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Singer looks at life from a perspective of what produces the best for the majority of people in any given situation. This is commonly known as a utilitarian perspective. Singer’s views on human life in general and that of abortion and infanticide come from a separation of the terms human being and person. When observing the natural law theory and the basic definition of common morality I feel as though these ideas of abortion and infanticide are refutable, at least in a few specific circumstances.
The term human overlays two specific ideals: being a member of the species homo sapiens and secondly qualifying as a person. When looking at the definition of a person Singer and the utilitarian idea brings quite a new perspective to the situation in that he feels there is a separation between being a human being and a person. He states that to be a person one must be consciously aware of all of their surroundings and be able to make moral decisions. They must have the ability to differentiate from what is good and bad in society and make decisions according to these principles. When using this perspective in evaluating the right to life of a fetus, there isn’t per se a utilitarian theoretical ideal behind the idea, yet it doesn’t equate to the definition of the natural law theory. Singer does agree with the idea of the natural law theory in that from the moment of conception that the fetus even in the mother’s womb is a living human being. He raises the thought provoking point that they, the fetus, are not consciously aware of their surrounding they are considered a non-person human and therefore do not have a right to life.
How it works
In the article “Taking Life: The Embryo and the Fetus” various arguments of pro-life and pro-choice are explained. Several ideals that are thought to refute the ideas of prochoice are that simply the idea of birth, although the fetus’s body being in or out of the womb doesn’t give any difference in the state of being of the child. Additionally, viability, in when the child is viable to survive is a liberal view that conservatively is refuted due to new technology that allows fetuses to survive and grow into moral humans from an earlier age than was once thought. These conservative ideas support Singers view point. From his point of view, the child must be a conscious being, and able to make decisional based on extensive thought and moral reasoning to be considered a person.
Consciousness, a conservative idea that has its grounds in the time frame of when a fetus truly does gain consciousness. The conservative view has evidence backed in seeing movement as early as 6 weeks after fertilization, and brain activity at 7 weeks after fertilization. This idea superficially seems to refutes Singer’s ideals of a state of consciousness being necessary for the fetus to be considered a person, yet doesn’t argue the ideas Singer mandates in that the fetus must have a moral mental framework to be considered a “person human”.
There are various liberal ideas upon which Singer agrees on the matter and many of them don’t directly challenge the conservative claims defining a fetus as a human being, they instead argue than even if an infant/fetus is a human being abortion/infanticide is nonetheless permissible. The article points to and states that a restrictive law that banned all abortions would lead to many breaking the law and have abortions by unqualified personnel or other methods, which could lead to serious health concerns for not only the fetus but also the woman. A statement by the Canadian Royal Commission on the Status of Women blankets this idea well, “A law that has more bad effects than good ones is a bad law… as long as it exists in its present form thousands of women will break it.”. There is also a liberal idea that wraps its worth around the ideals that since the fetus is a non-person human being abortion is a victimless crime and therefore isn’t qualified as a crime at all, although there are arguments both ways in this regard due to the division in beliefs of when a fetus/infant becomes a person. The last of the three arguments supporting liberal ideals in the article is that of the rights of the mother. The article pulls an analogy to being connected to a random person in a hospital bed and having them survive off of you for nutrition for 9 months is the same as a child in the womb for nine months, and one could chose to not be connected to the person in the hospital bed so the women should be able to choose whether she wants the body inside of her or not. It should be noted that none of these liberal arguments deny the fact that the fetus/infant is in fact a human being.
Aside from these ideas of differentiating human from non-human and the rights and lawfulness of abortion lies in Singers views about the value and potential for the life of the fetus. When looking at the value of fetal life, being that a fetus/infant has the same moral conscious of a non-human species that they should be treated as such and in this case abortion isn’t wrongful. Within these ideals the only way that the utilitarian sees any wronging at all would be if the fetus could feel the pain of the abortion. According to the article it is still unclear when exactly a fetus can feel pain and until that technology exists they should be treated as if they cannot feel pain. Additionally, the utilitarian view is such that even if the fetus were to feel pain, if the mother wanted the procedure and it would make her happier in the long run the abortion should be conducted because they greatest good would come to the mother, over the viable fetus that “could potentially have self-consciousness” and live a moral life.
Another conservative argument is that a fetus is a potential human being and because of that they should be treated as such. Although many superficially agree that this claim makes moral sense when studied on a more complex level fault is seen. As stated in the article on 158, Simply saying that a fetus should be treated as a human being because it could potentially become one is just like saying that dropping an egg into a boiling pot of water is the same ethically as dropping a live chicken into a pot of boiling water which many view as wrong. Some conservatives argue that simplifying this argument to that extraneous extent misses the point entirely, but Singer argues otherwise. This conservative argument comes from ideals that state that killing the fetus will deprive the world of a rational and self-conscious being, and in many cases it will, few cases it will not. Furthermore, if stating that abortion is going to deprive the world of an intrinsic self-conscious being then the same is true for other forms of contraception whether it be natural or artificial they deny a potential life from being procreated.
One last point Singer brings to life is the comparison between infanticide and abortion, as stated and explained above he draws multiple form of evidence to support claims in favor of pro-choice for women and their families. Similarly based on the ideals stated above infants, those out of the womb but still not self-conscious are in a place where they are no more viable to survive than that of a fetus in a womb. Singer states that an infant has the same claim to life as that of a fetus because they have no level of rationality or self-awareness. It is key to point out that this idea is viewed as wrongful by many, mostly thought to be due to the physical cuteness and joy babies can bring to many people’s lives, but Singer states that when emotional thoughts and feeling are put aside the infant ethically and morally falls into the same category as the fetus. For infanticide to be a plausible option though the closest relatives must be in agreement that this decision is what they want, similarly to the mother having a pro-choice ability in abortion as defined and outlined by the utilitarian theory.
When analyzing abortion and infanticide I originally entered the class with the beliefs that abortion is wrong in any sense of the term. Coming from a Christian background and growing up in church, and currently leading a very Christ centered life I have always sided with the natural law theory in that the human life is precious and should come and leave in Gods timing. After reading this article and the various class material it becomes exceptionally difficult to draw a concrete moral framework around many of the beliefs I grew up to know as “right”. There was never a separation of human being person from human being non-person in any of the ethical teachings, but when the framework is based on self-consciousness and moral awareness it is clear that the utilitarian theory best defines the ideals of abortion, in that it attempts to produce the best possible in the given circumstance for all people involved, increasing overall wellness to the world.
One aspect of the utilitarian theory, in the refutation of the conservative potential to become a viable human being argument, Singer argues that the viability to become a ethical and moral human being is the same as a chicken eggs ability to become a chicken. When looking at the number one best-selling book with thousands of copies in many different languages and translations there are several pieces of evidence that arise to signify and qualify that homo sapiens as something more than other non-human animals. In Psalms 8:5-7 NIV it says “5 You have made them a little lower than the angelsand crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,” this piece of history is one that states that human beings, person or non-person are more than that of other non-human being animals qualifying the natural law theory in that life is sacred and shall begin and end in its own timing not that which is inflicted by people.
Throughout Singer brings and array of reasoning and very strong theoretical points about the lack of evidence conservative beliefs hold in arguing against infanticide and abortion. Furthermore, he qualifies the negative aspects that could arise if abortion were to remain strictly illegal or the regulation to become more strict would cause women to seek life threatening abortion methods which would produce more negative than good, which contradicts the ideals of the utilitarian theory. Although I never pondered this topic using the utilitarian theory I agree that it overlays the ideals the best of the given theories. When trying to refute this idea with the natural law theory: respect for autonomy, the sanctity of life, and consciousness are various ideals that are difficult to put a finger on and on the basis of that ideal the utilitarian theory and it’s attempt to qualify the rights of women and family’s choice to abortion and infanticide best fits the ethical dilemma.
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