Saturday, July 02, 2016

Keep your hands off my body!

This is a follow-up to my previous post:

A commenter left the following question:

I've talked to some pro-choicers recently who have relied very heavily on the inside-the-mother's-body argument. They dismiss all counter-examples to bodily autonomy because they don't involve another human being being *inside* of the other person.  
How would you respond a person who kept pushing the fact that a fetus is inside of another human and says that in no other instances would we allow another person to remain inside of someone else against their will?

The answer deserves a separate post, so I'll respond here:

i) Let's begin with a preliminary observation. Many abortionists are fanatics. There's no example you can give that will make them blink.

However, that can be useful to expose their fanaticism and misanthropy. When they take a totally selfish position, they reveal the fact that they don't have what it takes to be a good friend. They're not friendship material. They can't be trusted. They will always put themselves first.

Now let's consider some examples:

ii) We could begin by asking them how the fact that a person or baby is inside the body rather than outside the body a morally relevant difference. What's the principle? Is the principle that no one ever has the right to depend on us for their survival? 

iii) Does the abortionist take the position that we never have a duty to hazard our own life or health to protect another? 

Most pregnancies aren't hazarous. I'm just using a more extreme example to establish a principle. If we sometimes have a duty to endanger our own life or heath to protect another, surely we sometimes have a duty to provide for the needs of another in less extreme cases.

iv) Apropos (iii), suppose a mother and her teenage son are at home when a violent intruder breaks into the home. Does the son have a duty to fight the intruder to protect his mother, or should the son try to escape, leaving his mother in the hands of the intruder?

Suppose, in this scenario, the teenager and the intruder are fairly evenly matched. Or maybe the intruder is physically stronger. There's a high risk that the son may be killed if he tries to defend his mother. Does he have a duty to assume that risk, or should he save his own skin at the expense of his mother?

v) Consider a variation on the same scenario: instead of a mother and son, it's a husband and wife. Does the husband have a duty to protect his wife, perhaps if only to buy her time to get away, or should he throw her into the arms of the intruder to buy himself time to get away?

vi) Suppose a superbug kindles a raging pandemic that threatens to kill 90% of the world's population. Suppose there's a man who due to a genetic mutation, carries an antibody in his bloodstream that can be used to produce an effective antibiotic. 

Suppose he refuses to donate his blood. He himself is immune to the superbug. He doesn't care about the fate of the human race in general.

Should he be forced to donate his blood, to save the human race? 

vii) Suppose a man wakes up in a strange motel room. He doesn't remember how he got there. He has a bandaid on his arm.

A cellphone rings. He is told that a computer chip was implanted in his arm. It contains a recipe for producing an antidote to a catastrophic bioweapon. He is instructed to board a plane to the USA. Once he arrives, he will be taken into custody, and the computer chip will be removed. His patriotic action will prevent the human race from exposure to a catastrophic bioweapon.

Should he comply? He was kidnapped. His body was commandeered. He didn't agree to this. But now that he finds himself in this situation, does he have a duty to cooperate? 

viii) Suppose a man and wife are trapped in a dystopian society. Suppose the husband has a chance to smuggle his wife to freedom. Does he have a duty to do so?

Assuming the answer is yes, let's give the scenario a science fiction twist. Suppose the husband can smuggle his wife to freedom by digitizing his wife, uploading his digitized wife onto a computer chip, which he implants in his arm. If he makes it to the other side, he will reverse the process. 

His wife is now in his body. Does that change his duty? 


  1. Steve raises some good objections. There's a lot of ways to approach this type of pro-choice argument. I have a forthcoming journal article coming out on this. My co-author and I defend the responsibility objection to body autonomy arguments. Basically, the idea is that it's granted that the fetus is fully human, with all the basic rights humans have, including the right to life. However, there's a right to body autonomy too. Now, let's think of rights as trumps. The pro-abort argues that the right to body autonomy trumps the right to life in these cases. How so? Well, they typically appeal to Thompson-style cases, e.g., the violinist argument. We argue that such analogies are crucially disanalogous to many cases of pregnancy. We argue that when a person is *morally responsible* for the existence of a dependent person, the right of the person in need of assistance trumps the right of the other person to refuse assistance. We offer several compelling cases for this. So that's one way to argue here. Granted, the responsibility objection won't work for rape, but there's other things to say at that point. Nevertheless, our objection covers many cases of abortion for which the body autonomy argument was supposed to work. (We also address cases of diminished responsibility and argue that the right to body autonomy also is diminished.)

    1. Where/when will this be published, if you don't mind me asking.

    2. It was just accepted in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy ( It's in the editing phase now, so not sure of a publication date. I can email you a pre-pub draft.

    3. It can be worthwhile to point out that pro-choicers who posit this dichotomy (right to life vs right to bodily autonomy) are very often being deceptive. They don't believe the fetus has a right to life *at all*.

      If they did, they'd be appalled when a fetus who has survived abortion is directly killed or left to die. They'd welcome methods of abortion which increased the likelihood of a live birth, and they'd welcome funding being diverted to medical technology to increase survival rates at younger and younger gestational ages.

      Or what about late-term abortion? If a mother is aborting a viable baby due to, say, Down Syndrome, any reasonable weighing-up of the two competing rights would show that inducing labour would be only marginally more dangerous for the mother, while still 'evicting' the baby from her body, only a few hours later than it would be 'evicted' by abortion (maybe sooner, depending on the hospital's schedule). But you'll see very few pro-choicers arguing that the mother should choose birth instead.

      Or what about those 'I didn't know I was pregnant' situations? In some places ignorance of pregnancy is considered grounds for termination after the abortion cutoff date is past. A woman could give birth to a 25-week-old baby with a reasonable chance of survival, and parents would be lining up around the block to adopt. And as in the previous example, honestly balancing the competing rights should make that an acceptable solution. But I've heard pro-choicers claim that the mother should still be allowed to abort because the existence of the baby might later cause her emotional distress.

      Sure, there may be some consistent pro-choicers on this issue; but if someone brings up 'competing rights', press 'em and chances are pretty good you'll see it's a red herring. They don't want the baby just out of the woman's body; they want the baby gone, period.

    4. The structure of the argument is more like:

      1. We can show that having a right to life doesn't trump the right to body autonomy through cases (e.g., violinist analogy, etc.).

      2. Abortion is relevantly analogous to the type of cases in (1).

      3. So, even if what you pro-lifers say is true and ty fetus is a human with the right to life, abortion is still morally permissible (so you guys are wasting time hankering on about the fetus' right to life).

      Hence you can see that accusing them of lying, besides not being publishable, really misses the mark trying to respond to the way these arguments are presented in the literature. So it's not really "we believe fetuses have a right to life!", it's more like, "even if they do, doesn't matter."

  2. Thanks for the input (& from Maul P. too).

  3. I'd add:

    1. If (arguendo) a person shouldn't be "allowed" to remain, does this necessarily mean the person should therefore be violently and/or lethally expulsed?

    2. An presupposition seems to be the person inside is something akin to a stranger. If so, why should one assume that? Perhaps in cases of rape which account for something like 1% of all pregnancies (and I'd still argue otherwise). However, how's that true in most pregnancies?

    3. Let's turn the tables around. What if it was the case the adult person needed the fetus to live, whereas the fetus didn't need the adult person to live? If the fetus could decide, then would it be persmissible for the fetus to detach him or herself from the adult person such that it would cause the adult person to die?