Abortion and Infanticide

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Kalynn LackeyPHIL 3028
Tooley, M. (1972). “Abortion and Infanticide.” Bioethics: An Anthology .Ed. Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer. Singapore: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.25-38.
Tooley defends that abortion and infanticide are morally acceptable on the grounds that infants and fetuses do not possess certain conditions in order to be considered to have a right to life.
Tooley specifies that an organism possesses a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and believes itself to be a continuing entity capable of mental states (28), otherwise known as the self-consciousness requirement. The opposing argument, otherwise known as the conservative argument, claims that a fetus is a person that killing a person is murder, which is seriously wrong. Tooley disagrees with this argument because he deems a fetus not a human being, therefore destroying it is not particularly wrong. Tooley also points out that things that lack consciousness cannot have a right to life. He argues that something that has rights does not necessarily have a right to life. He also argues that fetuses and infants are not in the correct stage of development of the species Homo sapiens to be considered a person, and therefore do not have a right to life. All of these conditions are not satisfied by human fetuses and infants, therefore they do not have a right to live. Our treatment of adult members of other species (excluding Homo sapiens) is also found to be morally unacceptable, concerning their serious right to life.

Tooley does not use the terms “person” and “human being” interchangeably. A person is something that has a serious right to life or a right to continue as a subject of changing emotion and experience. A human being is a member of the genus and species Homo sapiens. There may be persons who are not human beings. Vice versa, there may be human beings that are not persons. This would include fetuses, unconscious brain-dead human beings, etc. Brain-dead human beings and fetuses do not possess consciousness; therefore they do not possess the vital component to be considered a member of the genus and species Homo sapiens.

Tooley defends his first premise by explaining that if some sort of being desires something, then other people are under a prima facie obligation to refrain from actions that would prevent him/her of it (28). So the desire for something, namely X, is a necessary condition of having a right to X. But you can only desire what you are capable of conceiving or thinking of. The author defends this claim by using a machine as a thing with desires but cannot have rights. A machine is not a conscious thinking thing with mental states; therefore it cannot have any rights. Tooley does excel in portraying that non-living things such as machines do not have wants and desires. Machines are not biological organisms therefore they cannot attain the necessary conditions (i.e. mental states and physiological dependencies) to have a right to life. But what of mentally handicapped and elderly human beings whose mental states have left them? Do they no longer attain the right to live? It seems as though since they no longer have a concept of self or experiences, Tooley would say that they no longer possess the right to live. I would disagree with Tooley and say that it is immoral to take away the right to live from humans who once had a concept of self and knowledge of themselves as thinking things. Just because the dilapidation of the human body has deprived them of their mental capacity does not mean that they should be killed or euthanized. They are still apart of the species Homo sapiens and their prior right to life does not vanish simply because of an illness. It cannot be determined whether or not they mentally ill and the elderly possess the desire to live but it is also impossible to tell if they have the desire to die. It cannot be...
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