Utilitarianism and Abortion

Utilitarianism and Abortion
Ratheius Netheros
Newbie
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 15, 2005

Total Topics: 49
Total Posts: 3

Last Blog:

#1 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 23, 2009 - 12:21 AM:
Subject: Utilitarianism and Abortion
I've always been pro-choice. I'm a vegetarian. When considering these two views with respect to utilitarianism, the fetus does feel pain at a certain point.

Can someone provide me a utilitarian argument for why abortion should not be criticized. There are compelling harm minimization arguments for being pro-choice, I think. I am also sympathetic to other arguments involving respecting the autonomy of women.

Here is a scenario.

A rich women is in a situation where should could easily support and raise a child. She gets pregnant accidentally. Having not wanted the child in the first place, she gets an abortion. This is after the fetus can feel pain, scientifically speaking. Adoption is quite common. Given the intellectual and physical nature of her and her husband, the child would've easily found a good home.

Here, the rational behind getting an abortion was inconvenience. The child would've had a decent life. As an agent that can feel, and would continue to do so, it seems that it is being denied some degree of its individuality as a system, of sorts.

Even if I respect the choice of this women, and we allow her medical records to be kept secret, what should I think if she tells me? Should I be morally judgmental about her actions. Why or why not, from a utilitarian perspective?
The Fork
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Jul 24, 2009

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 18
#2 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 8:49 AM:

I think I can relate to your system of ethics, since I'm also a pro-choice vegetarian (I don't live up to my own standards, though, since I'm not vegan).

It's not clear from your scenario if the woman had an opportunity to have an abortion before the fetus began to feel pain (which, according to some bioethicists and doctors, doesn't happen until the third trimester). If she knew she was pregnant before the fetus began to feel pain (and she may not have - some people don't realize they're pregnant until they go into labor), then her decision to postpone an abortion is morally reprehensible (not to mention stupid - even in places where abortion is legal at any point in the pregnancy, it is virtually impossible to get a third-trimester abortion just to avoid inconvenience, so I guess your hypothetical woman really lucked out confused ) because she would be causing the fetus unnecessary suffering where it could have easily been avoided. If she didn't know and had an abortion as soon as she found out, then the situation's trickier. On the one hand, the woman shouldn't have to sacrifice anything for the sake of the fetus which is, after all, a part of her own body. A degree of her individuality would have to be denied if she had to be pregnant against her will. But if she wanted to be separated from the fetus without it dying, she could have labor induced or get a c-section (if it were legal to do as an alternative to abortion, which I don't think it is). But I would be inclined to regard such a compromise as benevolence on her part, not a moral obligation.

On the other hand, being delivered prematurely could result in health complications for the baby and lower its quality of life compared to the one it would have had if it had been carried to term. But then again, physical health and abilities/disabilities are not a very good predictor of whether or not a person will have a decent life. It depends more on that person's subjective outlook. There are plenty of severely disabled people who enjoy life, and plenty of physically healthy people who find their life unbearable (and anti-depressants don't always work for them, either).

All in all, the nature of existence is such that we have to harm others in the course of our everyday life. When we walk or drive, we are always going to end up killing a bunch of insects (who probably feel pain - a pain gene was isolated in drosophilae). When we eat, we can be sure someone fell victim of our hunger; this applies to vegans, too, although to a much smaller extent: there is always collateral damage of non-human animals when fields are plowed. The least harmful options would be preferable, but the only way to eliminate harm completely (at least the harm done by humans) would be for humanity to go extinct (which some utilitarians advocate through various means, one of which is to stop reproducing altogether).

So I don't think terminating an accidental pregnancy at any point (as long as you didn't deliberately delay your own abortion) is any more reprehensible than moving around for purposes unrelated to one's basic survival. It is not the woman's intention to harm the fetus, only to free her body of a burdensome condition; the pain the fetus would feel (which I think could be alleviated with a tranquilizer shot) and its death are merely a side effect.

You also said the fetus is "an agent that can feel, and would continue to do so", so correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that you regard the loss of the life the fetus would have had had it not been aborted as contributing to the overall harm. I don't think it matters at all, though. If we disregard the harm inflicted by the process of abortion itself, the only consequence for the fetus is that it ceases to exist. Nonexistence is not worse than some possible life you are projecting for it that never happened and never will (not to mention the fact that the fetus is incapable of abstract thinking; it won't realize it's dying, it won't lament its own untimely death or wish it had more time on Earth to accomplish its goals, etc.).

Crackers
Forum Veteran

Usergroup: Members
Joined: May 28, 2009

Total Topics: 5
Total Posts: 701
#3 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 9:03 AM:

If you abort your child then you avoid receiving child benefits from the government. Thus, the more children aborted the less money given out by the government and the less government has to tax the majority. Thus, the majority benefits from child abortions. That's in Sweden, the UK, Ireland and Australia.

Giving people the option for abortion allows them to feel they have more freedom and power thus contributing to their overall happiness.


Here, the rational behind getting an abortion was inconvenience. The child would've had a decent life. As an agent that can feel, and would continue to do so, it seems that it is being denied some degree of its individuality as a system, of sorts.


Maybe it would have had a decent life, maybe it would have had a horrible one. Maybe by letting the child live the mother suffers greatly. Maybe the mother would have had a child 5 years from now but doesn't have it because she decided to have the original child, thus the future baby is denied a possibly decent life.

If you speak of utilitarian in the purely practical sense then "inconvenience" is reason enough to abort a child; avoiding inconvenience is a practical measure.

Edited by Crackers on Jul 24, 2009 - 9:18 AM
The Fork
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Jul 24, 2009

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 18
#4 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 7:28 PM:

"Crackers" wrote:
Maybe the mother would have had a child 5 years from now but doesn't have it because she decided to have the original child, thus the future baby is denied a possibly decent life.


"The future baby" cannot be denied anything because it doesn't exist. If what you said were true, then billions upon billions of humans have been denied life simply because people haven't been getting pregnant and giving birth non-stop. I hit puberty nine years ago, so are you suggesting that twelve people (give or take) have been denied anything because I haven't been pregnant all the time since then? If that's the case, I plan to deny about a hundred more humans the possibility of a decent liferolling eyes
slap
User of Mental Cosmetics
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Jul 04, 2009

Total Topics: 16
Total Posts: 347
#5 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 7:52 PM:

As a utilitarian myself who is omnivorous and pro-choice I might be able to provide these arguments.

For veganism/vegatarianism it comes down to what or who's pleasure is important. It seems obvious that what we want are living beings, however we must still be more specific. Should we include plants, animals, and conscious beings?

We must come up with some factors that help us decide. One possible factor is the ability to feel. Here we could garner a moral responsibility to obviously humans and animals. I also believe we would garner a responsibility to plants, there is an emerging scientific field called plant nuerobiology (www.plantneurobiology.org/). I think this give us some reason to believe plants feel as well. It also seems obvious we don't have a moral responsibility to not eat plants. It seems to me then that feeling is not a deciding criteria.

It wholly seems to me that this same problem(the problem of plants I would like to term it) would also cross over to any other deciding factors we may use to seperate plants from animals. I believe our intuitive split on plants is animals is due to a basic recognition that animals are closer to human kind(this I cannot show, but offer only as a plausible explanation).

It does seem obvious however that humans themselves are more important morally than plants and animals. It seems to me that the most important factor for moral responsibility is self-awareness. This doesn't mean I don't think we can torture and maim animals just for enjoyment, rather I think there is a distinction between to types of actions:

1. Conscious Being to Conscious Being actions

2. Conscious Being to Non-Cosncoius Being.

In regard to the second type I believe we have a moral obligation to the animals feelings, but that this obligation may be ignored if and only if there is some important benefit from neglecting the animals feelings. It might be said I include cock-fights and vivesection in this category. I do believe that in these cases we don't have an important benefit. I would support vivesection however for important medical advances.

I hope that clears up how one might be omnivorous and utilitarian. I'll make a second post about abortion.
Crackers
Forum Veteran

Usergroup: Members
Joined: May 28, 2009

Total Topics: 5
Total Posts: 701
#6 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 7:59 PM:

The Fork wrote:


"The future baby" cannot be denied anything because it doesn't exist.


A mother has a fetus in her womb. The child that might develop from that fetus doesn't exist either; it is just a future possibility.
The point is that the future is unknowable.

If what you said were true, then billions upon billions of humans have been denied life simply because people haven't been getting pregnant and giving birth non-stop.


It more like infinite than "billions upon billions"; infinite possibilities, could have's, are denied every day. Even if the world is completely determinstic we don't have knowledge of the future, we can only assess the possibilities.

If you deny the life of a child today you might be opening up the chance for a different child tommorrow.

I hit puberty nine years ago, so are you suggesting that twelve people (give or take) have been denied anything because I haven't been pregnant all the time since then? If that's the case, I plan to deny about a hundred more humans the possibility of a decent liferolling eyes


You monster!
slap
User of Mental Cosmetics
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Jul 04, 2009

Total Topics: 16
Total Posts: 347
#7 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 8:05 PM:

Abortion is a more difficult issue, but I believe there are two possible arguments one could make for Abortion's permissibility. The first argument invokes the harm principle which John Stuart Mill believes can be derived from utilitarianism. The second argument will invoke the conscious being to non-conscious being distinction I attempted to make in my first post.

For the first argument we might say that once we establish the grid of justice(As Mill believes follows from utilitarianism) one of the trangressive border crossings would be interference in the sexual health or reproduction of other beings. This rights we establish likely include:

1. The right to choose when to have a child

2. The right to make ones own decisions in all regards to ones own body.

Both of these rights seem to give strong reason to leave abortion permissible. The question of whether or not abortion is ideal would be a question up for grabs. Our Aborters could be conducting what we might call experiments in human happiness. These abortions may allow both the parents and the eventual children to on average lead better lives. The fact that a child is generated at a time that is not good for the mother(for example in a very young girl) might make it so that both the mother and the child's lives are half as good on average or worse. The person who would know this best would be the mother.

For the 2nd right the mother has a right to make medical decisions about her body. As the child is a dependent on the mother's body, and the mother cannot decide to simply "turn off" her womb we must allow the mother to take medical measures to ensure her bodily integrity. This would be especially true if the mother did not choose to become pregnant. Of course Mill says while we cannot force someone to do something even if it harms themself, he does say we can force someone to benefit another. This likely nullifies the 2nd right. My 2nd argument takes up from this point

The second argument is slightly different. In this situation I would posit that the embryo is not a conscious being, and that the mother is a conscious being. While the child may become a conscious being it is not at this moment, when it does become so the mother would not longer be able to violate the harm principle. The mother then is allowed to remove her child for the same "important benefits" that we are allowed to eat crops and do medical testing on lab rats.

I would also like to say that abortions are in no way the happiness maximizing action to undertake. I do however reject the idea that we must do what maximizes happiness, and must only in all cases either be morally nuetral or praiseworthy. These are discussions for a different thread however.
slap
User of Mental Cosmetics
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Jul 04, 2009

Total Topics: 16
Total Posts: 347
#8 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 8:08 PM:

The Fork wrote:


"The future baby" cannot be denied anything because it doesn't exist. If what you said were true, then billions upon billions of humans have been denied life simply because people haven't been getting pregnant and giving birth non-stop. I hit puberty nine years ago, so are you suggesting that twelve people (give or take) have been denied anything because I haven't been pregnant all the time since then? If that's the case, I plan to deny about a hundred more humans the possibility of a decent liferolling eyes


Well your going to be denying an incredibly large indeterminate number of human beings life. I mean your denying your denied childrens children life etc. Just think about how much of a monster men are then, we could concieve a child(fertile woman available) every day! I'd hate to think how many people's lives I'll deny over the rest of time!
Hanover
Numbers 31:18
Avatar

Usergroup: Sponsors
Joined: Nov 30, 2008
Location: Atlanta

Total Topics: 37
Total Posts: 6634
#9 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 8:08 PM:

Crackers wrote:
If you abort your child then you avoid receiving child benefits from the government. Thus, the more children aborted the less money given out by the government and the less government has to tax the majority. Thus, the majority benefits from child abortions. That's in Sweden, the UK, Ireland and Australia.
What a lovely philosophy. The fewer people, the better off we all are. Utopia will be reached when the last person dies. Your theory is failed for another reason as well, and that is some fetuses actually grow up to be producers and not liabilities.
Giving people the option for abortion allows them to feel they have more freedom and power thus contributing to their overall happiness.
Which begs the question of course, which is: "what are people?" You have to provide a justification for not considering fetal happiness in the Utilitarian calculus. Certainly if you start with the notion that fetuses are not people, then it's irrelevant whether they are happy. Utilitarianism seeks to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Maybe it would have had a decent life, maybe it would have had a horrible one. Maybe by letting the child live the mother suffers greatly. Maybe the mother would have had a child 5 years from now but doesn't have it because she decided to have the original child, thus the future baby is denied a possibly decent life.
Why, then, don't we sit around and consider these hypotheticals every day when dealing with human life? Maybe reducing the population by 10% through euthanasia will relieve significant government obligations, and perhaps we should choose the least productive people (like the homeless, the elderly, and the handicapped) to euthanize. The point being, killing people makes the living people very unhappy. It would seem therefore that we only need to consider people when we decide what is moral, but if you are going to open the door to considering fetal happiness, then you are implicitely giving them moral value and considering them people. Once you've crossed that road, fetuses are no longer simply objects that can be killed or saved for the happiness of other people, but they are people as well. I can't see how you can accept the fact that fetuses are people and then kill them anyway.

I'd suggest that the way around this problem is not to assert that fetuses are people and that they have no moral value. To suggest otherwise feeds into the pro-life's argument that abortion is murder.
slap
User of Mental Cosmetics
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Jul 04, 2009

Total Topics: 16
Total Posts: 347
#10 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Jul 24, 2009 - 8:16 PM:

Hanover wrote:
Utilitarianism seeks to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. .


We must be careful of the repugnant conclusion(in video game terms we can spam a huge number of super low happiness people and that would would be better than a world with fewer people of higher happiness). Perhaps I should start a thread.
locked
Download thread as
  • 100/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5



This thread is closed, so you cannot post a reply.