Opponents of abortion
Many opponents of abortion argue as follows: All human right beings have a right to life, the foetus is a human being, therefore the foetus has a right to life. Abortion, as a denial of this right, is accordingly morally wrong. Those who support abortion maintain, however, that the foetus is not a human being but a clump of cells, and that, even if it were a human being, its right to life may be outweighed by certain other rights possessed by a mother. These rights are the woman’s right to self-defence and her right to control her body. When exactly does human life begin?
There have been many divergent opinions. In the past there was a strong support for the view that life begins at birth. However, this view became increasingly unpopular as our knowledge of foetal development has increased and the more the distinction between the born and the unborn has been blurred by the advances in foetal photography. Others found greater significance in ‘quickening’, the moment when the mothers feel her baby move; but this event, although doubtless of great emotional significance for the mother, is not regarded as significance for the growth of the foetus.
A more common argument is to say that human life begins at conception. It is held that, since the development from the foetus to baby is continuous, it is purely arbitrary to choose any point other than the conception as the moment when one becomes a person. However this conclusion does not follow. One could say the same thing about the development from acorn to oak, but this does not mean that acorns are oaks: a distinction can be made between them. Similarly, a fertilized egg is unlike a person that, to suppose otherwise, is to stretch the meaning of ‘person’ beyond all the normal usage.
Hence the most accepted view, particularly among physicians, is to focus upon some interim point at which the foetus becomes ‘viable’, that is, potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid. But this argument has its own weaknesses, the most glaring being that the date of viability changes: in English law it has been reduced from twenty-eight weeks to twenty-four, though some agreed for eighteen weeks. Many find it offensive that whether one counts as a person depends on the shifting state of medical research. Some philosophers accept that the foetus is a person at conception.
Anti-abortionists claim that it follows from this that the foetus, like all human beings, has the right to life, and that no other right can overweigh this right. However, there are in fact two rights which may override the right to life. The first is the woman’s right of self-defence, in which the mother may end the life of the foetus if it threatens her own: and the second is the right of ownership to her own body, according to which she has the right to use her body in the way she wants and which may or may not include carrying a foetus to term.
Unlike the right to self-defence, the right of ownership extends to cases where the mother’s life is in danger. For example, if the woman has taken no contraceptives precautions, she has assumed responsibility for the unborn foetus and ought not to withdraw support; but if she has taken all possible precautions, she cannot be held responsible and may thus legitimately deny the foetus the use of her body. To continue the pregnancy in these circumstances is an act of charity on her part, but not a duty, and one which she cannot reasonably be expected to perform if the disadvantages to herself considerable.
The right to life generates certain duties in others. Two in particular should be mentioned: the duty of non-interference and the duty to service. The duty to non-interference requires that no-one should interfere in another’s life in a way that may threaten it. My right to life allows me to claim certain duties from others, the duties to service, and these may be claimed of those who are in business of seeing that my life is sustained (doctors, firemen, lifesavers).
Both duties presuppose that being alive is in itself valuable and worth preserving, and that to save someone’s life, or at least not to shorten it, is to benefit them. Normally this is true; but not always. Death from a bullet is probably preferable to death by starvation, and it is unlikely that a prisoner being tortured to death would accept a life-prolonging drug. Saving or prolonging someone’s life is not therefore always to their advantage: in certain circumstances it might have been better if they had died earlier rather than later.
Or, to put the matter another way, to say someone has the right to life, while true, does not necessarily mean that exercising that right will bring them benefit or that those who safeguard it are their benefactors. What matters is the quality of their life and their attitude towards it, and both may challenge the duties of non-interference and service. For cases may arise in which not only should the duty of non-interference be withheld in the interests of certain individuals- their lives are deliberately terminated- but withheld by the very people who have the duty of services toward them.
Such cases introduce the problem of euthanasia. More recently it has come to mean ‘the action of inducing a gentle and easy death’ and so refers mainly to those actions, usually performed by a doctor, in which a person’s life is deliberately shortened or terminated. These actions are also known as ‘mercy killings’ since the death involved must in some way end sufferings and therefore be in the person’s own interest. This altruistic concern distinguishes these cases from the euthanasia programme introduced by Hitler in 1939 which gassed 275,000 people, mostly the physically or mentally sick elderly.
They were not killed to relieve their suffering but because they were no longer able to work. These sinister possibilities continue to haunt discussions of euthanasia. Many believe that, once this form of killing is legalized, it will lead to others, to infanticide or euthanasia for the socially maladjusted or politically deviant. Others point to the risk of abuse by the members of the family and by all those who stand to gain by the death of someone old or sick. For the members of the medical profession the problems are more immediate and acute.
Some doctors will have nothing to do with euthanasia, saying that their job is to save life and not to kill and pointing to the constant possibility of a wrong diagnosis or a new treatment. Others, meanwhile, have argued that, since medical science can prolong life almost indefinitely, what must now be protected is not so much a person’s right to life but his right to die, and that to subject a patient to unnaturally slow and often painful deterioration, simply because it is technically possible, is not only uncivilised and lacking in compassion for patient and family alike, but also an infringement of individual liberty.
This debate is further complicated by the fact that euthanasia applies to two different groups of person: those who can exercise their right to die and those who, because of their mental or physical conditions, cannot. Given the complexity of the issues involved, the court of human rights can’t decide whether or not to deprive the sufferers from their rights to die.
Furthermore, if the sufferers aren’t allowed to end their life, should the court of law give us the right to end the life of foetus, which scientifically is considered a human being. In conclusion, I think that euthanasia should be legalized and that abortion should be denied. This is because the use of contraceptives these days has made it easier for women to control their pregnancy. An exception to this conclusion would be for women who get raped and who haven’t got a control on what happens to them.