Judith Thomson

Topics: Pregnancy, Abortion, Morality Pages: 5 (2006 words) Published: October 8, 2008
In this paper, Thomson argues on the basis of the violinist thought experiment that "the right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly". Therefore, to show that abortion is morally impermissible, "it is by no means enough to show that the fetus is a person and to remind us that all persons have a right to life—we need to be shown also that killing the fetus violates its right to life, i.e., that abortion is unjust killing. And is it?" Thomson's article defends abortion rights and functions primarily as an argument by analogy in regards to the idea of mother/fetus consanguinity.

Judith Jarvis Thomson provided one of the most striking and effective thought experiments in the moral realm. Her example is aimed at a popular anti-abortion argument that goes something like this: The fetus is an innocent person with a right to life. Abortion results in the death of a fetus. Therefore, [even in the case of abortion resulting from rape] abortion is morally wrong. In her thought experiment we are asked to imagine a famous violinist falling into a coma. The society of music lovers determines from medical records that you and you alone can save the violinist's life by being hooked up to him for nine months. The music lovers break into your home while you are asleep and hook the unconscious (and unknowing, hence innocent) violinist to you. You may want to unhook him, but you are then faced with this argument put forward by the music lovers: The violinist is an innocent person with a right to life. Unhooking him will result in his death. Therefore, unhooking him is morally wrong. However, the argument does not seem convincing in this case. You would be very generous to remain attached and in bed for nine months, but you are not morally obliged to do so. The parallel with the abortion case [in the case of rape] is evident. The thought experiment is effective in distinguishing [three] concepts that had previously been run together: “right to life, [...] “right to what is needed to sustain life,” [and "actions establishing responsibility to provide what is needed to sustain life"]. The fetus and the violinist may each have the [first], but it is not evident that either has the [second], [while it is clear that the neither the "you" of the thought experiment nor the woman pregnant as a result of rape has taken the third]. The upshot is that even if the fetus has a right to life (which Thompson does not believe but allows for the sake of the argument), it may still be morally permissible to abort [if the pregnancy is a result of rape].[1]

In her introduction to her "Famous Violinist Problem", Thomson notes that much of the inadequate debate on abortion was getting lost within the issue of whether the fetus is a person or a mass of tissue.Having identified this question, Thomson attempted to circumvent this issue by "[immediately granting] that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception"; which then allowed her to address what she felt was the only issue involved: that of whether the mother, or the fetus, had the "stronger and more stringent… right to life".[2]

In the opinion of some critics, Thomson failed to note a key difference between the thought experiment and the realities to which she applied it. In the case of the violinist, you are not involved in the decision-making process that caused you to become attached.

However, certain other critics offer that the same woman who is considering the abortion of her fetus is supposed to have been intentionally involved in an activity with a high degree of probability of becoming pregnant ("attached") (namely engaging in the sex act that produced the fetus).

From this, some have argued that Thomson's thought experiment only closely analogizes abortion in the case of rape and suggest that the issue is purely a question of how the arguments apply in instances where the mother is raped, and they then examine...
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