Sunday, November 4, 2012

Joe Biden and Abortion

Maverick Christian’s article on abortion last month (last month as of this writing) criticized the moral coherency of Joe Biden’s position about believing human life begins at conception while favoring the legalization of abortion. We can make some sense of Joe Biden’s claim from reading a bit of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous article A Defense of Abortion. In the article, Thomson audaciously claims that even if abortion kills an innocent human life, abortion is still morally permissible. An excerpt:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.”

Thomson argues that you are not morally obligated to remain unplugged, and so the unborn child’s right to life is insufficient reason for abortion to be unethical. In examining Thomson’s argument it becomes understandable how someone could think human life begins at conception while still being in favor of a woman’s right to choose.