Thursday, August 16, 2012

Peter Singer: "It’s irrational to risk women’s lives for the sake of the unborn"

Bioethicist Peter Singer writes in The Scotsman  (emphasis added):
Opponents will respond that abortion is, by its very nature, unsafe – for the foetus. They point out that abortion kills a unique, living human individual. That claim is difficult to deny, at least if by “human” we mean “member of the species Homo sapiens.”
It is also true that we cannot simply invoke a woman’s “right to choose” in order to avoid the ethical issue of the moral status of the foetus. If the foetus really did have the moral status of any other human being, it would be difficult to argue that a pregnant woman’s right to choose includes the right to bring about the death of the foetus, except perhaps when the woman’s life is at stake.
The fallacy in the anti-abortion argument lies in the shift from the scientifically accurate claim that the foetus is a living individual of the species Homo sapiens to the ethical claim that the foetus therefore has the same right to life as any other human being. Membership of the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life.
We can plausibly argue that we ought not to kill, against their will, self-aware beings who want to continue to live. We can see this as a violation of their autonomy, or a thwarting of their preferences. But why should a being’s potential to become rationally self-aware make it wrong to end its life before it has the capacity for rationality or self-awareness?
We have no obligation to allow every being with the potential to become a rational being to realise that potential. If it comes to a clash between the supposed interests of potentially rational but not yet conscious beings and the vital interests of actually rational women, we should give preference to the women every time.
Editor: I've highlighted some pretty startling concessions by this pre-eminent "enemy" of our cause. It is "scientifically accurate" to claim the embryo (and, therefore, fetus) is "a unique, living human individual." And it's a pretty big caveat on Singer's part to admit the it's difficult to argue for abortion "except when the woman's life is at stake." Life, not health. 

As to whether it's a leap to make the ethical claim that fetal (or embryo) life is the same as any other human being, we have only to argue that these are mere stages of life. Development of the human person goes on throughout life. It is wrong to arbitrarily attach conditions for one's right to life.

Later: In his essay, Singer cites a recent case in the Dominican Republic which -- he says -- proves his point about a clash of interests between the mother and her baby. Here's an article that refutes the case as he presented it: Dominican Pregnancy Death Sparks American Demagoguery over Life-of-the-Mother Cases. Dr. Patrick Johnston of the Association of Pro-life Physicians is quoted, explaining: “When the life of the mother is truly threatened by her pregnancy, if both lives cannot simultaneously be saved, then saving the mother’s life must be the primary aim. If through our careful treatment of the mother’s illness, the preborn patient inadvertently dies or is injured, this is tragic and, if unintentional, is not unethical and is consistent with the pro-life ethic.”

No comments:

Post a Comment