Gazzaniga ties abortion to euthanasia and old age. There is a point after which deterioration of an aging brain leaves nothing of the person it once was. Gazzaniga finds that most cultures will agree that once the person is completely gone there is no ethical issue of keeping the empty body alive, although there is not agreement on when this point is reached. Putting aside the truth or falsehood of this assumption I'd like to discuss its connection to abortion. As I understand it the argument is that, since we agree there is no value in keeping a body alive which has deteriorated to this point, there is no value in keeping alive an embryo which has not reached the same point of neural competence.
I would ask Gazzaniga, or anyone who cares to defend this line of reasoning: Would it matter if there were a chance that the person with the non-functioning brain had a possibility of partially recovering? I don't think there would be support for "pulling the plug" on someone who might think again. And this is where the fetus analogy fails completely. The 17 week old fetus is totally incapable of thinking or feeling, like the old person. But left to its own devices it almost inevitably WILL be capable of thinking and feeling later, while the aged brain will not.
Gazzaniga also recaps the "moment of conception" argument. I am well aware that there is no exact biological moment of conception, but try as I might I can't see how this knowledge contributes to a moral conclusion. I suppose it serves as a counter argument to those who claim to know when life begins. If we are looking for agreement, though, a technical objection to the other side's point of view is useless.
If we are looking for a universal morality on which we can all agree, I think the only workable solution is to take the most extreme commonly held position, because it is the only one which can encompasses the others. I think that, in the construction of a common morality, human life should be considered to begin at the point in time when the egg accepts a sperm into itself.
I'm sure I'm not the first to point out that there are two separate issues here. One is whether abortion itself is right or wrong, and the other is the question of who's choice it is in a given situation. I see the unacceptable hubris in the assertion that old white men have the right to tell young black women what they have to do with their bodies. For practical and human rights reasons I am opposed to legislation forbidding abortion. On the other hand those who support abortion rights seem blind to the real moral concerns of those who oppose abortion. To make my position clear: I think abortion is morally wrong, because I know that many of my human cohorts find it abhorrent
. The hubris of the pro-choice position, in my opinion, is the assumption that they can simply ignore the moral judgment of those with whom they disagree.
What should be done? Almost everyone in the west and many in the east, including Islamic scholars, agree that infibulation
is wrong. Does it automatically follow, then, that armed troops should be sent to stop it wherever it occurs? Perhaps it does. The police will arrest anyone they catch doing it in New York City and yet there is nothing in our foreign policy to say that Syria must stop or face being Iraqued. We seem to have concluded, as a society, that the horrors of warfare are worse than certain extreme civil rights violations. In my opinion for peace to prevail the anti-abortion movement has to accept that we cannot right every wrong by force of arms. Argue against it; advertise; offer alternatives; even encourage the use of tax dollars to change minds and hearts. But a line has to be drawn at the use of force. On the other hand I think the women's rights movement needs to recognize that they are supporting an individual's right to do something which is morally wrong. Argue for the right; remind people of the alternatives; mail out free copies of "Dirty Dancing". But don't pretend that ending a human life is morally neutral.
If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything.
Daniel Dennett, 1984