To me, the argument for a gradualist approach to the ethical rightness or wrongness of abortion that depends on the gestation of the fetus is weak, lacks intellectual consistency, and seems self-serving...There is one major flaw with her line of reasoning. She posits birth as the one special event that bestows full worth and human rights on the developing entity that she was willing to kill in the womb. She does this by mere assertion. If there is something about a human being that gives it special moral worth, then doesn't it make far more sense to recognize that worth begins when the entity becomes a human being? She argues correctly that the gradualist approach is intellectually dishonest and self serving, but in its place she recommends a position even more intellectually dishonest and self serving.
To the ‘ethical straddlers’ concerned about gestation we must ask: is there anything qualitatively different about a fetus at, say, 28 weeks that gives it a morally different status to a fetus at 18 weeks or even eight weeks? It certainly looks different because its physical development has advanced. At 28 weeks we can see it is human – at eight weeks a human embryo looks much like that of a hamster. But are we really so shallow, so fickle, as to let our view on moral worth be determined by appearance? Even if at five weeks we can only see an embryonic pole, we know that it is human. The heart that can be seen beating on an ultrasound scan at six weeks is as much a human heart as the one that beats five months later.
Claims that the fetus has ‘evolving potential’ make little sense. The potential of the fetus does not evolve; it just is. A fetus may draw closer to fulfilling this potential as it develops and as its birth approaches, but the potential does not change. Indeed, from the time of conception, as soon as embryonic cells begin to divide, an entity with the potential to become a person is created. It is the product of a man and a woman, but distinct from them. It has a unique DNA and, unless its development is interrupted or fails, it will be born as a child...
But it is difficult to see how it can be argued that a fetus should be accorded a moral status that differs at different stages of its development on the grounds of ‘evolving potential’, since a fetus at 28 weeks is no more or less potentially a person than one at eight weeks.
If it is ‘drawing closer’ to the fulfilment of the fetus’s potential that changes its moral status, then it seems that there is a difficult problem in finding a moral – as distinct from a pragmatic – justification as to when is close enough for the status to change. Since a fetus draws closer to fulfilling its potential from the day it is conceived, and is constantly evolving as it grows, which day - or which developmental change - matters morally? Is it when there is evidence of a beating heart, or fetal movement, or a particular neurological or brain development? Who makes this decision? And why?
It seems to me that the attempt to accord a ‘gradualist’ moral significance to the development of the fetus is little more than an attempt to disguise a personal reaction as an ethical argument. It exemplifies thinking that starts from an a priori assumption that something is ‘bad’, and then tries to construct an argument to justify the badness. In this case, the assumption is that later abortions are ‘bad’ and the arguments about the significance of the evolving potential of the fetus are an intellectually elevated way of justifying an assumption that is, in fact, no more than prejudice.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Good Logic, Horrific Conclusion [Serge]
The mainstream gradualist view on abortion seems to afford the human fetus some form of moral status as it develops in the mother's womb. This explains why early abortion is tolerated and late-term abortion is generally seen as wrong in our culture. Here is an excerpt by the director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi that takes that type of reasoning to task. Like Peter Singer, she gets the logic correct, but her conclusions are downright horrific. She uses this logic to defend the view that abortion should be legal at any time during the pregnancy, and we have no right to even ask why a woman would wish to obtain a late-term abortion. (All emphasis mine)