The following thought experiments put forward today will require a trigger warning. This post will mention abortion, miscarriage and infant mortality. Some people may find these topics distressing.
Before putting forward the thought experiments, some background knowledge on what are the typical moral positions people hold regarding abortion and what moral position the foetus has in contrast to human beings.
The conservative view: that the foetus holds the same moral position as an adult human being at the moment of conception.
The extreme liberal view: until the moment of birth where the foetus is no longer part of the mother’s body, the fetus holds the same moral position as any other part of the mother’s body.
The mixed strategy: At the moment of conception, the foetus holds the same moral status as any other part of the mother’s body; but near the end of the pregnancy, the foetus holds the same moral status as an adult human being.
These next thought experiments come from Rosalind Hursthouse:
Imagine a madman has snuck into a hospital and stolen a vial containing a conceived embryo ready to be used by a woman to become pregnant. He has also kidnapped a newborn baby. The madman has climbed to the roof and held both over a ledge. He says we have the option of having him drop the vial or drop the newborn baby.
Would you have him drop the vial or the newborn baby? Or would it be a dilemma?
This next thought experiment involves two worlds:
In world 1, someone sneaks into their room mate’s bedroom and cuts off their hair. The amount of hair that was cut off would take roughly 9 months to grow back.
In world 2, someone breaks into their room mate’s bedroom, who has recently become pregnant, and administers medication that induces a miscarriage.
The question Hursthouse asks us is: At what level has the room mate commited a moral wrong? Are they equally morally wrong, or is one considerably more wrong than the other?
Now imagine a woman who has just given birth, but the baby is still attached via the umbilical cord and the placenta which is still attached to the mother. Thus, it is still part of the mother’s body.
The question asked by Hursthouse is: Would the mother be morally entitled to have the baby killed?
Consider all of your answers to these thought experiments and your reasons. Do you think your answers inform you on whether you hold the conservative view, the extreme liberal view, the mixed strategy, or none of them? Or do you think that your answers on the thought experiments do not inform you on whether you hold these views?
The next thought experiment comes from Judith Jarvis Thomson. The background for these thought experiments is the arguments regarding the right of the mother to have an abortion, even if we give the foetus the same moral status as an adult human being. Some will argue for specific reasons, such as when the life of the mother is at risk or when the pregnancy was a result of sexual assault. Others will argue it can still be for any reason.
This thought experiment is famous among philosophical circles called: the famous violinist:
There is a society that are fans of a famous violinist. This violinist has a rare disease that will kill him unless he has access to your body for 9 months, which will cure him of the life threatening disease. The members of the society kidnap you in your sleep and connect you intravenously to the famous violinist, who was unaware of the kidnapping. If you disconnect yourself, the famous violinist is going to die. For him to survive, you must stay connected to him for 9 months.
Thomson asks us: do you have the moral right to disconnect yourself?
Returning once again to Thomson, she puts forward this thought experiment:
There are things that exist called ‘people-seeds’. These seeds flow through the air and when they enter a house they embed themselves in the carpet. Once this happens, they take root and grow into a person. You don’t want any of these people-seeds in your house, so you put up mesh to stop any people-seeds from flowing in. However, the mesh was defective and a people-seed snuck in and has taken root.
The question Thomson asks us is: Does this people-seed have a right to your house?
What were your answers and why did you answer that way? Does the way you answered inform you on what view you hold on abortions for particular reasons, or do they not inform your reasons at all?