Monday, July 14, 2014

David Boonin's "Organized Cortical Brain Activity" Argument

[Today's guest post by Ben Williamson is part of our paid blogging program.]

Philosopher David Boonin, who is a prominent advocate of abortion rights, is in my opinion one of the most sophisticated defenders of abortion rights out of the authors I have read. He is somewhat different from most abortion rights advocates in that he wants to craft an argument that will support abortion rights, but will avoid the pitfall of infanticide. Since most arguments that deny the personhood of the unborn could very well be used to justify infanticide, Boonin does not want to go that route. Instead, he argues that even though both the unborn and newborn are not self-aware, the newborn is a person because it has a certain cortical brain activity that allows it to have desires. Once it has the ability to have desires, it can desire a right to life and hence have a right to life. We might call this the “desire” argument for convenience. Boonin’s argument, as outlined in Francis Beckwith’s essay Defending Abortion Philosophically: A Review of David Boonin’s A Defense of Abortion, can be seen as follows:
  1. Organized cortical brain activity must be present in order for a being to be capable of conscious experience. 
  2. Prior to having a conscious experience, a being has no desires.
  3. Desires (as understood in Boonin’s taxonomy; see below) are necessary in order for a being to have a right to life. 
  4. The fetus acquires organized cortical brain activity between 25 and 32 weeks gestation.
  5. Therefore, the fetus has no right to life prior to organized cortical brain activity. 
In the essay, Boonin makes several key distinctions between having certain desires: occurrent, dispositional, ideal, and actual desires. Occurrent desires are desires you have and are directly aware of them. For example I have the occurrent desire to finish this paper. However, you have a dispositional desire “if it is a desire that you do have right now even if you are not thinking about at just this moment, such as your desire to live a good long life.” (Beckwith 186.) Ideal desires are ones you have if you had additional information that would alter your actual desires. An example would be if you walked outside by the pool and there was an anaconda within five feet from you. But you had no idea. Ideally, you desire to be out of the area because your life could be in danger, even though your actual desire is to be by the pool. The youngest unborn, unlike newborns and people temporarily in comas, does not have dispositional or ideal desires since it lacks organized cortical brain activity. Hence, killing the unborn is permissible but it would not be permissible to kill newborns or comatose people.

Beckwith gives two responses to Boonin’s argument, but I will only focus on one for the sake of time. Beckwith claims that Boonin’s argument cannot account for possible indoctrination of someone to no longer believe they have a right to life. Beckwith writes, “a person, such as a slave, may be indoctrinated to believe he has no interests, but he still has a prima facie right not to be killed, even if he has no conscious desire for, or interest in, a right to life. Even if the slave is never killed, we would think that he has been harmed precisely because his desires and interests have been obstructed from coming to fruition.” (Beckwith 187.) But Boonin might respond by saying that the slave did have a right to life because he had ideal desires, which included the right to life, even though his actual or occurrent desires ran in the opposite direction.

But there seems to be a more serious objection for Boonin’s desire account for personhood. Beckwith illustrates this well: “Imagine that you own one of these indoctrinated slaves and she is pregnant with a fetus that has not reached the point of organized cortical brain activity. Because you have become convinced that Boonin’s view of desires is correct, and this you are starting to have doubts about the morality of indoctrinating people with already organized cortical brain activity to become slaves, you hire a scientist who is able to alter the fetus’s brain development in such a way that its organized cortical brain activity prevents the fetus from ever having desires for liberty or a right to life.” (Beckwith 188.) As a result of this operation, the fetus’s potential and basic capabilities to form into a more mature human being who will eventually have desires and possess organized cortical brain activity will never come to pass.

If Boonin is right that desires determine whether one has a right to life, and since the fetus’s brain structure was deliberately altered so as to prevent it from having desires, it follows that the fetus was not harmed in what happened. Was the fetus in fact harmed by this operation? I would say yes; but how would Boonin account for the wrongness of this act? Because according to his account of personhood, it is precisely the presence of organized cortical brain activity that establishes the capacity for the fetus to have desires and a right to life. Prior to that stage, the fetus does not have any desires or interests for anything, and hence cannot be harmed, because it does not have the present desire not to be harmed or killed. Only persons who have interests or desires not to be harmed – whether actual or dispositional – cannot be harmed or killed without moral justification. But since the fetus lacked all of these qualities, it was not harmed by the surgery and it was not deprived of anything since it did not have desires, if you accept Boonin’s argument for desires grounding a right to life.

To make it even more absurd, suppose you had a mother who intentionally wanted to give birth to three children who had no desires for anything, and arranged for their brain structures to be operated upon in such a way so as to prevent them from reaching organized cortical brain activity. And after giving birth to them, she kills them, harvests their eggs, and donates them to the Center for Disease Control for research. Has she done something morally wrong? Yes, because she deliberately consented to an operation that blocked the fetuses’ developmental capacity to desire anything and hence she hindered their growth process. The fetus was harmed because its potential growth was blocked from coming to completion, not merely because it failed to reach the state of desiring anything.

At the end of the day, Boonin’s account for personhood fails because it cannot explain why intentionally preventing someone from ever having desires prior to reaching organized cortical brain activity would be morally wrong or why it would harm the subject in question.


Kelsey said...

I've never been convinced by the idea that desires are necessary for rights. Children have the right to an education, even if an individual child desires not to go to school. I have the right to bear arms, even though I'm uncomfortable around guns and never had the desire to own one. If you don't have to desire the right itself... what exactly is the connection between desires and rights?

Drew Hymer said...

What if a person in a coma doesn't currently have the cortical brain activity because the cortical brain structures are damaged from the accident? The brain structures will be healed in a few months.

Janet Susan said...

I find these far-reaching "suppose you had" philoscophical debates to be rather absurdly far-reaching. Either you respect and protect the innocent and powerless, or you don't.

kitler said...

They have it. They just are not currently accessing it.

I though you had already been schooled on this?

Acyutananda said...

I haven't read Boonin yet, but your portrayal of his thinking would fit that of various ethicists in one way, so I don't particularly doubt that your portrayal is a fair one. What he (as you have portrayed him) shares with various ethicists is that his criteria for what we could call killability have a very arbitrary taste to them; and a clue to the reason for that arbitrariness is found in your phrase ". . . he wants to craft an argument that will . . ."

It sounds, from what you have presented, as though he has a certain agenda ("he wants") stemming from pre-logical intuition and some psychological makeup that he is a prisoner of, and he tailors his logic accordingly.

I don't mean to single out ethicists in this way or to single out pro-choicers in this way. We all do this and it's well-known that we do it. But I think that we would benefit and the conversation would benefit from being more honest about the reality and focusing more on the question "If the whole debate amounts to little more than conflicting intuitions, where do we go from there?" Personally I have thought about this as best I could here:

argent said...

I think your discussion of morality and intuition is really interesting!

While this doesn't apply to all pro-choicers, I think that many believe that the anti-abortion position exists because of moral intuitions about sex, pregnancy, and people with uteruses that are based in flawed information and subconscious biases.

And I would acknowledge that that incorrect information and those subconscious biases exist, but argue that the pro-abortion position exists because of moral intuitions shaped by subconscious biases and flawed information about people who are young, people who are dependent on others, the human aging process, etc.

Which is why I think the more effective way to end abortion and all other exploitation of young people has more to do with identifying and correcting for these biases and false information than with convincing people that abortion should be illegal per se.

Guest said...

Contra-Beckwith, Boonin's account actually would permit infanticide in some cases. As Christopher Kaczor points out, babies have been born as early as 22-24 weeks, well before the threshold for organized cortical brain activity outlined above.

kitler said...

Extreme neonates are not always kept alive. Its often left up to the family whether or not to continue life support or to even resuscitate.

kitler said...

Newborns are 1) sentient 2) do not inhabit the body of a juridical person.

Chalkdust said...

No, but I'm pretty well convinced that we ought to be respecting and protecting innocent chimpanzees.

It's all very well saying that far-reaching philosophy is silly and we should just "respect and protect the innocent and powerless", but if you don't actually "respect and protect" all "innocent and powerless" living things, then there must be some hidden more-complicated philosophical arguments that you use to decide which to protect. Insisting that you have a simpler criterion and then hiding part of your criterion seems disingenuous to me.

Ann said...

You sound like a Jainist. Is that your hidden more complicated philosophy?

Guest said...

That's because the medical care is potentially futile, not because the neonates aren't considered persons.

kitler said...

Not necessarily, no. Neonates can survive, only with severe brain damage.

Acyutananda said...

"has more to do with identifying and correcting for these biases and false information"

Good point. And I think the psychological sources of the biases largely correct themselves automatically once a person identifies them in oneself -- or rather they evaporate. For myself I've found that the best ways to identify them are meditation and primal therapy. But primal therapy can get out of control. I wouldn't necessarily make a blanket recommendation of it. Anyone should research it first, and if they do it, meditate regularly as well.

Guest said...

And in that case, where the treatment is not futile and the neonate is not irreversibly comatose, the family is not allowed to withhold medical care. Severe brain damage is not considered a valid exception.

kitler said...

1) the USA is not the center of the world

2) the baby doe cases were easily correctable

Extreme neonates are not always resuscitated, just as patients in possible irreversible comas are not kept on life support forever - the decision is often left to the next of kin.

Guest said...

1. That's true. Though I think it reflects rather well on the U.S. that, unlike in certain countries, it's not legal to deny your newborn lifesaving surgery because she's not perfect or the wrong gender.

2. And once again, that's based on the principle that the medical treatment is futile, not that extreme neonates aren't persons.

someone45 said...

I will agree to respect and protect hem and their right to life once they can survive without the use of the body of an unwilling woman.

Janet Susan said...

Oh. Sorry. I thought it was pretty obvious we were discussing humans.

Chalkdust said...

If you have one moral philosophy that applies to human beings, and an entirely separate moral philosophy that applies to non-human living things, I feel like that's pretty species-ist.

If you have an actual reason why innocent and powerless human beings are more worthy of protection than innocent and powerless cockroaches, then that is the hidden complication of your philosophy I'm talking about.

Chalkdust said...

No. Maybe I should have used cockroaches myself in my first question.

I'm not trying to claim that my hidden more complicated philosophy is a uniform philosophy that everyone else holds without realizing it; I'm just trying to claim that Janet Susan has one, even if it isn't mine.

Chris R said...

Humans aren't the only species with "organized cortical brain activity", are we? Does Boonin believe all mammals have a right to live?

Bryan said...

Based on the desires model, I've always liked to ask people about a hypothetical scenario where a child is born that's been in coma since before developing organized brain cortical activity. Based on these circumstances, the child neither currently has nor ever had desires (which separates them from a normal coma patient who has past desires). So, can we kill the child? I think most people would be hesitant to answer yes because we do indeed place future value on the child. The child will recover from the coma and live his or her life, and killing them would deprive them of their future life.

Bryan said...

My other issue is that basing rights on your current functions or desires would seemingly lead to a graded scale of human rights like what Peter Singer has discussed before (i.e. killing a newborn isn't really as bad as killing a grown adult). Newborns have about the same cognitive skills as a gorilla (probably less) and absolutely no self-awareness, so why do they have more rights than a gorilla? Why do they have the same rights as adults if their cognitive functions are so very inferior to adults and even many animals? The answer, once again, is that we place emphasis on the future value and capabilities of the newborn (who will one day be an adult human being), not the newborn's current capabilities.

Clinton said...

I'm not convinced Chalkdust or Kitler even read the articles.

Simon Jm said...

I can tell you with 100% certainty that David Boonin never meant his argument to be a formal rock-tight philosophical account.

Rather it is an attempt to make philosophically plausible explanation to fit some peoples moral intuitions that a fetus has no personhood standing while a baby does, when neither have personhood functionality.

Simon Jm said...

And? You have yet to show why bare sentience matters.

Simon Jm said...

The system lacks functionality therefore a functional capacity is absent.

Simon Jm said...

They are side issues that are relevant to other important questions Clinton.

I pointed out to Boonin that cogntive desires aren't the only way to ground interests and that both humans and other animals have wel-bing interests.

He countered well we don't treat other animals that way. But that in itself mean we shouldn't.

Simon Jm said...

I do lean towards a secular Jainist POV and think it is the inevitable outcome of any ethics.

kitler said...


It's there, otherwise they would not be able to recover from the coma.

If they lose it, they cannot recover, and are in a PVS and have suffered neocortical death.

Clinton said...

Nevertheless, they are side issues. I don't think Chalkdust or Kitler read the articles; I'm pretty sure they just come here to argue.

Simon Jm said...

No only those that go on to be persons.

Janet Susan said...

That's a great question. Why do you think they should have the same worth?

Chalkdust said...

I'm...not sure where you're getting that from.

My views are that nobody has an obligation to remain pregnant any longer than they want to.

This view does not absolutely forbid charging people who have late-term abortions instead of labor inductions with abortion, and it certainly doesn't forbid charging people who cause a miscarriage without the pregnant person's consent with a crime.

Now, I'm very skeptical about the practicalities of this (according to this article, one man in SC has been prosecuted for causing another person to miscarry, and about 300 women have been arrested under the same law (presumably for accidentally or deliberately causing themselves to miscarry)). Fetal homicide laws are extremely likely to be misused, so I'm generally opposed to them in practice, but if the pro-life movement would stop being so anti-woman, I would not oppose such laws in principle.

Chalkdust said...

I read the articles. I just have a different set of priorities than you, so the stuff that bothers me enough to be worth commenting on is different from the stuff you think is worth commenting on.

someone45 said...

I would be fine with that (don't eat meat)
but seeing as how that choice is something out of my control I cannot really do anything about it.

kitler said...

A damaged coma victim or a doctor with amnesia are TEMPORARILY not accessing their abilities. They haven't lost them.

If a boxer burns his hand he doesn't cease being a boxer while it heals. He is temporarily not using his abilities. A zygote has NEVER had the capacity for sentience or sapience, and might NEVER have it. The capacity/ability simply doesn't exist.

kitler said...

I'm asking you.

anon said...

Boonin's argument ignores the fact that higher cortical activity is suppressed until birth due to environmental factors in the womb(the chemical composition of the womb that keeps the unborn in an unconscious state). If you transferred a fetus into a larger artificial womb and it developed into an adult without being born, it would still not develop higher cortical brain functions.

So if you follow this argument to its logical conclusion, you should have no qualms with growing and harvesting full human beings for the benefit of others(for organ and limb transplants, stem cells, research etc) so long as they never reached consciousness.

kitler said...

The fetus is unconscious while in the womb, this is true, but the thalamacortical connections that give rise to consciousness develop between the 22-28th week.

Coyote said...

"I'm...not sure where you're getting that from."

Maybe I should have phrased myself more clearly here, but I *do* think that I raise a valid point.

"My views are that nobody has an obligation to remain pregnant any longer than they want to."

Yes, I get that.

"This view does not absolutely forbid charging people who have late-term abortions instead of labor inductions with abortion"

Here are two questions, though:

1. What exactly is more dangerous for a pregnant woman--getting an *elective* late-term abortion or giving birth?
2. Why exactly shouldn't women be allowed to get *elective* late-term abortions in the event of a shortage of adoptive parents? After all, viable fetuses have equal or lesser intelligence to some non-human animals (such as pigs and chickens) whom we sometimes kill.

"and it certainly doesn't forbid charging people who cause a miscarriage without the pregnant person's consent with a crime."

I didn't say that it forbids charging them with a crime. This is a (probably unintentional) strawman of my position here. I said that it doesn't make sense to charge anyone with *murder or manslaughter* for killing a wanted prenatal human being at any stage of development. From a pro-choice and from a *non-speciesist* perspective, there *should* be some kind of penalty/punishment for doing this--just not a penalty/punishment as severe as murder or manslaughter is. For instance, from a pro-choice and a *non-speciesist* perspective, if someone kills a wanted viable fetus, then he or she should given the same punishment for this that he or she would have gotten if he or she would have killed someone else's pet cat or pet dog. In contrast, if someone kills a non-viable fetus, then from this perspective, while one *should* obviously receive some sort of punishment for this, this punishment should probably be less severe than the punishment for killing someone else's pet cat or pet dog.

To summarize and clarify, my point here is that, from a *non-speciesist* perspective, while it *does* make sense to punish and to prosecute people for killing wanted fetuses, it *doesn't* make sense to charge these people with something as severe as murder or manslaughter for doing this considering that we don't charge people who kill wanted animals (such as someone else's pet cats, pet dogs, et cetera) with something as severe as murder or manslaughter for doing this. (Pet cats, pet dogs, et cetera are relevant here because, as far as I know, they have equal or greater intelligent to human embryos and fetuses at any time before these human embryos and fetuses are born.)

Coyote said...

Well, you can support politicians, ballot measures, and/or et cetera who want to provide greater protection to viable non-human animals.

someone45 said...

I can but I never see that changing. I am OK with the thinking that I don't want to eat meat but I am not going to judge someone who wants to have a hamburger for lunch.

Coyote said...

It's a step up, but this does nothing to undercut my point here that pigs, chickens, et cetera are also sentient and viable.

Coyote said...

I strongly apologize for the disgusting-ness of this question, but would you also oppose judging someone who gets pregnant, somehow gets the embryo/fetus removed in one piece, and then wants to cook and eat this embryo/fetus?

Simon Jm said...

Not if a present capacity is required. & that is how philosophy sees the coma patient at this moment.

& the Prince is not a King argument is just as valid here.

Ok things like being a doctor and boxer are accidental to the humans identity. So it isn't exactly analogous.

But I still think there are strong ontological arguments that anything developing itself -even if assisted or due to its extended nature- is already fundamentally itself.

kitler said...

& that is how philosophy sees the coma patient at this moment.

Unlike you, I prefer to go with how science sees it, because science is based on evidence, not 'strongly held beliefs'

Petr Svoboda said...

That not what the argument says. According to Boonin you don't need to have desire to live to have thje right to live. You only need to have desires, any desires. He says nothing obout other rights.

feminista said...

Even newborns have desires and emotions. Embryos, not so much.

Simon Jm said...

Are you a Sam Harris fan? Another uniformed individual that thinks science can answer all questions or isn't open to analysis? BTW science has held incomplete or flawed concepts or theories in the past and no doubt will again.

Also that is a howler anyway since how personhood is framed and used to ground moral worth comes from PHILOSOPHY.

If you want to criticize how it is framed and conceptualized do so but don't think of throw away claims only science -where there is no definite claim anyway- is the only answer.

feminista said...

I prefer to go with what science says about comas and neocortical capacities over the fanciful beliefs of philosophers who can decide on a whim that neurons are actually tiny elves on treadmills and that a coma is when said elves take a nap.

Chalkdust said...

I think that I have a less black-and-white view of law than you do.

We live in a diverse society, and different people have different views on what laws are what kind. The abortion debate exists because some people think anti-abortion laws are morally required and other people think they are morally forbidden.

The bodily rights argument states that forcing someone to remain pregnant is morally wrong. So in this view early-term abortion bans are morally wrong. Once people can enact their right not to be pregnant by induction rather than by abortion, requiring them to do so is still...probably a bad idea, but not violating their fundamental rights in the same deep way.

I don't really want a late-term abortion ban. But such a ban is not wrong in my view in the way a pre-viability ban is. I live in a large and diverse country with lots of people who do want late-term abortions to be banned. All I'm saying is that my view doesn't forbid having late-term bans as a compromise. In which case, "why should we ban late-term abortion?" is a question not for me, but for the people I'm compromising with.

I can't find any good studies comparing late-term elective abortion with late-term labor induction. I will note, however, that in the second trimester, induction is a method of abortion that people use, and later on when something goes wrong with a pregnancy they usually try to treat it by inducing rather than aborting, both of which strongly hint to me that induction is not that much more dangerous.

Regarding causing the death of a wanted fetus:

I think that there are grounds for harsher punishment than for causing the death of a cat or dog. In the case of a wanted fetus, there are two victims: the fetus and its mother. If the mother is trying to have a child, and she has to start all over again, then the person who killed her fetus should at the least be treated as if he'd assaulted her and caused damage equivalent to the physiological stresses of getting a new pregnancy up to the point of the lost one. That leaves out time issues (causing a 40-year-old to miscarry might well mean that she never gets to have a child at all) and psychological issues--miscarriage can be traumatic even for the most pro-choice of prospective parents and I don't even want to think about what it's like for pro-lifers.

So I think that killing a wanted fetus should be considered assault upon the pregnant person (above and beyond any damage to her, of which there will probably be some). Calling it manslaughter? You're right, in my view that is too much, but again I live in a diverse society and that might be a valid political compromise.

Chalkdust said...

The point of my previous comment was that for me, a post-viability ban is a good compromise in the sense that from my view, viability is a natural dividing line; a previability induced abortion is morally different from a postviability induced abortion. You seem to be claiming that a pro-life person can choose "forced pregnancy, but not forced kidney donation" as a compromise between life and bodily rights and be just as consistent as I am when I accept a postviability ban on induced abortion.

I don't think that the responsibility argument actually works. And I've never seen any other argument that was at all convincing for why refusal to donate a kidney should be regarded as morally more valid than refusal to remain pregnant. Except for the issue I discuss below, I'd probably accept "because there are more abortions than there are people on the kidney waiting lists" as a valid reason for that compromise--but I've never gotten that argument. It's pretty much always been some ableist nonsense about the fetus's need for a uterus being inherently more valid than a sick person's need for a transplant, or a teleological claim that my uterus was designed for fetuses to use and therefore I have no right to decide which fetuses may use it, or something equally nonsensical.

So no, unless the pro-life community would like to give me a good reason why forced pregnancy is more okay than forced organ donation, I don't have to view that compromise as just as valid as the viability compromise.

There's another reason why I think the pregnancy mandatory/organ donation optional compromise is horribly unjust.

I support legalizing drug use. Many people oppose it. A reasonable compromise may be to have one list of drugs whose use is illegal and another list of drugs whose use is legal. This is reasonable if the selection criteria for the two lists is reasonable. However, if it turns out that the list of all illegal drugs is the list of drugs with more black users than white users, and the list of legal drugs is the other way around, that is obviously deeply problematic. In fact, I would say that the racial injustice in that choice of lists is so bad that, rather than settle on this compromise, I would prefer to just criminalize everything.

The pregnancy mandatory/organ donation optional compromise is sexist in the same way the above policy is racist. Under this compromise only people with uteruses are required to let other people use their bodies. People without uteruses never have to give up their bodily autonomy to anyone else. That is deeply unfair and sexually biased, and I don't see how it is an acceptable compromise.

Coyote said...

This appears to be the argument which politically anti-abortion people use to justify both forced/coerced pregnancy and forced child support payments.

In regards to your question here, from my current perspective, I am genuinely unsure about this.

conversate said...

Is it active killing if the woman only acts on her body and not that of the prenate?

conversate said...

If you invite someone onto your boat, and they occupy your body and then threaten to torture and possibly kill you, would you be within your rights to throw them off if that was the only means of escape?

Coyote said...

One might still say Yes because the woman's action in kicking the fetus out of her body caused the fetus's death, similar to how throwing someone who cannot swim overboard from a boat might be considered active killing.

Coyote said...

Yes, you would; I don't see why you wouldn't be.

conversate said...

Is it active killing to disconnect the iv (that leads to the violinist) from YOUR body?

BTW coyote, I always enjoy talking to you.

Coyote said...

"Is it active killing to disconnect the iv (that leads to the violinist) from YOUR body?"

Once again, one might still say Yes.

"BTW coyote, I always enjoy talking to you."

Are you being sarcastic here? I honestly can't tell.

conversate said...

I'm serious.

How about fallopian tube removal in the case of ectopic pregnancy vs the use of methotrexate?

Coyote said...

"How about fallopian tube removal in the case of ectopic pregnancy vs the use of methotrexate?"

It might depend on whether or not the prenate is already dead before this action occurs.

Also, again, to clarify--I am simply examining and testing the merits of the active killing vs. letting die argument; I do not necessarily want to use this argument myself. (And for the record, I have already become politically ambivalent on the abortion issue by now.)

Coyote said...

In addition, as a side note, I wonder if Chalkdust's arguments here can be used to argue that it is morally unjustifiable to kill an embryo/fetus via abortion if it is possible to remove this embryo/fetus from the woman's body intact (even if this embryo/fetus will die anyway shortly afterwards).

conversate said...

I was not being sarcastic BTW.

And in early term abortions if it is small enough it comes out in one piece

Coyote said...

"I was not being sarcastic BTW."

Yes, I already understood this part after seeing your previous post.

"And in early term abortions if it is small enough it comes out in one piece"

Yeah, as far as I know, this appears to be accurate.

Chalkdust said...

Is existing in a situation of existential dependency worse than not existing at all? If not, then the pregnant person did not harm the z/e/f by putting it into that situation and she does not owe it reparations in the form of use of her body.

conversate said...

It's Simon Jm's thesis:

Chalkdust said...

I don't see why such a pro-life compromise position is a weak one; after
all, having less morally unjustifiable deaths is better than having
more morally unjustifiable deaths, right?

I agree. My point is that they don't: I've gotten this "more deaths are worse than fewer deaths" argument from you (ambivalent) and from myself (pro-choice) but I've never seen it coming from an actual pro-lifer.

(I am talking about pro-lifers which view both prenatal deaths due to
abortion and postnatal deaths due to someone refusing to donate a body
part after he or she causes this other person to need a new body part in
the first place)

You keep saying this and it's really frustrating. I will say it again: causing a person (z/e/f) to need something (my uterus) does NOT impose an obligation on me to provide that something unless I harmed them by doing so. Forced pregnancy is analogous to forced organ donation, full stop, not forced organ donation in the vanishingly rare situation where the donor caused the recipient's situation and happens to be a tissue match.

As I've already stated elsewhere, the former case here might be a case of refusing/withholding aid.

I've heard that argument too. I don't see why "active killing" is worse than "passively letting to die". Not to mention that during pregnancy, the z/e/f is engaging in what amounts to chemical assault on the pregnant person and in that situation she is entitled to use force to end it.

I don't know if the responsibility argument works, but if it does not
work for pregnancy, then I don't see why it works in regards to forcing
males to pay child support either.

I'm coming around to the viewpoint that we shouldn't force noncustodial parents to pay child support if they sign away their parental rights early (and I think that there are valid reasons why not giving the child up early = implied consent to raise the child). I still think that for a number of practical reasons, forced pregnancy is a more important issue than forced child support. (This would be analogous to the hypothetical pro-lifer who does not fight for forced organ donation because doing so will result in fewer deaths.)

And I would like to emphasize again, either the mother or the father can impose child support costs on the other by choosing to be a custodial parent. Once the child is born, or, realistically, halfway through the pregnancy when induced abortion is unavailable, child support laws are gender-symmetric. They aren't inherently biased against men.

Everyone else is either guaranteed to be infertile (eunuchs,
trans-females after a certain point) or is able to get abortions
(fertile females) and thus always avoids the risk of paying/being forced
to pay child support after he or she has sex with a fertile female.

This fertile female poster runs the risk of having to pay child support any time she has sex. S, described at the start of this story, had sex and wound up with the responsibilities of a custodial parent because of restrictions on second-trimester abortion. So no, it's not really the case that fertile females never run the risk of involuntary parenthood when they have sex.

Are you willing to accept, say, marriage as implied consent on the fertile male partner's part to pay child support for children resulting from pregnancies the fertile female partner chose to carry to term?

Do you have any good statistics on how many parents are compelled to pay child support for children that they wanted to abort or give up for adoption (as opposed to, say, parents who separated when their children are toddlers)? said...

Also, one more question in regards to risk for the woman: if technology in the future is developed which can transfer a non-viable fetus from a woman's womb to an artificial womb but where this process (hypothetically) has a 50% chance of causing this woman to die, would you support mandating women who are pregnant with non-viable fetuses to undergo such a process instead of getting an abortion? What about if the chance of death for such a woman was 10% rather than 50%? What about 5%? 1%? 0.1%? Where exactly would you draw the line in regards to this, and why? Also, what if you (hypothetically) considered non-viable fetuses to be persons/worthy of having rights--then where exactly would you draw the line in regards to this, and why?

(This is basically a scenario which is meant to be a future-technology equivalent/analogy to the current situation of forcing a woman to give birth to a viable fetus as opposed to allowing her to get an elective late-term abortion.) said...

Thank you for examining this issue more thoroughly, I suppose. Of course, this does raise an interesting question--where exactly, if anywhere, can we impartially draw the line in regards to signing away one's parental rights? Why exactly is doing this when a child is, say, one month old more acceptable than doing this when a child is, say, one year old or five years old? Also, if consent can be revoked in regards to pregnancy (such as in cases where a surrogate willingly got pregnant or something along thos e lines), then couldn't one argue that consent should also be revoked in regards to paying child support (as in, even if one implicitly agreed to do this, one should be able to change his or her mind on this later on)?

On revocable consent: people sign on to irrevocable financial obligations all the time. Our economy wouldn't function without them. Saying that consent to use of one's body (having sex, donating organs, pregnancy) should be revocable at any time does not imply that consent to use of one's wallet should be revocable at any time.

On time-limited opportunities to revoke parental responsibilities:

(1) Pregnant people who choose to avoid parenthood by inducing abortion have a time-limited window: nine months in theory, more like three or four in practice. If the reason to offer termination of parental rights and responsibilities is to give male-bodied parents the same right of refusal as female-bodied parents, well, female-bodied parents have a time-limited right of refusal, why should male-bodied parents get an indefinite right?

(2) A child who is given up for adoption benefits in several tangible ways if they are given up as an infant rather than an older child. Many (actually, most) prospective adoptive parents strongly prefer healthy infants to older children, and so a child whose parents terminate their rights later stands a much higher chance of growing up in foster care. Furthermore, even if the child does manage to get adopted at age two or six or twelve, emotionally bonding with a new caregiver and/or dealing with the loss of the old caregiver is much harder than if they are too young to remember their birth parents.

"This fertile female poster runs the risk of having to pay child support any time she has sex."

I am presuming that this is because she *voluntarily* does not utilize an opt-out (abortion) which she has in regards to this, correct?


"S, described at the start of this story, had sex and wound up with the responsibilities of a custodial parent because of restrictions on second-trimester abortion."

But if she would have decided to get an abortion sooner, would she have been able to get one? If so, then this does *not* appear to be a valid analogy.

I'm not really comfortable saying that a strongly pro-life pregnant person really "has" the option of abortion. But more to the point, some people don't realize that they are pregnant for three or four months, at which point abortion is no longer available. So, yes, there are female-bodied people who get stuck as parents after having sex without having the option to abort. said...

Please take as much time as you want/need, but I just wanted to let you know that I am still waiting for you to respond to these two comments of mine. said...

Early-term, even if the placental transfer operation had a rate of complications no worse than that of an abortion, I would not support mandating its use. This is largely because I don't think embryos and early-term fetuses are people, and if someone (say) is a carrier for hemophilia and doesn't want to pass it on, I think her decision is more important than preserving a nonperson's life.

Late-term, or if I thought a fetus was a person...An operation with a 50% chance of death is not really a viable alternative to an abortion. It would be like passing an anti-abortion law and, in order to give women an alternative to remaining pregnant, legalizing suicide. So I can't see supporting abortion rights in our present state, but accepting your 50% machine as a good idea if it was invented.

If a fetus simply drops dead or vanishes, the pregnant person will probably be fine. If the pregnant person dies or vanishes before viability, the fetus will die. Your 50% machine is much better for the fetus than the natural result of separation, and much worse for the pregnant person. You didn't specify how safe the transfer was for the fetus, but it sounds like you're envisioning something fairly safe--a transfer is better for the fetus than the pregnant person, and since it's the one using her and not vice versa, it should be the one bearing the greater risks.

(If we flip the situation, say, and make transfers kill 50% of the fetuses and only 5% of the pregnant people, would you support making this option available? Could you envision a pro-life person wanting this option to be available? What if it was 50% for both of them?)

So I can't see mandating a placental transfer that's more dangerous than an abortion.

Also, let's think about what "mandate" really means. God can declare, "Thou shalt not kill", but human laws aren't like that. The state does not pretend that it can prevent people from stealing things; rather, it says, "If you do X, Y, and Z, then we say that you are guilty of larceny; if we can prove that you are guilty of larceny, then we will inflict punishment P upon you." (Nathan Burney's Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law talks about this--the chapter I'm linking to has some examples of theft statutes.) So when you say, "Should we mandate that pregnant people use placental transfers rather than abortions," what I hear is not, "Would it be better for pregnant people to use placental transfers rather than abortions." What I hear is, "Should we punish pregnant people who induce abortions rather than having placental transfers." This is one of the problems I have with the pro-life movement as a whole: crisis pregnancy centers done properly are fine things, but most of the movement is focused on criminalizing abortion, which means that most of the pro-life movement is focused on punishing people.

Even if placental transfers were statistically as safe as abortion, I don't think I'd want to mandate them, because in real life most medical procedures are less risky for some than others and I want a woman for whom a placental transfer is unusually dangerous to have an alternative. But that just means I don't want to punish people who choose abortion--it doesn't mean that I don't think placental transfers should be available, and it doesn't mean I don't think that they are a better alternative in most cases. said...

My post here appears to be extremely long, but also extremely thoughtful. Its length is a result of me responding to every single part of what you wrote here, so yeah. :)