Judith Jarvis Thomson
No woman is morally required to allow a fetus to develop to term. Because it requires the
person to make large sacrifices to keep another person alive. Hence, aborting a fetus and
detaching one’s body from it is morally permissible.
The right to life can’t depend on whether pregnancy resulted from a voluntary or
involuntary sexual act, because no property intrinsic to the fetus justifies this distinction.
Insofar as an individual’s right to life does not depend on how that individual came into
existence, the argument from responsibility is not a successful argument against
2 Important qualifications to her position:
1.) Abortion is generally permissible, not always permissible.
2.)Although it is permissible to detach one’s body from the fetus through abortion, it is
not permissible to guarantee the death of a baby once it is born. The right to an abortion
does not entail the right to commit infanticide.
Important to acknowledge the distinction between negative rights and positive rights. A
negative right of one individual implies an obligation for other individuals not to interfere
with the expression of that right. A positive right implies an obligation for others to
support or facilitate its expression. Negative rights outweigh positive rights because the
right not to be burdened or harmed has more moral weight than the right to be benefited.
The pregnant woman has a negative right not to be burdened or to take on risk. So there
fore has a right to not allow the fetus the use of her body. The fetus’ presumed right to
life and right to use the woman’s body are positive rights. Because the fetus’ positive
rights threaten or violate the woman’s negative right to bodily noninterference, and
negative right outweigh positive rights, the woman has a right to abort the fetus.
Argues that the claim of wrongness in killing adults extends to the wrongness in killing
fetuses. It is morally wrong to kill adults because it deprives the victim of a valuable
future. However the future is only valuable to those who have the capacity for
experiences. Fetuses lack the mental capacity to have interest in or to value experiences,
so, as opposed to an adult, they have nothing to lose. The capacity to value experiences
comes at the earliest during infancy not during pregnancy. Therefore abortion is not
morally wrong. The moral permissibility of abortion hinges on the moral status of the
fetus. A fetus has this status when it possesses the property of having avaluable feture,
but because it doesn’t, the fetus has no moral status. Marquis’ antiabortion argument is
an argument from potential. Jeff MacMahan explains the 2 types of potential:
1.) Identity-preserving potential- in the sense that the fetus and the newborn child are
2 phases of one individual who persists through the changes from the earlier to the
late phase. In this case, potential is intrinsic to the fetus because it is realized from
2.) Non-identity preserving potential in the sense that the fetus and the
neonate(newborn child) are 2 distinct beings. This case is different because the
fetus requires external factors in order to realize its potential and thus the potential
is extrinsic to the fetus. Only intrinsic, identity-preserving potential can give a fetus moral status and interest in
living that make it wrong to kill it. This is why it is wrong to kill a late-stage fetus.
Because it has already developed the functions and structures necessary for the potential
for consciousness. This distinction makes Marquis’ antiabortion argument persuasive for
late-stage fetuses not early-stage fetuses.
The moderate position defines moral status in terms of sentience and viability. In this
view, killing early-stage fetuses is morally permissible, but killing late-stage fetuses and
infants would not be permissible.
Third perspective is Richard Dworkin – moral objections to abortion rest in people’s
views of the sanctity of human life. Has religious and secular interpretations. The sanctity
of human life principle says that every human life has intrinsic value, independent of
whether it is valued by or good for everyone. A fetus is a human with intrinsic value
therefore killing even an early-stage fetus is wrong. This view however still doesn’t stand
against the argument that life has no value when it is independent of individuals, and
fetuses can’t express or experience value because they don’t have the capacity for
interests and rights.
The Moral Status of Embryos
The right to reproduce is a prima facie right meaning that meaning that without the
introduction of other factors or arguments, it is a right, but it can easily be argued away.
Some argue that reproduction is not a right but a privilege which means that not everyone
is entitled to it or to have access to IVF. This is further supported by the argument that
the right to have access to medical procedures pertains only to the treatment of disease
and infertility is not a disease. However, these arguments are only plausible if the
negative right to abortion and bodily non-interference can be separated from the positive
right to reproduction. Often people argue that the two are inseparable. Embryos fall under
the procreative autonomy of both the genetic parents. When there is conflict between the
genetic parents, the right not to use embryos for reproduction outweighs the right to use
them for this purpose.
Surrogacy requires distinguishing among social, gestational and genetic mothers. The
social mother or father is more important than the gestational or genetic mother because
she is responsible for the welfare of the child from birth onwards. At some point during
pregnancy, the surrogate may express interest in wanting to be the social mother as well.
At this point, her custody over the child may outweigh that of the social mother and
father. Paid contractual surrogacy is not the selling of children. The surrogate is making
available her biological services so others can have a child. If the social parents act in the
child’s best interest, the child will not be treated merely as property. There are many
child abuse and neglect laws in place to help ensure this. Overall surrogacy is not
unethical. Surrogacy also does not exploit women because it is an expression of a
woman’s reproductive autonomy and control over her body.
Sex Selection The practice of selecting males over females and allowing male fetuses to grow to term,
but aborting female fetuses; reinforces discrimination against women and leads to
unequal sex ratios and demographic issues in developing countries. The only time when
sex selection is morally permissible is in the case where sex-linked diseases are detected
early on. The reason would be to prevent harm caused to a child who would have the
disease if he/she were born. Family balancing is also not immoral – having a girl and
selecting for a boy, or having a boy and selecting for a girl.
Cloning is the most ethically controversial among new medical technologies. There is
disagreement on whether therapeutic cloning should be permitted however; most people
agree that reproductive cloning should be prohibited. The objection to therapeutic cloning
is that it is morally wrong to create embryos solely for the sake of research leading to
therapy, because once the ES cells have been mined from the embryos, the embryos will
be destroyed thus destroying potential human life. Also there is the argument that
creating embryos for research violates the sanctity of human life from the time of
conception. A solution is the promotion of adult stem cells however; they don’t generate
as many different kinds of cells and ES cells and are more likely to provoke an adverse
immune response. The argument to ban therapeutic cloning rests on the claim that
embryos’ right to life outweighs any potential benefit to existing people. But while
embryos cannot suffer from or be harmed by not realizing their potential, existing people
can suffer from and be harmed by disease. If the suffering of existing people is morally
worse than creating and destroying embryos, then we should be more concerned about
alleviating the suffering of existing people. If embryos cannot be harmed, and if
therapeutic cloning can alleviate suffering, then therapeutic cloning should be permitted.
Monogenic – diseases caused by one gene
- 3 types of monogenic disorders:
- 1.) Sex-linked – disorders traced to sex chromosomes, usually the X chromosome,
and is passed on by the woman so that her sons will display the disorder and
daughters will be carriers but not affected.
- 2.) Autosomal Recessive – when child inherits the recessive gene for the disease
from both parents. Both copies of the gene from each parent are mutated.
- 3.) Autosomal Dominant – a mutation in one copy of a gene inherited from either
Polygenic – diseases caused by more than one gene
Multifactorial – diseases caused by the interaction of several or more genes with the
Genetic testing is for individuals who are known to be at increased risk of having a
genetic disorder with a familial mode of inheritance.
Genetic screening is designed to test members of a particular population for a disorder of
which there may be no family history or other evidence of its presence.
A predisposition to a disease is no guarantee that one will develop it.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis is a means of selecting against embryos with genetic
mutations that cause the most severe disorders. This is a means of preventing diseases by preventing the lives of the people who would have them. This is morally justified on
grounds of nonmaleficence and justice. Nonmaleficence requires that we not harm people
by causing them to experience significant pain and suffering over the balance of their
lives. Justice requires that we not deny people the same opportunities for achievement
and well-being that are open to others who are healthy or have only moderate diseases.
Together, these principles imply that it can be morally wrong to cause a person to exist
with a severe disease when it is possible to cause a different person to exist without the
disease. Quality of life is a function of the presence or absence of pain and suffering, and
of the cognitive, physical and emotional ability to have opportunities for achieving a
decent minimum level of well-being. Most people prefer a life that starts poorly and gets
better to one that starts well and then goes progressively downhill.
The probability of penentrance – the probability that a mutated gene will express itself
and develop into a disease.
Assuming that a defective gene can be detected in an embryo, 4 criteria will determine
whether a life should be prevented by not selecting that embryo for implantation and
1.) the probability of genotypic penetrance or how likely it is that a genetic mutation
will cause a disease.
2.) The severity of the symptoms of the disease
3.) The time of onset of the symptoms
4.) And the time between onset and death.
Gene therapy has been the cause of many participants of clinical trials. While researchers
have experienced some success in some forms of gene therapy, many have died due to
adverse reactions to genetically engineered proteins or have developed cancers and other
diseases. The principle of beneficence specifies an obligation to move forward with gene
therapy research, provided that it is balanced by the principle of nonmaleficence
specifying an obligation to minimize risks. The potential benefits of gene therapy
outweigh the risks.
Germ-line genetic intervention vs. Somatic-cell genetic intervention
Germ-line – consists of going into existing DNA and correcting or deleting the mutated
gene in the germ cell. This way it wouldn’t be passed onto the individual’s offspring. By
intervening at the germ line, we would be preventing certain diseases from occurring in
the first place. Our scientific ability hasn’t successfully reached this stage yet.
Somatic-cell genetic intervention – involves replacing or inserting a new gene in the
place of the mutated gene. This would have to be done to each successive generation that
expressed the disease.