Essay, Research Paper
HUMAN VALUES AND ETHICS VS. PHILIOSOPHICAL ETHICS
“They had discussed it, but not deeply, whether they wanted the baby she was now carrying. ‘I don’t know if I want it,’ she said, eyes filling with tears. She cried at anything now, and was often nauseous. That pregnant women cried easily and were nauseous seemed banal to her, and she resented banality” (p. 389 Alice Walker The Abortion). It could sound familiar to many of us. Either in personal life or while discussing and debating, whether during college courses or encircled by close friends, I am sure that each and everyone of us has come across with the issue of abortion, developing a distinct, individual opinion about that particular subject. What we think about abortion will be a function of what we think about sex, about reproduction, about the beginning of human life, about responsibility, about killing, about sexual equality, and about religion. Actually, there is little in life to which the issue of abortion is not in some way related. It is not surprising, then, that there is so much disagreement about what abortion is and whether of not it is good, bad, or neither. At the root of the controversy is a basic value judgment about the human status of the fetus; does it have any rights, and should the fetus be considered a person. The question of abortion is compounded by a related issue — the right of a woman to control her own body.
First, I would like to say a few words about the legal issues of abortion. We all know that abortions were prohibited many years ago by various cultures and countries. Pregnant women, not having a choice, were forced to perform illegal abortions, sometimes done not by doctors but by herbalists. Without much of technology, they tried to induce the bleeding, scraping off the walls of the uterus in attempt to remove the fetus. As a result of internal and external bleeding, blood infection and other side effects, many women died. Not only through some historical periods, but during the twentieth century it continued to happen. Even here, in the United States, in 1969, most state laws prohibited abortion, unless the life of the pregnant woman was threatened. In the mid-1960s, the estimated death rate for abortions performed in hospitals was 3 deaths per 100,000 abortions; the rate for illegal abortions was guessed to be over eight times higher than that — 30 deaths per 100,000 abortions was a rough estimate and almost certainly conservative. For minority and poorer women, it was certainly very much higher (statistics are taken from “Moral Revolution” by Kathryn Pyne Addelson, from Twenty Questions: . . .). My point is that “abortions will surely continue, as they have through human history, whether we approve or disapprove or hem and haw” (Barbara Ehrenreich, Is Abortion Really a “Moral” Dilemma? p. 425 Twenty Questions: . . .) Therefore, it is much better for abortions to take place legally and under proper medical supervision. I think that here, a person committed to utilitarian ethical theory would agree with me because according to my conclusion it would produce more amount of good for the greater number of people — by doing abortions legally, more women could afford it and less of them would die. As a result of my little discussion, I believe that performing abortions should remain legal as it is of 1973. However, whether the issue of abortion is ethical or not, is the subject of the following discussion.
In order to discuss the ethical issue of abortion, first of all, I would like to turn to and illustrate the central factors, which might lead a woman, or a married couple, to the decision concerning the termination of her pregnancy. It could be one (or a few put together) of the following circumstances: 1) a woman got pregnant due to rape; 2) the health of the woman or the unborn child was at a serious risk; 3) a woman did not plan her pregnancy; it was “accidental”; 4) a woman changed or was persuaded by others to change her mind about having a baby.
I don’t think that many people would oppose the moral status of abortion in pregnancy due to rape. Judith Jarvis Thomson did a beautiful job in describing the similar situation, where she pretended that you were kidnapped, and without your personal approval, the famous violinist was plugged into your kidneys, because otherwise he would die. In elaborating and expanding her essay, Judith drove to a conclusion that “… nobody is morally required to make large sacrifices, of health, of all other interests and concerns, of all other duties and commitments, for nine years, or even nine months, in order to keep another person alive” (p. 289 Contemporary Issues In Bioethics). Let’s say you have done a good deed, you’ve suffered through nine month with the violinist. You let him to use your kidneys; he is alive; you are a hero; everybody is happy. In the case of rape, however, the consequences would not be as nice and easy. A woman would not know who the father of her baby was: either he was a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or someone else. She would definitely know though, that he was not a normal person: he was a rapist. Now she is left alone to take care of this child if she cannot make an abortion. What answer could she give to the question, “Mammy, where is my daddy?” posed by the child, couple of years from that time, if he or she is born. Besides, this child would be genetically predisposed to become a rapist too. Moreover, the woman in question has already suffered tremendously from the act of rape and the physical and psychological aftermath of that act. It would be especially unjust for her to have to live through an unwanted pregnancy owing to that act of rape. After these kinds of arguments, I do not think that many people would try to convince me otherwise. “Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn’t come into existence because of rape;“ (p. 284 Contemporary…).
From the readings I’ve done, I have found out that there are some people, who actually regard abortion as impermissible even to save the mother’s life. I don’t know who these people might be, but this is ridiculous. I absolutely disagree with the notion that the act of abortion should be considered immoral, if a mother is trying to save her own life. In one of our class discussions, we came to a conclusion that it is wrong to kill an innocent person in order to save your life. Of course this argument is a subject to debates and quarrels; as Judith Jarvis Thomson has shown that it also depends on a situation. Killing of an innocent person is undoubtedly wrong, however, the fetus is not a living person. Therefore, “ . . . it cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life. It cannot seriously be said that she must refrain, that she must sit passively by and wait for her death” (p. 285 Contemporary . . .). Hence, I can conclude that a woman can protect her life against the danger imposed on her by the unborn child, even if doing so causes its death.
Utilitarians would choose abortion as the right thing to do in both of these cases. It would minimize unpleasure and bring greatest amount of good to the maximum number of people — for a pregnant woman and her family.
To my opinion, a person who is committed to Kantian theory, would argue against abortion on the premises that a moral act is the one that is done from one’s duty. One of the women’s duties is to produce and bring up children; therefore, it would be considered immoral, according to deontological ethical theory, for a woman to have an abortion. Moreover, Kant was very influenced by the nature and it’s laws. He was arguing that everything in nature operates in conformity with certain rules and standards. More specifically, Kantian personal moral law — “categorical imperative” says the following: “Act as if the maxim [that is the subjective governing principle] of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature” (p. 31 Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals). Now, could you imagine what it would be like, if abortion had became ‘a universal law of nature?’ The existence of human species would come to an end. Therefore, I think that deontologists, based on the facts I’ve just given, would consider abortion in general as an immoral thing to do. Nevertheless, I think, that in two cases I have just presented (rape and danger impinged on a woman), a Kantian theorist might say that a woman was raped and stripped out of her autonomy. In order to preserve her autonomy at least for a little bit, she should be able to make a choice.
In these kinds of situations, I think it is better to simply remain a person, who is not committed to any theories and try to slide in to the other person’s shoes, try to see how she feels.
According to ethical relativism, which views that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not absolute but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances, or social situation, each society and culture would examine abortion differently, according to their rules and principles. By the way, much of the opposition to abortion throughout the time in history had come from religion. For sexual intercourse was procreation the making of a new life. Thus, anything that interfered with fertility was immoral. This viewpoint changed during the first half of the 20th century, when many religious bodies accepted new ideas on birth control. The method chosen by a couple was declared to be their own decision. The Roman Catholic Church condemns all forms of birth control. Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally permits only abstinence but has not sought to prevent the distribution of contraceptives. In Judaism there is a long tradition of the use of sterilizing potions, vaginal tampons, and even abstinence during famines. In Islam the Koran advocates marriage and procreation but has no clear objection to birth control, allowing a liberal interpretation. In Japan and Eastern European countries, however, abortion is used routinely to end unwanted pregnancy and is not regarded as a moral issue. In Europe by 1992 only Ireland had a complete ban on abortion (this information is taken from the Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia). As you can see there are absolutely distinct views upon different ethnic groups. Moreover, in our society there are people who differ in their opinions: the prolife activists generally have less education and income than the prochoice activists, but are more likely to be married and to have more children.
I assume that animals do not have these kinds of problems, and even if they do, they cannot do much about it. If the poor creature is sick, it can only sit there and wait for its destiny to take place, unless a HUMAN interferes. There is no such a thing as “unwanted “ pregnancy for animals. Also, I would assume that no one knows an animal, except Homo Sapiens. Even though, most of the time animals have more than one newborn, they try to take care of everyone, especially of those that are smaller and weaker. I personally had been a witness to these acts a couple of times, when my cat had its kittens. If we (humans) are the members of the same kingdom (Animalia), what makes us so special and unique that not only we perform abortions, but also claim to have a right to do that? First of all, human advance in technology, especially during the last fifty years, makes it possible to engage in protecting oneself from pregnancy and in disposing the “unwanted” fetus from mother’s uterus. I think no one would oppose that no other animal, except us, uses contraceptives and involves in such activities. Why? Well, I have described two cases already, one in which a mother is raped and the other when the life of the mother is put at risk because of the pregnancy want a child at first but later, because of some exclusive circumstances, thought otherwise and changed her mind. These are two of the remaining factors that I have listed earlier in this essay, concerning with the question of why would a woman want to carry out an abortion. I would want to look more closely at each of these cases and analyze them separately.
Let’s assume a woman voluntarily engages in intercourse; even if she practices safe sex, there is always a chance for her to become pregnant and both partners know about it. Despite that, they involve in sexual activity and irreversible happens — a woman or a girl gets pregnant. I used a word girl not accidentally. First, I want to cover the case of teenage pregnancy. In this particular example, a young girl, let’s say thirteen years of age becomes pregnant. Could abortion be considered as a morally wrong deed for her? Should she become a mother then? I absolutely agree with those who would argue that teenage sexual activity is morally wrong. There is no doubt about that. Usually, at thirteen years of age they do not know what they are doing and probably don’t feel much either. However, this is not the question I am trying to get at. There is a pregnant girl thirteen years of age. Could you imagine her becoming a mother, while being a kid herself? I think that — is immoral. Even if she have had developed physically and physiologically early, you would agree that her mind is still at the premature stage of development — that of a youngster. It would be wrong psychologically for her to become a mother; she is a child herself. Therefore, I would argue if such a situation has happened. Even though it should not, abortion is the proper and morally rightful course of actions.
You may say however, “We are agree with what you are saying, and are willing to make exceptions for women who are raped, have health problems due to pregnancy, or those who are in their teens. We would leave their dilemmas up to their personal decisions and would not consider abortion as an immoral act in those sorts of situations. But what about a healthy woman in her mid-twenties, who is consciously engages in sexual intercourse and becomes pregnant as a result of that?” Here, nonetheless, I would like to highlight my earlier point and to show that humans are extraordinary kinds of species because of the interaction and care for their children. Many other animals try to bring up and provide the necessities for their offsprings just for the first few months of their existence; soon afterward, when their babies are “mature,” they are on their own. In case of people, most of us try to support, care, protect and be right beside our children, whenever they need us. From the very first second, when the newborn takes its first breath, the woman has a special kind of responsibility, issuing from the fact that she is the baby’s mother. Parents assume great amount of responsibilities for their children till the end of their lives.
It is widely held that active killing even for mercy is morally unacceptable. Holders of this view say that it is morally more acceptable to let a patient die than to kill for mercy. Some philosophers argue that the results are the same, but most hold that there is a difference-authorizing killing would set a dangerous precedent, and it is simply wrong to kill actively. I personally, think otherwise. I know that this question is very arguable, with both sides having very strong accounts and reasons. However, I think that quick death would be easier for a patient to end his sufferings. I would consider that as a moral act too.
Tom L. Beauchamp & LeRoy Walters. Contemporary Issues in Bioethics. Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California. Fourth Edition. 1994
G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. Horcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. Second Edition. 1992
D. W. Winnicott. Babies and their Mothers. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. 1992
Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1995