Monday, November 26, 2012

Abortion and Liberalism

I've been thinking a lot recently about abortion and the right to life-- hardly surprising, given the headlines in Ireland at the moment. It struck me today-- as I was drying my hands, which seems to be when a lot of things do strike me (maybe because hand dryers are so bloody slow)-- how crazy it is that we think of pregnancy as a hard case, a kind of aberration, when it comes to the rights of the person.

I had been thinking how difficult it is (in terms of argument; in terms of right and wrong, it seems crystal clear to me) to disentangle the rights of one person from the rights of another, when one of them happens to be inside the body of the other, and uttterly dependent upon the other for its existence.

Then it occurred to me how ridiculous it was that I was, unthinkingly, looking at the situation as a kind of chance, one-in-a-million occurence, like the philosophical thought experiments about half of one person's brain being grafted onto half of another person's brain.

It struck me how easily we become trapped in a mental system. Our entire outlook, when it comes to the theory of rights, rests upon the assumption that the ethical subject is an autonomous individual who makes informed decisions and gives consent.

Of course, this ignores (or at least begs the question) that every human being on the planet spent a considerable amount of time as an individual who was utterly dependent upon another individual for his or her existence, and indeed contained within her body.

And not only that, but that every single human being on the planet then spent a period of years being incapable of giving informed consent or acting as an autonomous agent.

And furthermore, that every human being on the planet is quite likely to spend at least some period of time having passed beyond the stage of being able to make informed consent or act autonomously.

Our entire way of talking about rights is based on the assumption that human beings pop into existence, their mental and physical faculties fully formed, and then pop out again when they feel like it.

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