martes, 24 de febrero de 2009

"A defense of Abortion" A review of Judith Jarvis Thomsom

Why don´t we have a clear and strong answer about most of the moral issues that are considered important in our XXI century? Why after centuries of discussing about moral values, philosophy, and religion does it seem to us that the answers that we have been looking for are not even close? Without a doubt we could say with Wittgenstein “that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered the problems of life remain completely untouched” Wittgenstein (1991). So, if we won´t have an answer which satisfies everybody or which will not answer with certainty our questions, why should we have to think or even more, try to analyze the answer of someone else about a moral and controversial issue like abortion?

In the next few lines I will try to summarize, in the first place, J. Thomsom´s Essay; A defense of Abortion, her thesis, arguments, and some of her examples. I will then argue why Thomsom´s thesis seems to me deeper and stronger than the other three essays that we have read in class on abortion. Although I almost entirely agree with Thomsom´s argument, in my conclusion, I will try to argue that an opinion about abortion shouldn´t be just an ethical, religious, political or scientific discussion but a dialogue between different perspectives, too.

Thomsom´s essay begins with the conservative premise that the fetus is a full moral person with a right to live from conception. After that premise, that she doesn´t believe, Thomsom says that sometimes some pro-life groups accept that an abortion could be allowed only in extreme cases, such as, when a woman becomes pregnant after a sexual assault. In a sarcastic tone Thomsom says; “If they (the fetuses) didn´t come into existence because of rape; [do] they have more of a right to live?” Certainly, this is a weird contradiction. After this point Thomsom with lead with one point of view about abortion: the extreme view; “Abortion is impermissible even to save the mother´s life.” As an ironic commentary the author informs us that whether the mother and child should have an equal right to live, we should perhaps flip a coin to decide who can live or not, but certainly she does not agree with that. This is only a strategy to show us her point of view. Moreover, and continuing with the discussion about the “extreme view” the author takes the four principal arguments that support that point of view: (1) the fetus is an innocent person, (2) to kill an innocent person is murder and murder is impermissible, (3) killing an innocent person is more stringent than one´s duty to keep a person from dying, and (4) between a very innocent person (the fetus) and a person, we should allow the very innocent to live. After all these conservative arguments, which from an ethical view, seems to look strong and not easy to destroy, Thomsom will say that all of the arguments are false for three reasons: (1) if the mother has to die the “innocent person” can be considered as a murderer, (2) it is not a murder to take away another life for self defense, and finally (3) we should remember that the mother’s body is the one who houses the fetus and not the contrary. “The house belongs to her”: Thomsom says. Therefore, if there is something that all human beings have, prior to claiming anything, it is their body. About that last point – our body belongs to us – we should also see that that affirmation, whether is true or not, has ethical and moral consequences in other controversial topics. I’m referring to the euthanasia and suicide, but that´s not our discussion now, let´s continue with Thomsom´s arguments.

We just viewed briefly what Thomsom has to say about the “extreme view” of abortion, but when the mother´s life is not at risk, what does she say? The author gave us three imaginary examples to explain her next step, (1) the violinist plugged into your kidneys without you being asked about it, (2) The beautiful touching of Mr. Fonda´s cool and warm hand that somebody needs to stay alive, and (3) the two children with a chocolate box, the chocolate box belongs to one of the children. Those three examples are just trying to go to a single and main point. The fact that all human beings have a right to life does not guarantee having a right which allows you to continue using another person´s body. The author says more specifically; “The rights to life consist not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly.” In a first look, this phrase seems to be strong and with lack of compassion, but certainly Thomsom will argue that we are not called by law to be Good Samaritans which is true. Indeed, the case of Kitty Genovese is just an example of that.

The last argument of Thomsom’s that I want to bring up is her answer about whether or not abortion should be ethically allowed when a woman voluntarily indulges in intercourse, knowing the chances of getting pregnant. “Doesn´t her partial responsibility for its being there itself gives to the fetus a right to use of her body?” I first want to inform you, that that issue, when a woman and a man have sex irresponsibility without thinking about the consequences, makes me feel that in this case abortion shouldn´t be performed. Nevertheless, Thomsom has a simple but good answer to this moral standoff view. She argues that knowledge does not necessarily mean intention. Moreover, she defends that we don´t have any such “special responsibility” for a person unless we have assumed it or taken the role. “Nobody is compelled by law to be a Good Samaritan,” quotes Thomsom.

After this short summary of Thomsom´s essay A defense of abortion, let´s comment on some points which seem very important to me. First of all, why did I take Thomsom´s essay instead of the other three articles that I could have chosen? I didn´t choose Can late Abortion be ethically justified nor Budhist Approaches to Abortion because their standpoint - although they were good, especially the first one - approaches abortion from a perspective that is not easy to understand in Western culture. This Eastern perspective proclaims that the supremacy of the society is more important than the existence of the singular person being alone by himself. Because one of my main purposes for studying Philosophy it helps me approach society and that society in my case is Western, I focused my attention to the first two articles written by Marquis and Thomsom.

The reasons I didn´t choose Marquis´essay is because in my opinion Marquis Essay failed in three areas. (1) Marquis main thesis is that abortion is immoral because it takes the life of a being that will have a valuable future (like ours). On one hand we should reflect on the moral consequences of this idea not only in an abortion perspective but in other moral issues too. Before seeing those moral issues, let´s focus in one main point of Marquis idea: What is the meaning of “a valuable future”. In a briefly definition “a valuable future” means to me that a human being could or will have the possibilities to use his reason and his physical abilities in his adult life. Human beings in order to build their own life must take the minimum requirements to be able to exist by themselves. From Marquis Idea we could justify the death penalty, euthanasia, the murder of people on unconscious or with mental problems and so on. We could justify all those crimes because all of those persons that I mentioned before have something in common, they don´t have, or let´s say in another words, the society has decided that they don´t have a valuable future like us. Whether we are coherent with Marquis´ point of view, those morals consequences are true. On the other hand if we take the argument of the “value future” to an extreme point of view (2) a sperm and an ovum, also could have a value future like us. Therefore from that analysis we could conclude that the use of contraceptives in a sexual relation will be also inacceptable for morality. This is because we will be killing two cells which together could have “a value future” like us. Marquis is not taking into account the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and others more. (3) Finally, another weak point of Marquis ´idea is what Thomsom argued in her essay: “The rights to life consist not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly”. Marquis doesn´t evaluate either this point or the idea that the mother and the fetus don’t have the same rights because the body belongs to the mother.

Thomsom´s essay seems to me very strong, logical and difficult to contradict. Indeed, after reading her essay I have to admit that my thoughts and opinions on abortion have changed radically. Nevertheless, we should remember that humankind is not just a logical, scientific or structurally argumentative animal. Let´s remember that we are also called by nature to have compassion and to be Good Samaritans as well. It is true that we don´t have to be more person, more human or more Samaritan by law, but if not, then there wouldn’t be too much difference between the animal kingdom and humankind because they (animals) do not have any rules which tell them that they have to be noble by law. That is my only criticism to Thomsom´s argument, abortion is not only about “justice to live” but compassion to give life.

A moral answer about abortion won´t be simple, easy and radical as some groups pro-life and pro-choice think. A response on the abortion issue should be a dynamic and enrich dialogue between different classes of our society. With the same force with which we have been listening to the science in recent centuries, we should also listen to what religion, philosophy and politic sciences together have to say about our moral controversies. That, in fact, is the answer to the questions in the beginning of my essay. We don´t have to be tired trying to figure out the answers for our Moral Controversies because humankind is still alive when we talk and dialogue from different perspectives. We are more humans, more persons and less animals when we have the ability to think and talk at the same time without hurting others.

In conclusion, I think that, the bad news here is that we don´t have yet the specific answer on abortion as a moral topic of our society. However, the good news is that we are closer to the answer because the discussion is kept flowing and we are more capable to dialogue more on abortion and other controversial issues than past time periods.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tratactus Logico – Philosophicus, - Dover Publications (1998)

Timothy Shanahan, Robin Wang, Reason and Insight: Western and Eastern Perspectives on the Pursuit of Moral Wisdom (2nd edition) 1996

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