Judith Jarvis Thomson's Defence on Abortion

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Judith Jarvis Thomson's defence on abortion

Most arguments concerning the abortion issue hinge on the moral status or standing of the fetus with respect to the rights it possesses and the obligations that are directly owed to it. These arguments typically fall into two commonly termed categories: pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-life advocates tend to place the status of the fetus first. They argue human beings including a fetus, have an intrinsic value that confers them the right not to be unjustly killed. Conversely, some pro-choice advocates argue the fetus lacks a virtuous characteristic that affords it any rights or significant morals, this is usually termed the 'personhood' argument.

Other pro-choice advocates such as Judith Jarvis Thomson argue contrary to the moral argument (personhood) they argue for body autonomy which places the interest of the woman first. Central to the view is the claim that no human being regardless of their moral status is permitted to use another human beings body against his or her will as a means to an end or an end in itself. Therefore the human fetus does not have the right to occupy the woman's body for survival if it is against her will. It is viewed as an act of great generosity to continue with a pregnancy (the good Samaritan) primarily, because the woman freely lends her body to support another human-being 'voluntarily. With this being said, should a woman seek an abortion, as to maintain an autonomy over her own body this view is justified.

So within this essay we will asses what Judith Jarvis Thomson's (1978) 'famous violinist scenario' was supposed to show. Assessing whether the scenario is analogous to cases of (1) unwanted pregnancies, (2) abortion. Critic from both sides of the debate will be woven into the evaluation to provide a rounded view, for determining whether the analogy was successful with its intent. A summary will follow with the findings.

Most standardized pro-life arguments concerning the abortion issue start as follows: It is wrong intentionally to take the life of an innocent human being. The unborn is an innocent human being. It is wrong intentionally to take the life of the unborn. Opponents of the pro-life view typically tend to attack this syllogism from the second premise, 'the unborn is an innocent human being', questioning the notion of humanity and personhood of the unborn. Judith Jarvis Thomson however attacks the conclusion 'it is wrong intentionally to take the life of the unborn'. Thompson challenges the idea that one can argue effectively from this premise to the conclusion, that sometimes abortion is morally permissible. She argues that the standard pro-life argument cannot justify the notion that all abortion is morally impermissible. Thompson's argument is well illustrated in her 'famous violinist' analogy.

Thomson writing at a time when the status of the fetus was a great debate grants the opposition for the sake of argument, the premise that the fetus is a unborn person. Thomson then asks the reader to imagine a scenario where they have been kidnapped and involuntarily hooked up to a famous violinist for nine months, in order to save the violinist from a fatal disease. The reader has then to make a conscious choice as to how they would react. Thompson expects the readers moral intuition – there sense of justice to arise to the surface, when the reader considers being kidnapped and attached to the violinist (1) against their will (2) to support the life of a stranger. So would the reader consider it to be moral or immoral to unplug oneself from the violinist under these circumstances?

Thomson assumes, most people would not argue that (1) the violinist is not a valuable being with a right to life, (2) their moral intuitive and sense of justice would confer that they are under no moral obligation to use their body to support a stranger for nine months. With this being said, Thomson then asks the reader to consider if having a...
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