Is it possible to make a case for the prima facie wrongness of killing a human foetus that does not depend on theological premises? In 1989 atheist philosopher Donald Marquis introduced a philosophical case for immorality of abortion that neither depended on the personhood nor consciousness of the foetus.
Consider these five cases, borrowed from Pedro Galvão (2007):
(A) The typical human foetus;
(A1) The typical preconscious fetus;
(A2) The typical conscious fetus;
(B) The typical human infant;
(C) The temporarily depressed suicidal;
(D) The temporarily comatose adult;
(E) The typical human adult.
Could what makes the killing of (B-E) prima facie so wrong be relevantly similar to the killing of (A)? This post offers a philosophical case for why abortion, killing of (A1) and (A2), is prima facie wrong, as it revisits Robert Young’s thesis (1979) on what makes killing people, in some occasions, so wrong, and Marquis’ articulations of future of value arguments (1989, 2001).
Barack Obama’s lamenting speech addressed to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in Newtown, correctly captured the prima facie wrongness of killing people. Obama understood the gravity of the killer’s unjust prevention of the little kids, and adults’ future of value. He said,
The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams. (Obama 2012: n.p)It is prima facie wrong to kill human being, according to David Boonin’s modified future-like-ours argument, because it “is in general prima facie wrong to act in ways that frustrate the desires of others, and in general more seriously prima facie wrong to act in ways that frustrate their stronger desires.”(Boonin 2003, 67)
Boonin’s view would explain why it is wrong to kill (A2)*, (B) and (E), but not (C) and (D) because (C) and (D) lack strong desire to enjoy their personal future. Assuming we agree that killing (C) and (D) is prima facie wrong, Boonin’s view is, thus, inadequate to explain why it is generally prima facie so wrong to kill people.
Unlike Boonin, Young provided a richer explanation. He argued,
[W]hat makes killing another human being wrong on occasions is its character as an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of the victims’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come have.(Young 1979, 516)Persuaded by Young’s account, Marquis argued that ‘‘for any killing where the victim did have a valuable future like ours, having that future by itself is sufficient to create the strong presumption that the killing is seriously wrong." (Marquis 1989, 195)
Young’s account is richer because it includes (C) and (D). In both cases, viz., a depressed suicidal teenager and a comatose patient are reasonably expected to resume such life-purpose. In this account, if correct, it would be equally wrong to kill (A1) and (A2) because they also are reasonably expected to come to have such life-purposes. (A1) and (A2) have, borrowing Obama’s words, “their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” Thus,
P1: What makes killing another human being prima facie wrong is “an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of the victims’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come have.”
P2: Abortion is an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of foetus’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the foetus may reasonably have been expected to come have.
C: Abortion is prima facie wrong.
Boonin, David (2003). A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Galvão, Pedro (2007):“Boonin On The Future-Like-Ours Argument Against Abortion “ Bioethics Vol. 21 No. 6: 324-328
Marquis Donald(1989). “Why abortion is immoral.” Journal of Philosophy Vol. 86:183–202.
_________________ (2001) “Deprivations, futures and the wrongness of killing.” Journal of Medical Ethics 2001;27:363–9.
Obama, Barack (2012). Obama’s speech on December 14th 2012. Transcript: President Obama’s Remarks On Conn. School Shootings. White House
Young, Robert (1979) “What Is So Wrong with Killing People?” Philosophy, Vol. 54, No. 210: 515-528
*(A2) and (B) have relatively similar actual desires.