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Posted by on Feb 12, 2013 in Bioethics, Ethics, Philosophy | 22 comments

Whose body is it anyway?

Over on the Philosophy Experiments site, run by Jeremy Stangroom, you can do this exercise about your attitude to abortion and how consistent you are about it. As with all such exercises, there are possible flaws – basically because I think there are some nuanced or multi-tiered positions that it doesn’t entirely cover. My own answers came out as being consistent, so I’m not complaining about that. But, for example, I ended up saying that there is never a moral problem with abortion – which was the nearest answer to my actual position. In fact, however, I would find something a bit “wrong” with very late abortions in at least some circumstances that I don’t think are analogous to anything in the people-seeds example.

I.e., if a woman decided to have an abortion very late, after having earlier made a conscious decision to have the child, and assuming there was no health issue involved in her change of mind, I think that I and most pro-choice people would discern an issue of moral virtue. At least in standard cases (e.g. this is not a surrogacy arrangement), we’d probably think it virtuous or “good” for a woman to form an emotional bond with the fetus by very late in pregnancy. Society as a whole probably benefits from this, as do families. So we’d see a lack of such bonding as troubling even if we didn’t think anything was owed to the fetus (perhaps because it is not yet a person).

I doubt that very late non-medical abortions are an issue that really arises much – it is a libel against pregnant women to claim that they engage in capricious late-term abortions – and I certainly am not interested in laws against it. Nonetheless, there could be virtue ethics considerations that would at least make many of us raise our eyebrows if we saw such a thing happen. We’d at least wonder what had gone “wrong” if a woman had an abortion at, say, eight months with no medical reason involved. And I don’t think the exercise captures this aspect, for one. (I don’t think the people-seeds scenario is analogous, as there is no established and useful social practice of bonding with people-seeds, and it is not clear that it would be a good thing overall for such a practice to come into being if people-seeds actually existed. Bonding with a people-seed is not necessarily something that would or should be regarded as morally virtuous.)

All the same, it’s a useful exercise. Go ahead and try it – you might well get some insight, and you’ll also be contributing to a potentially useful data collection.