Following Joe Biden’s (‘I’m not Trump, but I’m still a corporate liar’) speech in Philadelphia mid-May 2019, it is interesting that Biden has a lot in common with Rick Santorum. Students and faculty walked out on Santorum during his 2003 commencement speech at Saint Joe’s due to his views on homosexuality. According to Mother Jones, re Santorum in May 18 2003:
“St. Joseph’s University: Boring commencement speakers are a rite of passage. But nearly 100 newly minted graduates from this Catholic university in Philadelphia decided that a bigoted speaker — Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who in April earned himself a place alongside Trent Lott by comparing gay sex to bigamy, incest, and polygamy — deserved a walkout. St. Joe’s students wore gay-pride rainbow tassels on their mortarboards and were joined by 30 faculty members as they commenced to walk on Santorum’s speech.”
Joe Biden and Rick Santorum are both privately socially conservative Republicans, despite what they say publicly for election purposes.
Abortion: part one
Abortion can be defined as the destruction of human life after conception and before birth. We noted that there are two broad approaches to the *moral* question of abortion (as opposed to questions about legality). On one approach, the question of whether the fetus is a person is crucial to the moral debate. Persons are self-conscious, rational, autonomous agents who have a conception of themselves as existing through time; accordingly, persons have moral status. So if fetuses were persons, it would be *directly* wrong to kill them (i.e. wrong independently of questions about how such killing would affect other people, e.g. the mother, father, family, society at large etc.). On the other approach, the question of whether the fetus is a person is not central. On this view, even if we allow that the fetus is a person, it still does not necessarily follow that abortion is morally wrong. Judith Jarvis Thomson takes the latter sort of approach in her paper 'A Defense of Abortion'.
We can begin our discussion of the moral question of abortion by focusing on the first sort of approach above. In particular, contemporary philosopher Barbara MacKinnon provides a useful discussion of arguments surrounding the issue of when the fetus becomes a person, and acquires the attending moral status of persons. She notes that there is a general problem for the idea that any sharp boundary or threshold can be located, corresponding to the fetus acquiring some morally relevant characteristic(s), such that before the sharp threshold, the fetus does not have the moral status of a person, but after the boundary is passed, the fetus does have that status. In what follows, I also consider Peter Singer's views on abortion, and how those views relate to other moral questions such as our treatment of non-human animals. The idea of opposition to abortion on religious grounds is also discussed, and this leads us to consider what might be called the 'potentiality argument'; the idea that although fetuses are not actual persons, they have the potential to become persons, and should thus be accorded moral status.
1) Is there a sharp boundary between personhood and non-personhood?
As Barbara MacKinnon notes, there are four different stages in the development of the fetus that have been proposed as candidates for the inception of moral status (her discussion roughly follows that of Jonathan Glover in his book 'Causing Death and Saving Lives'). For each stage in question, the idea is that the characteristics which the fetus acquires at that stage are so significant that they constitute the element which confers moral status. Each stage is supposed to mark a sharp threshold, such that before that threshold is passed, the entity does not have moral status, but afterwards, it does.
The four stages in question are conception, brain-wave detection, quickening, and viability. Unfortunately, there is a general problem with each of these proposed stages at which a sharp boundary between personhood and non-personhood is supposed to occur. MacKinnon alludes to it indirectly, but does not explicitly mention the underlying problem (though Glover does). The idea is that since the development of the fetus is so gradual, there will be no sharp threshold at which a boundary is crossed between personhood (with the attending moral status) and non-personhood. No part of fetal development is significantly different from the part just preceding it; the development is a smooth continuum with no abrupt sharp differences anywhere. This is why it seems *arbitrary* to suggest that any one of the four proposed stages of development above is so significant that it constitutes a sharp boundary of the sort at issue. As Jonathan Glover puts it, (pp. 126-127, 'Causing Death and Saving Lives'):
'Any attempt to draw a sharp line marking the onset of state of being a person is bound to be arbitrary, for two related reasons. One is that 'person' is a loose concept; the other is that the transition from fertilized egg to adult, like many biological developments, can be better represented by a fairly steady upward curve than by a series of obviously discrete stages with abrupt transitions. To ask 'When does one start to be a person?' is like asking 'when does middle age begin?' Conventional lines for social or legal purposes could always be drawn, but we would be mistaken if we took the shadows cast by these lines for boundaries in biological reality.''
Being a person (like being tall, thin, old, bald, etc.) seems to be a *matter of degree*. A one-year-old is more of a person than a new born baby or a fetus just before birth, as Glover notes, and each of these is more of a person than an embryo. To that extent, it would be more wrong to kill a one-year-old than to kill a fetus, and more wrong to kill a fetus than an embryo. On this view, abortion would not be wrong in an absolute sense, though some abortions would be more directly wrong than others, depending on the stage of pregnancy in question.
2) Peter Singer on abortion
In view of the above general problem facing the idea that there is a sharp boundary in the development of the fetus, which marks the onset of personhood, one might want to abandon the idea that there is a sharply defined point at which the fetus becomes a person. One might admit that the fetus can only be considered to be a person to some (greater or lesser) degree. Instead, one might oppose abortion on the grounds that it involves the destruction of an innocent conscious, sentient being. (Innocent, in that the being in question has obviously not forfeited a right to life due to some crime such as murder - granting for present purposes that such forfeit is unproblematic.) 'Merely' conscious beings are not persons to the extent that they are not self-conscious. It seems that there are clear signs that fetuses at later stages of development are conscious (i.e. although development of consciousness is gradual, just as development of personhood is gradual, there will be fetuses that are clearly conscious, just as most human adults are clearly persons).
If one is opposed to abortion on these grounds, then (claims Peter Singer) one should also be opposed to killing animals for food, since animals are also innocent, sentient, conscious creatures. Mere species membership does not in itself confer upon an individual of any particular species any special moral status. Singer notes that those opposed to abortion often refer to themselves as 'pro-life'; however, Singer contends that this appellation is inappropriate. Many who are sympathetic to the idea that in opposing abortion one is being 'pro-life', are being inconsistent and hypocritical, in Singer's view. As he says (pp. 150-151, 'Practical Ethics'):
'Far from having concern for all life, or a scale of concern impartially based on the nature of the life in question, those who protest against abortion but dine regularly on the bodies of chickens, pigs and calves, show only a biased concern for the lives of members of our own species. For on any fair comparison of morally relevant characteristics, like rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, autonomy, pleasure and pain, and so on, the calf, the pig and the much derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy - while if we make a comparison with the fetus of less than three months, a fish would show more signs of consciousness.'
Pro-lifers are being inconsistent in their moral views, claims Singer, since on the one hand, they are claiming that killing innocent conscious life is wrong, but on the other hand, they condone such killing all the time (in the case of animals). The only difference in the two sorts of killing seems to be that the innocent conscious beings that are killed for food are *members of other species*; but this is not a morally significant difference, in Singer's opinion. Animals killed for food are just as 'innocent' and just as conscious and sentient as fetuses are. It is speciesist to think that we can kill animals (for food), but not kill human fetuses in abortions, unless there is a morally relevant difference between the two cases. So Singer's position is that 'we accord the life of a fetus no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc.'
So if one does oppose abortion for the sort of reason mentioned here, then it seems that one should also be vegetarian (perhaps one might not be inconsistent in opposing abortion later in pregnancy and eating fish, if fish are not as conscious as fetuses in later stages of development).
3) Opposition to abortion on religious grounds
One might reply that the reason many are opposed to abortion is *not* because of particular characteristics that fetuses have, which are held to be morally significant and conferring moral status upon them, as in sections 1) and 2) above. Rather, the reason that most oppose abortion is because it is thought to be contrary to the teachings of a particular religion - i.e. abortion is held to be wrong on *purely religious grounds*. (Interestingly, in that regard, the Catholic Church has not always been opposed to abortion. Up until about three hundred years ago, the Catholic church followed the teachings of Aquinas on the matter. Aquinas argued that before a certain point of development, fetal matter has not yet reached the point at which it is suitable for reception of a soul.)
So-called 'Pro-life' activists may hold that abortion is wrong *just because* it goes against the teachings of their religion, on some particular interpretation of that religion/holy scripture. This would explain why such activists could consistently maintain that abortion is wrong, but killing non-human animals for food is morally acceptable. They may claim that *on the favored interpretation* of the religion in question, animals are put on earth for human beings to eat (e.g. humans have 'dominion' over animals). However, they may hold that the divine commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is a proscription which applies only against killing human beings, and in particular human fetuses, (i.e. this commandment is interpreted as not forbidding the killing of non-human animals).
The question of the correct interpretation of Biblical terms like 'dominion' above is an interesting one. Some argue that the meaning of 'dominion' does not imply that one can do whatever one likes with anything one has dominion over; rather, it implies that one has a moral responsibility for those things under one's dominion. In any case, the important philosophical point for present purposes is that if one holds that God's decrees are the ultimate source of moral authority, one abandons the idea that there is some objective characteristic of the fetus which confers upon it its moral status. This might be thought to be attractive for Pro-Lifers of the sort Singer mentions, since God's decree: 'Thou shalt not kill' would constitute the *reason* why abortion is wrong, (not some objective characteristic that the fetus has, e.g. consciousness). So they wouldn't have to worry that they are being inconsistent in their moral views regarding abortion and killing animals for food. They could just reply that God is the ultimate source of moral authority - what God commands ought to be done, and what God forbids ought not to be done. God forbids killing, and they interpret this as meaning God forbids killing members of our own species. So abortion is wrong, just because of God's decree here (given that the fetus is sufficiently developed to be considered as a member of any species at all).
However, if abortion is held to be wrong just because God forbids killing, then one seems committed to a Divine Command theory of moral obligation. We saw that there are strong reasons for thinking that Divine Command theory is implausible, in the context of the Euthyphro dilemma. For one thing, Divine Command theory seems to make God's commands arbitrary - God has no reason for commanding one thing rather than another, if the only thing that makes something morally right is because God commands it.
And if so, it seems to be more plausible to hold that the moral status of the fetus depends on the objective characteristics that the fetus has (such as consciousness, perhaps). On this horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, the reason abortion would be held to be wrong is because the fetus has certain *independent* significant characteristics, which God recognizes as morally relevant, such that it is wrong to perform abortion when such characteristics are present. But if so, this allows Singer's charge that Pro-Lifers are speciesist to come back into play. If abortion is *directly wrong* (i.e. independently of considerations about how the abortion affects other people - the mother, father, family etc.) because it is the destruction of conscious, innocent life, then killing animals for food ought to be wrong too. To claim otherwise in the absence of some morally relevant difference would be speciesist (remember - fetuses are not *self*-conscious, and will be less intelligent than most animals, so these factors cannot constitute a morally significant difference between fetuses and non-human animals which would explain the Pro-Lifers' different conclusions about the morality of killing in each case).
4) The 'potentiality argument'
So perhaps it is best for those who oppose abortion not to base their opposition to it on the idea that abortion is *made wrong* simply because God forbids killing. If so, can some *rational justification* be given for thinking that abortion is wrong, but killing animals for food is morally acceptable, in the way that perhaps most Pro-Lifers hold? If such a reason exists, then it could be used to show that Pro-Lifers are not being speciesist in maintaining that it is alright to kill non-human animals, but not to kill fetuses in abortions.
One argument which might seem initially plausible in this regard is the 'potentiality argument'. According to this argument, the human fetus (unlike most non-human animals) has the *potential* to develop into a person.. Other things being equal (e.g. barring any disruption of the normal developmental process) the fetus will develop into a normal human adult - a paradigm case of a person. However, what moral status does this potential give the fetus (i.e. before such development comes to fruition)?
As Jonathan Glover notes (p.122, 'Causing Death and Saving Lives'):
'the problem with using the fetus's potential for developing into a person as an anti-abortion argument is that this suggests that the person it will become is what is really valued. It is hard to see how this potentiality argument can come to any more than saying that abortion is wrong because a person who would have existed in the future will not exist if an abortion is performed.'
However, if one is convinced by this argument, then it seems that one also ought to hold that contraception is morally wrong, since it too prevents a potential person or persons from coming into existence. It is difficult to see how the potentiality argument can succeed against abortion without being equally successful against contraception; and even those who think that both are morally wrong usually want to maintain that abortion is morally worse. If it is the future (as yet non-existing) person that is valued, then since contraception and abortion are equally effective in preventing that person from coming into existence, it seems to follow that one is as bad as the other – not a happy conclusion from a pro-life point of view. Even less felicitous for that view is the claim that celibacy is just as effective at preventing future people from coming into existence as abortion or contraception – to the extent that just not being sexually active can be construed as preventing anything at all. Remember, the pro-life strategy being considered here involves an attempt to show that abortion is wrong since it prevents a future person from coming into existence, but that abortion is worse than contraception, and much worse than celibacy. It won’t help that cause to point out that celibacy or contraception are equally effective at preventing future people from coming into existence as abortion is – this is a criticism of the pro-life strategy, not a defense of it!
One might reply that the fetus is a potential person that has already got started - there is already a living (perhaps) conscious being in existence (but not yet a self-conscious being). This fact might be thought to explain why abortion is worse than contraception, contrary to what the potentiality argument suggests.
However, to make this reply is to appeal to an *actual* characteristic of the fetus - i.e. its existence. One is thereby claiming that this *actual* characteristic is morally valuable, contrary to the idea that what is valuable is not any actual feature of the fetus, but the potential person it will (other things being equal) become. As Glover puts it (p.122):
'If it is cake you are interested in, it is equally a pity if the ingredients were thrown away before being mixed or afterwards. As soon as the stage of development is allowed to make a difference . . . . the argument has moved from potentiality to actuality: from the properties of the person the fetus may become to the properties the fetus now has.'
If this is accepted, it then seems implausible to hold that abortion is wrong because of the potential of the fetus to develop into a person. And if so, one cannot appeal to the potential of the fetus to develop into a person, in order to explain why it is not speciesist of Pro-Lifers to argue that abortion is wrong but killing animals for food is morally acceptable.
For further reading:
Jonathan Glover, 'Causing Death and Saving Lives', Chapter Nine
Peter Singer, 'Practical Ethics' Chapter Six, (pp. 150-151 in particular)
Michael Tooley, 'Abortion and Infanticide' reprinted in 'Applied Ethics' (Peter Singer, ed.) (Especially relevant to the potentiality argument).
Abortion – part two: Judith Jarvis Thomson
Introduction and Prelude
Judith Jarvis Thomson presents some distinctive arguments in her classic paper ‘A defense of abortion’. Thomson thinks that there is no sharp boundary in the development of the fetus, at which point it becomes a person, and acquires the attending moral status that persons have. To this extent, she agrees with the similar point made by Jonathan Glover (and echoed by MacKinnon) which we noted in our preliminary discussion on abortion above. However, Thomson’s idea is that the question of whether (and at what point) the fetus becomes a person is not the most important philosophical issue, as far as the debate about the morality of abortion is concerned. Rather, she thinks that even if we were to grant that the fetus is indeed a person from the moment of conception, it would not necessarily follow that abortion is morally impermissible. We will now look at the various analogies Thomson develops to help us isolate the philosophically significant features regarding the question of the morality of abortion. In so doing, we shall focus in particular on her discussion of what having a right to life consists in, and on her idea that one need not be acting unjustly in failing to make sacrifices to provide someone with what they need to survive. Since abortion must involve unjust killing if it is to be immoral, if the act does not involve unjust killing, then it need not be immoral, as far as Thomson is concerned.
Thomson focuses on the importance of the notion of rights in the moral debate about abortion. She is not a consequentialist (consequentialists typically do not think rights are the most basic moral element; rather talk about rights is usually considered as a sort of short-hand way of talking about something more basic such as pleasure, or preference-satisfaction). However, it is worth noting that (at least some) consequentialists would also claim that the issue of whether a fetus is a person is irrelevant to the moral question of abortion. For example, act utilitarians allow that any act could in principle be morally required, as long as the consequences are good enough. It follows that they could allow that killing innocent human adults (persons) could be not only morally acceptable, but morally required, if such an act produced the best overall consequences (for everyone affected by the outcome of the act). So in particular, the fact that a fetus may be a person will not bother act utilitarians unduly. Personhood is not a crucial consideration for the abortion debate, as far as act-utilitarians are concerned. Rather, questions such as the overall balance of happiness/pleasure over unhappiness/misery will be crucial on this theory. In assessing whether a particular act of abortion is morally required, one will have to weigh up the amount of unhappiness/pain produced for all concerned (including the fetus), against the happiness for all concerned produced by the act. Note that the method of abortion, and the stage of pregnancy, will be relevant here. For example, depending on the stage of development of the fetus, it will be more or less sentient. The more developed the fetus, the greater its capacity for experiencing pain will be, generally speaking. Consequently, one method of abortion may be more painful to a more developed fetus than another, and this will have to be taken into account in the utilitarian calculation.
One: Statement of the Pro-Life position, and the ‘famous violinist’ analogy.
Thomson describes what she takes to be the typical pro-life argument as follows: all persons have a right to life, fetuses are persons, therefore fetuses have a right to life. Although women do have the right to decide what happens in and to their own bodies, the right to life is more important, and outweighs this right of women just specified. Furthermore, the extreme sort of pro-life view, which accepts the above argument, implies that the conditions leading to the conception of the fetus are irrelevant to the question of whether that fetus has a right to life. In particular, it does not matter whether a pregnancy is unwanted (perhaps even the result of rape) or wanted, as far as the right to life of the fetus is concerned. The fetus that is the result of rape is just as alive as the fetus that exists as a result of voluntary intercourse, (at least partially) due to a desire to produce pregnancy. Accordingly, the pro-life advocate will insist that both fetuses have an equal right to life.
At this point, Thomson introduces her 'famous violinist' analogy, to help isolate the relevant features of the problem we are considering (the fact that this sort of scenario will probably never actually happen is irrelevant). Thomson asks us to imagine a situation in which one wakes up one morning attached to a famous violinist, who has some fatal kidney ailment. The society of music lovers kidnapped you, having determined that only you have the right blood type, and then they connected the violinist's circulatory system to yours. Your kidneys are now being used to extract toxins from the blood of the violinist, as well as from your own blood. At the hospital, the doctors tell you that they are very sorry this had to happen (and if they had known they would never had allowed it); however, you are attached now, and if you were to be disconnected the violinist would die. But don't worry, they tell you, it will only take nine months for the violinist to recover from his kidney ailment, and then you can be safely disconnected from him (i.e. without killing him). After all, violinists are persons, and all persons have the right to life. Furthermore, the violinist's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens to your body (according to the pro-life view).
Thomson now asks you to consider: are you morally obliged to remain attached, and allow the violinist to use your kidneys? If you are inclined to answer yes (as the pro-life advocate seemingly would), would you also be so inclined if instead of nine months, the process of healing the violinist would take nine years? Are you still morally obliged to make the requisite sacrifice? What if you could *never* be removed from him, without killing him? If the violinist has a right to life at all (and we are conceding that he has), and if you must respect that right, then the pro-life advocate seems to be committed to saying that you ought to respect that right, *no matter how long you have to remain attached*, and no matter what sacrifice is called for on your part.
Of course, in the violinist analogy, you were kidnapped and forced to be attached to the violinist without your consent. This situation is analogous to the situation in which a pregnancy results due to non-consenting intercourse; rape. However, this fact in itself is not particularly important, from the pro-life perspective, as far as the question of the acceptability of abortion is concerned. For as we have already noted, the pro-life advocate should say that the fetus that exists as a consequence of rape has just as much right to life as one that results from intercourse that was engaged in consentingly, with a desire to cause pregnancy. This right to life outweighs other rights that might apply in the present sort of context, according to the pro-life advocate.
Two: Two views about what the right to life consists in, and two related analogies
Thomson begins the main part of her response to the pro-life position by pointing out that the above pro-life argument against abortion treats the notion of a 'right to life' as if this notion were straightforward and unproblematic, however it is not that simple. She considers two alternative views about what a right to life might consist in.
On the first view that Thomson considers, the right to life consists in having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued existence. However, what if what is in fact the bare minimum that one requires in order to survive is not something that one has a right to demand that someone else give you? Thomson illustrates this idea using the following example. Suppose someone is dying, yet the touch of famous actor Henry Fonda's cool hand on the person's fevered brow would be enough to revive her. Even though she needs the touch of Fonda's cool hand to survive here, the person in question has *no right to demand* that Fonda fly in from the west coast to help (though it would be good of him to do so). If Fonda were just across the room, it would be indecent of him to refuse to help, but nonetheless, although one might say his refusal was callous, strictly speaking, he would not be acting unjustly in failing to help.
Similarly, although the violinist needs continued use of your kidneys, in order to survive, you are not violating his right to life if you deprive him of the use of your kidneys, since no one has a right to the use of your kidneys unless you explicitly grant that right (i.e. you deliberately take on special responsibility). If you allow the violinist the use of your kidneys, this is your deliberate choice - a kindness on your part, rather than something he has a right to demand. Consequently, if you remove yourself from the violinist, without having granted the right to the use of your kidneys, and thereby kill him, you do not violate his right to life. For his having the right to life does not also mean that he automatically has a right to the use of your body (even though he needs your kidneys to stay alive). Analogously, the fetus has a right to life, but the mother is not violating that right in refusing permission to the continued use of her body (unless she has explicitly granted the fetus the right to such use).
Relatedly, Thomson points out that others have explicated the notion of a right to life in a different, stricter way. On this alternative account, the right to life just involves the right to not be killed. However this is also problematic since even if we grant that the violinist has a right that no one kill him by removing him from you (now that he is attached), it does not also follow that he has a right to the use of your kidneys.
So perhaps it may be better to say that the right to life involves the right not to be killed unjustly. We can then add that since depriving someone of something they have a right to is to treat them unjustly, if denying a fetus the continued use of the mother's body would involve depriving it of something it had a right to, then this would be unjust. Abortion would be wrong if it involves unjust killing. So the important question now is this: does abortion involve unjust killing, i.e. does abortion *violate* the fetuses' right to life?
Thomson at this point uses another analogy by way of illustration (which may be called the 'chocolate-box' analogy). We are to suppose that two brothers have been given a box of chocolates for Christmas, and the older boy refuses to give the younger boy any of the chocolates. In this situation the older boy is acting unjustly, since the younger brother had a right to half of the chocolates. Perhaps the violinist analogy is more like this sort of situation than the one in which Fonda refuses to provide his cool hand on your fevered brow? That is, in depriving the violinist the use of your kidneys, perhaps you are depriving him of something he has a right to, therefore you are acting unjustly?
Thomson replies that in unplugging the violinist, you would not be acting unjustly, since the violinist never had any right to the use of your kidneys to begin with (he never had a right that the society of music lovers attach you to him in the first place). Similarly, removing the fetus from the mother's body does not involve treating the fetus unjustly in Thomson's view. This would be unjust if the mother had explicitly *granted* rights to the fetus to the use her body (analogously to the parent granting each of the boys a right to half of the chocolates). In such a situation, it would be unjust for the mother then to withdraw support for the fetus at the cost of its life. However, if the mother had not taken on such special responsibility for the fetus, no injustice is involved in removing the fetus from the mother's body (and even though the fetus needs the use of the mother's body to survive).
As Thomson notes, perhaps it will be replied here that the violinist analogy is inaccurate, because it corresponds to the situation in which pregnancy was due to rape. The suggestion is that we should not be focusing on this sort of case (in which the mother has not assumed special responsibility for the fetus, or granted special rights to it). Rather, we ought to focus on the situation in which the fetus is the product of voluntary intercourse, for in that case we might ask; aren't the parents partially responsible for the fetus being in the mother's body? And if so, doesn't that give the fetus the right to the use of the mother's body? Aborting in that situation would then be to deprive it of what it has a right to, on this view (abortion then would be more analogous to the chocolate-box case than to the situation in which one unplugs oneself from the famous violinist).
Three: The 'people-seed' analogy
However, Thomson responds to this idea by pointing out that the fact that one voluntarily does something does not imply that one intends all of the consequences of the act in question. If the room is stuffy, and you voluntarily open a window to let some air in (with the knowledge that there are burglars around), Thomson claims that it would be absurd to think that if a burglar gets in due to your opening a window, that you thereby have granted him special permission to use your house. (The idea that he has been granted such permission would be even more ridiculous in the situation in which you took precautions, such as having iron bars installed in front of your window.)
Similarly, suppose there were such things as 'people-seeds' floating around in the air like pollen. If you open your window in order to enjoy the cool breeze, and one of these people-seeds gets in to your room, lodging itself in the upholstery (and then growing into a 'person-plant'), it would be absurd to suggest that since you voluntarily opened the window, and thus were partially responsible for the person-plant's being in your room, that you have thereby granted that person plant special rights to the use of your house. (It would be even more absurd to suggest that you had granted such a right, in the situation in which you *take the (fallible) precaution* of using a fine wire-mesh to keep people-seeds out.)
Similarly, in the case of consensual intercourse that results in pregnancy, it need not be the case that the parents have taken on a special responsibility for the fetus. If the fetus has not been granted any special right to the use of the mother's body, aborting that fetus does not involve injustice towards it, in Thomson's view. And only if it involved unjust killing, would abortion be morally wrong.
Four: The Good Samaritan analogy
However, although abortion need not involve injustice to the fetus, it may nonetheless be more or less indecent, depending on the circumstances. Here, Thomson describes her final analogy, involving the notion of the Good Samaritan. Thomson describes the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, and compares this with what she calls a 'minimally decent Samaritan'. The latter sort of person is one who would have at least phoned for help, in the situation which Kitty Genovese found herself in, having been brutally attacked (see Thomson's paper, reprinted in the course bulk-pack). Relatedly, a 'minimally decent Samaritan' would not opt for an abortion simply because going ahead with the pregnancy would involve the inconvenience of postponing a trip abroad. Such behavior would be indecent to say the least (though not necessarily unjust), just as it would be indecent (but not unjust) to refuse to remain attached to the violinist if his kidney ailment could be cured in one hour (instead of nine months). We can contrast this sort of case with the case of the rape of a teenage girl (the pro-life advocate who accepts the sort of argument against abortion described above would claim that the circumstances in which the pregnancy arises are of no relevance to the question of whether the fetus has a right to life, remember). Thomson regards it as an advantage of her view, over the pro-life view, that some abortions should be regarded as indecent, and others sanctioned by common-sense, depending on the circumstances.
In Thomson's view, no one should be morally *required* to make large sacrifices to help to keep someone else alive, except in circumstances in which one has already taken on a special responsibility for another person (in that case, one has granted the other person the right to demand that such sacrifices are made). No one should be morally required (or required by law) to be Good Samaritans (the idea that one may be required *by law* to be a Good Samaritan, was parodied in the final episode of the TV series 'Seinfeld').