Thursday, April 01, 2010

The SLED argument against abortion

This  is an attempt to argue that humans have the right to life from conception. I would call it the No Morally Relevant Difference argument. The idea is that once conception occurs, fetuses and born infants differ in four ways: born infants are larger in size, they are at a higher level of development, they have moved from the environment of the womb to the environment outside the womb, and they move from a greater degree of dependency to a lesser degree of dependency. However, all of these differences are a matter of degree, and none of them provides a basis for treating the fetus as lacking a right to life while affirming the born infant's right to life. Therefore, unless we want to draw the line on the basis of convenience, we have to draw the line at conception.

I don't know if this works or not. One commentator noted that at the beginning there is no brain activity and therefore, presumably, no sentience, and that should make a difference as to whether a fetus has the right to life.We should also be hearing music from that famous violinist right about now.

It is remarkable, in spite of the demographic tendency of pro-lifers to come primarily from conservative religions, and pro-choicers to come from religious liberals or secularists, the secular character of the central arguments in the abortion controversy.

15 comments:

bossmanham said...

One commentator noted that at the beginning there is no brain activity and therefore, presumably, no sentience, and that should make a difference as to whether a fetus has the right to life

Though there are cases of people who show no brain activity who are revived eventually and give testimonies of having experiences even though they have no brain activity. I think if we are dualists, this is not enough evidence to say someone is not sentient.

Anonymous said...

What famous violinist? I don't recognize the reference.

Victor Reppert said...

The famous violinist is from Judith Jarvis Thomson's A Defense of abortion. The example actually has its own wikipedia entry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violinist_%28thought_experiment%29

Victor Reppert said...

Some forms of dualism, such as Hasker's Emergent Dualism, maintain that the soul is generated by the physical body. Even if dualism is true, amongst adults, our mental lives are correlated with the activity of our brains. "Brain death" is supposed to be sufficient to supposed that the person is no longer alive, even though there is life in other parts of the body.

Steve said...

Of course the argument could also go the other way ... there is no morally relevant difference between Abortion and Infanticide, therefore Infanticide is morally fine.

Needless to say, I don't endorse this argument (makes me think of a famous/imfamous paper by Michael Tooley) ...

Steve Lovell

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Don't forget that Aquinas believed that God created the individual's soul AFTER the fetus was fully formed and ready to be born (i.e., "human life" did not begin, in his view, at conception, but very near to the end of pregnancy.) This idea was dramatically presented in Dante's Purgatorio, Canto XXV, as Statius' discourse the birth of the human soul (lines 52-78).

SteveK said...

The violinist thought experiment says you aren't morally obligated to save the violinist's life. It seems crystal clear to me that you ARE obligated once you are put into a situation where a decision must be made - even though you were forced into that position.

We're often forced into a position where we must make moral choices - we come upon a car crash and we are forced to make a moral decision - help the injured or keep on driving to make our dentist appointment.

Forcing you to take care of the violinist for 9 months is analogous to being raped and forced to carry the baby to term. Those who forced you into the situation were morally wrong by doing so, however I have no problem concluding that you are now obligated to care for the other innocent life, or find someone else who can.

bossmanham said...

Some forms of dualism, such as Hasker's Emergent Dualism, maintain that the soul is generated by the physical body.

If that's true, then what makes the embryo any less sufficient of a body to generate the soul than a fully developed one? One is just bigger than the other, which would invoke the 'S' part of the argument.

Don't forget that Aquinas believed that God created the individual's soul AFTER the fetus was fully formed and ready to be born (i.e., "human life" did not begin, in his view, at conception, but very near to the end of pregnancy.) This idea was dramatically presented in Dante's Purgatorio, Canto XXV, as Statius' discourse the birth of the human soul (lines 52-78).

Bob, I wonder if that's due to Aquinas' view of original sin?

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Bossmanham, I'm probably just being dense (not an unusual thing) but I may be missing something. do you mean that Aquinas couldn't see a human soul in anything incapable of participating in the fall?

William Belle said...

I am pro-choice AND pro-life. I am anti-abortion, but...
My opinion

William Belle said...

A final word...
If you make fire trucks illegal, all fires will stop.
Ha! No? Why not? Seems to work for others.
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/09/abortion-my-final-word-on-unwanted.html

Unknown said...

"One commentator noted that at the beginning there is no brain activity and therefore, presumably, no sentience, and that should make a difference as to whether a fetus has the right to life.We should also be hearing music from that famous violinist right about now."

a) A well-written case for the inadequacies of the famous violinist argument can be found here: http://www.rebeccakiessling.com/PhilosophicalAbortionEssay.html (Actually, the whole essay is fascinating, if somewhat long-winded.)

b) The "brain activity" argument is also flawed. I find it worth noting that there are measurable fetal brain waves at approximately six weeks post-conception, yet abortion is still legal far after this point.

Also, when you say "there is no brain activity" I feel it worth clarifying that "there is TEMPORARILY no brain activity." (I distinguish it as "temporary" because in all cases, baring developmental problems and natural terminations, the child will develop brain activity in a matter of weeks.)

Did you know that concussions are a type of head injury wherein a temporary loss of brain function occurs? In fact, many kinds of head trauma result in temporary loss of brain function. Those who suffer from epilepsy also fit within this category. So by your (or the commentor's) reasoning, we should be able to kill concussion and epilepsy victims as long as we do so while the concussion/epileptic episode is still occurring. Stroke victims incur brain damage and thus are classified as having "brains which are no longer fully developed." Many mentally ill/impaired people are also classified as having brains which are "not developed." So by this line of reasoning, we should be able to kill stroke victims at any time following their stroke, as well as mentally ill individuals.

By law, even a person who has had an accident/illness which causes permanent brain damage and who is on life support cannot have that life support terminated unless certain conditions are met. For instance, the law in New York states "if two physicians decide the patient is in a ‘hopelessly vegetative state,’ and no natural or unnatural means are likely to return the patient to a cognitive state, and the patient’s representative agrees, THEN (emphasis mine) the medical center may terminate life support." If these conditions are not met, termination of life support is NOT allowed. All states have some variant of this law.

A child within the womb meets the criteria for being a person "on life support." However, a child within the womb does NOT meet the criteria for being a person to whom life support can be terminated, as there IS a natural means to return them to a cognitive state (namely: time). So tell me, why is there a double standard? If even brain-dead individuals have a right, under law, to not be taken off life support if there is hope for recovery, then SO TOO should that law include children who have temporary lack of brain activity. They are both classified as Homo sapiens, they are both classified as being alive, they are both classified as having (temporary) lack of brain activity, they are both classified as needing life support.

aseto1984 said...

In the book of Jeremiah GOD says: I knew you before I formed thee in the belly. Why do people think its OK to destroy the works of GOD? Probably because HE let's them get away with it. But the time is coming soon when GOD will stand up and judge I just hope you have your heart right when that time comes.

Dan said...

I'm very surprised at your response to the SLED argument. Rather, your non-response. "I don't know whether this works or not." I appreciate your honesty, but it sounds like you don't want to bother with it more than anything.

Your contribution of a different observation entirely (about brainwaves) reads like a distraction to avoid dealing with the substantive argument in front of you. It at least deserves a qualifying intro, like "not related to SLED, one commentator..."

I wonder, since in the years since you posted this entry, have you come to a more detailed observation about the SLED argument?

Humble Friar said...

Everything you say is mere speculation. You have no authority to appeal to except your personal opinion. We must appeal to an independent outside authority. And that authority has stated clearly that the termination of a life in the womb is murder.