Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Abortion and the ISS

One of the arguments put forth by pro-aborts in defense of abortion on demand is the "Thompson's violinist" argument. It goes something like this:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him." I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.
There are so many flaws in this argument that it readily falls apart, because it is a seriously flawed analogy. A woman doesn't wake up mysteriously pregnant - some action has been taken (usually voluntarily) to cause it. And the fetus is not kept alive by extraordinary medical means that seriously hamper the woman's ability to live, but by the natural functions of the woman's body. I could go on.

In light of this, and the recent withdrawal of the United States from manned space flight, I would like to humbly offer what I consider to be a more accurate analogy, involving the International Space Station (ISS). Imagine you are an astronaut on the ISS. A visiting Soyuz capsule docks with you and unintentionally leaves behind an astronaut (perhaps because a safety device malfunctions). You didn't want this astronaut on the ISS, but here she is. The next scheduled Soyuz flight that could pick her up is due in nine months. You have the life support capacity (food oxygen) to keep her alive for the nine months, but it may mean certain accommodations, such as watching your diet, being a bit more cramped than normal, nor being able to exercise or use equipment exactly when you want to. Is it reasonable for you to shove this astronaut out the airlock?

I consider this to be a more accurate analogy in a number of ways. Although the astronaut is not physically connected to you, as the violinist is, she does rely on your life support system, which you control, and which was placed there for your benefit. In addition, it recognizes that the mother's body, like the life support system on the ISS, is designed to be able to support an additional life. The extraordinary action is the murder of the astronaut - the status quo is to keep her there. This is analogous to the case of abortion - the status quo would be to do nothing and let the baby develop. The visiting astronaut could have been left there by accident (aka contraceptive failure) or on purpose (aka rape). It doesn't matter how she got there, if she is human.

I've been thinking about this analogy for a couple of days now and I think it holds water. What do you think? In what ways is it an imperfect analogy? In what ways is the violinist argument stronger?


Post a Comment