Intro, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven
Ripping Off the Violinist
Some pro-choicers who realize that abortion does kill a human being and are unable to convince prolifers that the unborn are living human beings but not persons will then move on to saying that even if the unborn are persons, they aren't entitled to reside in their mother's body. They feel that women shouldn't be forced to carry an unwanted child, even if that child is a person. The unborn child is now viewed as a kind of trespasser who is infringing on the rights of the woman. This argument is best known in Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument: A Defense of Abortion. (A section of the argument below)
But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him." I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.
Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith have done better jobs than I could ever dream of to refute this argument but I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.
When arguing with pro-choicers who take this position I usually try to point out that pregnancy and Thomson's violinist the example aren't parallel. First, if we take the position that the unborn are persons then you have to replace the violinist with the woman's son in the example. Second, you have to recognize that abortion is more than detaching the unborn from the mother but an overt act of killing so the woman would have to kill her own child or have someone else kill her child before unplugging him.
Then go on to supply your own parallel example - A woman is snowmobiling in a remote area when she spots what appears to be a young child who is clothed in rags shivering. She realizes that this child has no chance at survival by himself since he is too young to walk to any area where there would be help and there is no one else around to help him. He will die in the near future if the woman doesn't help me. As the snowmobiling woman approaches the child she realizes that the child is her own son. Does this woman have the right to kill her child in these circumstances? If not, why not? Does this woman have the right to merely abandon her child in these circumstances? If not, why not?
The funny thing that I've come across is that pro-choicers faced with this example and others like it will revert back to the argument that the unborn and the shivering child in rags are different because the unborn aren't persons/human beings even though they quote the Thomson argument which allows the position that the unborn are persons.
Hardly any pro-choicer actually holds the position that the unborn are "persons" but it should be legal to kill them anyways. Even Thomson didn't believe the unborn were persons. Pro-choicers will use this argument because they can't prove that the unborn aren't persons or human beings.