self-aware being understands that it has a past history, and that the events of its history are relevant to who it is now. </li></ul><ul><li>It is unlikely that lizards and chickens are self-aware, and thus would not be members of the moral community. </li></ul><ul><li>However, higher mammals such as dogs and chimpanzees are self-aware so, according to this criterion, they would be entitled to the same moral standing as humans. </li></ul><ul><li>Although self-awareness is a less inclusive criterion than that of consciousness, many people still believe that granting rights to dogs and chimpanzees is going too far. Thus, even the criterion of self-awareness is not strict enough. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Perhaps the most restrictive criterion of personhood which has been suggested is rationality, particularly the kind of rationality that on this planet is exhibited only by humans. <ul><li>Features of rationality commonly include the ability to develop a complex language, </li></ul><ul><li>to make complex tools, and </li></ul><ul><li>to understand the world around us. </li></ul><ul><li>Critics have attacked this definition, though, since it gives an arbitrary preference for human rationality. </li></ul><ul><li>Studies of chimpanzees and dolphins show that many higher animals do indeed communicate in complicated ways, can make tools for manipulating the environment, and have an understanding of the world. </li></ul><ul><li>These abilities are not exactly like human abilities, but are nevertheless complex enough to be called &quot;rational.&quot; </li></ul>
  11. 11. The precise criterion of personhood is an ongoing dispute. But regardless of which criterion is adopted, if a being qualifies as a person, then it has a direct moral standing. <ul><li>That is, that being is a rights-holder, and others have a direct duty toward that person. </li></ul><ul><li>Beings which do not qualify as persons might be entitled to an indirect moral standing, that is, a moral consideration derived only from the interests of genuine persons. </li></ul><ul><li>For example, even if a chicken does not qualify as a person, we might have an indirect duty to not torture that chicken because doing so may greatly offend persons. </li></ul><ul><li>Similarly, although dead human beings are no longer morally significant persons, we have an indirect duty to treat the corpses of the dead with respect. If we treated the corpses disrespectfully, such as throwing the bodies out with the morning garbage, this would cause psychological harm to the living relatives. </li></ul><ul><li>It is important to note that the issue of personhood is central not only to the moral status of animals, but also for the moral status human fetuses, infants, the mentally retarded, and the comatose. </li></ul>
  12. 12. What kinds of rights do things have? [http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/r/rights.htm] <ul><li>Rights [http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/r/rights.htm] </li></ul>
  13. 13. A right is a special advantage that someone gains because of his or her particular status. <ul><li>The &quot;special advantage&quot; might include gaining a liberty, a power, an entitlement, or an immunity. </li></ul><ul><li>The &quot;particular status&quot; might include one's status as a human being, a woman, a minority, an animal, a child, or a citizen of some country. </li></ul>
  14. 14. This general notion of &quot;right&quot; applies in both legal and moral contexts. <ul><li>For example, in the legal context, if I have the status of being a citizen of the United States, then I am entitled to the legal rights of any citizen under U.S. law. </li></ul><ul><li>In the moral context, if I simply have the status of being human, then I am entitled to human rights that apply to all humans. Also in the moral context, if I am an animal, then I am entitled to any animal rights that may apply to animals of my kind. </li></ul><ul><li>[http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/r/rights.htm] </li></ul>
  15. 15. Lockean concept of rights <ul><li>“ Locke argues that God created people free and equal in the state of nature and that, in this condition, no one is naturally sovereign over anyone else. In view of this natural equality, Locke maintains that it is a law of nature that no one should harm another person's life, health, liberty or possessions” </li></ul><ul><li>Locke emphasizes that the state of nature is not necessarily a state of war. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A state of war </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>declared only when someone violates our rights. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>In that case, the offender deserves to be punished, and even killed. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We remedy conflicts in the state of nature </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>by making contracts with each other to create a civil society. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>This government is authorized to judge us and to defend our natural rights. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>However, these governments may be dissolved if they violate laws and threaten the life, liberty and property of the individual . </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Locke devotes particular attention to our right to possessions. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>We acquire property by mixing our labor with something that is held in common . </li></ul></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Fundamental, basic rights <ul><li>Physical security, to be not arbitrarily killed </li></ul>
  17. 17. What rights does a person have? <ul><li>All fundamental rights </li></ul><ul><li>Rights that have been guaranteed by the Constitution </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Protection of due process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Expression & belief </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Right to bodily integrity, has been recognized by the Supreme Court as protected by the Constitution since at least 1890 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clearly, a right to life </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. What rights does a potential person have? <ul><li>Have no direct rights </li></ul><ul><li>But the State (the government) may have interests in protecting potential life </li></ul><ul><li>A potential person may have some claims (on the state, on us), once it is able to live independently (physically, not socially), and not obligate any other single (specific) individual to sacrifice her liberty to enable it to survive </li></ul><ul><li>A potential person has claims on the individuals whose actions caused it to come into existence </li></ul>
  19. 19. What is the definition of a person? How do you determine the humanity of a being? <ul><li>That is, at what point does a potential person become a person? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Usually, we use the notion of consciousness to differentiate potential from actual persons </li></ul></ul><ul><li>One solution to this problem is presented by John Noonan </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The key event is when there is a dramatic change in biological probabilities – establishing an objective discontinuity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Odds of any given sperm becoming a human life – 1 in 200 million </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Odds of any given fetus becoming a human life – 4 in 5 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Therefore, a fetus is, in terms of probability, much more likely to become a human being than a sperm. Thus, a fetus ought to be treated as a person. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. How are rights balanced among competing claims? Thomson – rights of mother override any rights of fetus <ul><li>Fetal life may be a threat to mother’s life </li></ul><ul><li>Fetal life may have been uninvited (or invited inadvertently) </li></ul><ul><li>What the right to life does not include </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The right to someone else’s liberty (or property, or life) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The right to not be killed – unjustly! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>This is the most important point to get from Thompson -- that of balancing of rights , and how to do it </li></ul>
  21. 21. Marquis principles <ul><li>Main point: “the overwhelming majority of deliberate abortions are seriously immoral” because they violate the rights of the fetus because killing is wrong. </li></ul><ul><li>Killing is wrong because of the negative effect it has on the victim, namely because it deprives a being of a valuable future. </li></ul><ul><li>Killing a fetus is wrong not because it is a potential person but because it has a future. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Mother may have responsibilities to the fetus, as a result of voluntarily engaging in sexual intercourse, where one of the potential outcomes was pregnancy <ul><li>Some argue that, in a world in which men and women are not equals, there cannot be consensual (and equal, and thus voluntary) sex; it is all coerced because the power relationships (McKinnon) </li></ul><ul><li>“Unborn persons whose existence is due to rape have no right to the use of their mother’s bodies, and thus that aborting them is not depriving them of anything they have a right to and hence is not unjust killing” </li></ul>