The International Writers Magazine: Comment: Life and Death
Life is it anyway?
Ethics of No-Compromise Pro-Life Position
is murder. I have heard this statement many times followed by
some variation of the phrase "unless it is a case of rape,
incest, or it if threatens the life of the mother." I have
trouble with this claim.
If one calls it
murder and murder is always wrong, how could it be justified in any
circumstance? Obviously, this must be why there are many who hold no
compromise positions on the issue of Abortion. Even when the mothers
life is in danger, these people would claim that the right thing to
do would be to let the baby be born. I also have trouble with this claim,
even more so than the first.
Naturally, there are many who would disagree with the position that
Abortion isnt always murder. Utilitarian philosophers, Jeremy
Bentham and John Stuart Mill among them, would not be in this group.
Each instance would be examined individually apart from the others.
Is the mother capable of rearing a healthy child? If this is not the
case, the child could grow up to be an unproductive member of society.
This certainly wouldnt be a good thing, according to Bentham and
Mill. After all, the big question Utilitarians must ask themselves when
solving problems is this: Whats the greatest good for the greatest
number? Society certainly doesnt need another unproductive or
undisciplined person walking the streets. Is the mother financially
stable enough to well-maintain the childs health? Is she physically
capable of having a healthy baby? If not, how high are the chances of
birth defects or brain damage? Society certainly doesnt need more
mentally or physically disabled children. No matter how horrifyingly
elitist this may seem, these were the questions that would be asked.
The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant would likely refute with his famous
"an ends to a means" statement. Could you will abortion to
be a universal law under any circumstance? And Im quite sure that,
using the laws of duty based ethics, the duty to defend the life of
the unborn would be something that could be well defended by those with
no compromise positions on Abortion. But, as we can see with Kants
opinions on lying, his reasoning is thoroughly capable of being entirely
unreasonable. To illustrate, I call to light Professor Newsoms
(a Philosophy instructor) example of the axe murderer at the front door.
If one is harboring someone inside, and the axe murderer asks where
they are, naturally one would say, "I havent seen them."
Of course, if you were to follow Kants laws, you could not lie
under any circumstance. And, in this case, your insistence on telling
the truth would likely cost both you and the one you harbor your lives.
A much more reasonable manner of examining the situation would be the
Utilitarian approach. Of course, you wouldnt have time to apply
Benthams Moral Calculus but you could certainly reason enough
to come to the conclusion that telling the truth in this situation could
potentially cause some very bad things to happen. This very error, that
is the error of conflicting duties, is exactly why Kant is unreliable
on an issue such as Abortion. While the Utilitarian approach can appear
elitist at times, it is quite useful and even ethical in many situations.
The issue of conflicting duties is tied to Abortion because, in the
case of when the mothers life is at stake, no-compromise positions
on Abortion would argue that the right thing to do would be to let the
mother die. After all, as noted before, Abortion is always murder in
their eyes. But, consider this; would not letting the mother die also
be immoral? To further this demonstration, murder must first be defined.
After some thought, I have arrived at this: The removal or allowance
of an innocent life to be taken when the subject is unwilling. To clarify,
this life would be guilty of no capital crimes or anything related.
And, in this case, I am speaking strictly of human life. Let us say
that, if the fetus is not aborted, the mother will most assuredly die.
Let us also say that there is a law that has illegalized abortion, treating
it as murder. And, finally, let us say that the mother does not will
to die (of course). Using my definition of murder, to allow the fetus
to be aborted would be murder. The fetus has done nothing wrong, and
yet it dies. The fetus does not will to die, and yet it dies. The doctor
knowingly lets the fetus be destroyed, as does the mother. So, can we
not equate this to pre-meditated murder? No-Compromise Conservatives
may believe so, however, another scenario looms. Also using my definition,
to allow the mother to die would be immoral. Because of the doctor's
actions, the mother will die. The mother has done nothing wrong, and
yet she dies. The mother does not will to die, and yet she dies. The
doctor knowingly lets the mother die. He would be, in a sense, violating
his own code of medical ethics in refusing help to a woman who needs
it. And, often times in criminal cases, accomplices to murder are treated
as murderers themselves. Is the doctor not knowingly aiding the end
of a life by refusing help to this woman?
A No-Compromise Conservative may then counter with the fact that we
do not always know for sure whether or not the woman will die. Arguably,
every pregnancy threatens the womans life. This claim seems reasonable.
To most effectively prove it wrong, I must employ the use of another
scenario. Consider this: A woman is tied to a railroad. The train racing
towards her may be able to stop in time, but probably not. So, because
we are not 100% certain that the train will hit her, should we simply
leave her there and find out? Certainly not. This may be a bit of a
stretch to some but the core idea is this: When we can be reasonably
sure that a mothers life is at risk, an abortion is justified.
Could you really scream "murderer!" at a woman who had an
abortion to protect her own life? It seems to me that this equates to
basic self defense.
I've struggled for some time with the difficult task of justifying a
woman's right to choose. Its admittedly a very hard thing to justify.
On one hand, whether a fetus becomes uniquely human at conception or
not, this fetus is growing inside of someone. Would you not have dominion
over something growing inside of you? Should you not have authority
over something that makes its home within your body? On the other hand,
this fetus is a life that would become a human infant. In ending this
life, you certainly raise very difficult moral questions. But, at any
rate, the No-Compromise position that Abortion is always murder can
and has been proven unreasonable. Examining the situation and the consequences
of that situation, as with many things, seems to be the most reasonable
option in this case. You cannot defend the right of the unborn by simultaneously
forcing a mother to forfeit her life and somehow call that ethical.
A demand such as that is not only unethical but it can be likened to
murder in itself.
© Josh Lineberry Jan 18th 2005
Josh is studying philosophy.
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