Is Abortion Morally Permissible or Wrong?
In Don Marquis’ paper “An Argument that Abortion is Wrong”, he argues abortion is morally wrong for the same reason as murder. Marquis criticizes the classic anti-abortion argument and the pro-choice arguments both face problems that are mirror image of one another, hence a stand-off results. (p.129) By using a different approach, Don Marqui claims his argument can avoid the stand-off results in the debate of whether the fetus is qualified as a human whom process the right to life. In this paper, I am going to show Marquis’s argument will also end up having a stand-off result.
Marquis starts his argument with asking why killing an adult human is wrong. (p.130) Killing is wrong because killing deprives the victim of a future value. The killing victim suffers the misfortune of a premature death which consists of the loss to the victim of the future goods of the consciousness. In general, killing is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future like ours (FLO).
Marquis then further explains the FLO theory is a sufficient reason for killing is wrong. First he argues the nature of misfortune in terminal disease is the loss of FLO, which also the same for premature death. He also argues murder is the worst crime because it deprives the victim all of his future, not merely part of it. Then he argues the FLO theory does not the pit-falls of traditional pro-life arguments. The FLO theory is compatible with euthanasia because those who seek euthanasia have no future. The FLO theory has no implication to animal rights, since animal life is not a life like ours. Therefore why killing is wrong can be explained using the FLO theory alone. At last he applies the FLO theory to abortion. Killing fetuses deprive the FLO of the fetuses, therefore abortion is immoral. (p.133) Here I summarize Marquis’ argument in standard form:
- It is wrong to cause loss of FLO
2. Abortion cause loss of FLO of the fetus
3. Therefore abortion is wrong
In premises 1, Marquis did not take every case of FLO into consideration. He did not consider the cases when FLO is contradictory to our moral intuition. Let me illustrate the problem of FLO using a thought experiment. Assume a patient has a very rare disease that requires a very expensive medicine to keep him alive. With the help of the medicine, the patient can live pretty much a normal life without any suffering. Take away the medicine will definitely cause a loss of FLO to the patient. Are we morally required to pay for the medicine of the patient? Without doubt, it is a very charitable act if someone chooses to pay the medication bill for the patient. However, there is nothing morally wrong if we choose to spend the money on our personal enjoyment instead of keeping the patient alive. On the other hand, it is patently wrong if the patient purchases the medicine from us and we fail to deliver the medicine and cause a loss of FLO. It is not always wrong to cause a loss of FLO, unless doing so neglect our duty. Therefore premise 1 is not true.
The obvious reflective reply to my objection is to insist that always our duty to preserve any FLO. We should donate every dime we have to keep the patient alive. We are only allowed to keep the minimal living standard so that we will not starving to death, which generate more loss of FLO. All the extra money we spend on personal enjoyment should go to pay for the medication bill of others. Obviously this claim is absurd. No reasonable man will agree he has no right to decide how to spend his money. No one will agree he is morally obligate to give everything he has to preserve the FLO of others. Those who make this claim without taking a vow of poverty like the Catholic priests does are hypocrites. Hypocrites’ moral arguments do not carry much weight. I highly doubt Marquis, as a university professor, not a Catholic priest, would reply this objective by saying every man is morally required to take the vow of poverty in order to avoid loss of FLO.
Marquis may attempt to reply my objection by refining his premise: It is morally wrong only when someone take away the FLO of others; it is not morally wrong if someone chooses to do nothing and let the FLO of others perish. In another word, killing is morally wrong but letting die is morally acceptable. He could apply Philippa Foot’s argument that there is an important moral difference between killing and letting die. This distinction is best captured by saying that one person may or may not be the agent of harm that befalls another (p.174). Since abortion is an active act that takes away the FLO of the fetus, abortion is still morally wrong.
I don’t think Marquis can revise his premise by separating active killing and passive letting die without contradicting himself. Marquis says premature death is misfortune. Premature death is a misfortune, in general, because it deprives an individual of a future of value. We know that killing us is wrong. What makes killing us wrong, in general, is that it deprives us a future of value. Thus, killing someone is wrong, in general, when it deprives him a FLO (p.131). According to his claim on why killing is wrong, there should not be any difference in the case of letting die. Letting us die also deprives us a future of value. Thus, letting someone die is wrong, in general, when it deprives him a FLO. Marquis cannot reject my objection using FLO alone; therefore premise 1 is still false. Granted, he could use the agent of harm principle to save premise 1. However do so would nullify his claim that FLO theory alone is sufficient to justify why killing is wrong, thus nullify his claim that the FLO theory alone is sufficient to show that abortion is seriously wrong.
Marquis may try to revise his premises to render the thought experiment in my objection irrelevant to the debate of abortion. He can agree that we are not morally required to pay the expensive medicine for the patient. Sometimes a loss of FLO is morally acceptable because it is not our duty to perverse that FLO. He may revise his premises to the following standard form:
- It is wrong to cause loss of FLO that is our duty to preserve
2. Abortion neglects our duty to preserve the FLO of the fetus
- Therefore abortion is wrong
My expensive medicine thought experiment may no longer irrelevant under the new premises, since it is quite clear that we don’t have any duty to pay the medicine bill for the patient. Yet, I can modify Judith Thomson’s violinist thought experiment so that Marquis cannot resolve the stand-off using the FLO theory alone. Assume there is a patient having a rare disease that requires expensive medicine to keep him alive. Your bank has a bug in the computer system. They setup an auto transfer to deposit every one of your pay check to the bank account of the patient. The patient needs the money to buy the medicine to stay alive. If you stop the transfer, the patient cannot afford the medicine and he will die. Fixing the problem will cause a loss of FLO. Is it moral for you to ask the bank to stop the transfer? What if the patient needs the medicine only for nine months and then he will fully recover? What if you want to setup an auto transfer to your own account, but entered the account number of the patient by mistake? The patient’s right of a FLO does not automatically translate into your duty to preserve his FLO. The supporter of abortion might say a fetus’s right to life does not entail its right to use someone else’s body to preserve its life (p.127). This implies the woman has no duty to preserve the FLO of the fetus. However, an opponent of abortion might point out that a woman’s right to use her own body does not entail her right to end someone else’ life in order to do what she wants with her body (p.127). This implies the woman has the duty over the loss of FLO of the fetus. Therefore, there is a missing link between the fetus’s right of FLO and the woman’s duty to preserve the fetus’ FLO.
In conclusion, the duty to preserve other’s FLO is in conflict with the rights to control one’s own body in the case of abortion. The FLO theory could not resolve the question on it is whose duty to preserve other’s FLO. The FLO theory leads right back to the stand-off result Marquis attempted to solve in the first place. Therefore Marquis failed to solve the stand-off result in the abortion debate.