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Can a Fetus be said to have a Right to Life?


Pregnancy is the most wonderful period in the life of a woman, during which in her body grows a tiny creature – her baby. This period is unforgettable as it helps many women to find a sense in life and fulfill the most important obligation – to give birth. However, it is not always so good and joyful. Sometimes, a baby is not desirable for a woman. There are many reasons for it: poverty, poor health, bad relationships with a baby’s father, desire to live independently, etc.

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At such a situation, a woman has to choose whether to have an abortion or not. She faces the question whether it is morally permissible to do it or not. However, it is difficult to find an answer as the abortion has always been the most controversial subject of debate between “Pro – choice” and “Pro – life” philosophers. As for me, to kill a fetus is the same as to kill a man. The only difference is that a fetus is defenseless.

First Argument

Firstly, people always treat the killing of a man as the worst crime. Criminals who commit it, in most cases, are severely punished. However, nobody is punished for the killing of a fetus because humanity considers the abortion as the right of a mother-to-be to decide whether to give the life or not. Many philosophers believe that abortion is morally permissible because a fetus is not a proper human person, but only a creature that has the potential to become it. Michael Tooley in the essay Abortion and Infanticide supports this opinion. He states that the fetus does not have a right to life because the fetus is not an actual subject of experiences, and other mental states, and does not have a capacity for self-consciousness. It is clearly shown by quotation; “An organism possesses a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences, and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity” (Tooley 1972).

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On the one hand, it sounds as the thesis that has the right to be accepted as, in fact, a fetus, and even newborn baby, is very similar to flowerpot which fades without human’s care and watering. Moreover, no one asks permission to pick the flower from it or even dig it. However, on the other hand, if we do not give a chance for the fetus to grow and become conscientious human beings we do not give the chance for humanity to go on. It is like to pull the plant before it flourishes and say that it is permissible because it is not the flower. Moreover, every of us started the life way as tiny, defenseless creature, but it seems that nobody thinks that it would have been a good idea to be killed during the pregnancy of his or her mother. Even Michael Tooley was a fetus himself before he became a famous philosopher who stated that the fetus can be taken his life.

Second Argument

Secondly, abortion has a bad influence both on the mental and physical health of a mother-to-be because mother and child are inextricably linked from the day of conception. Although many people think that it is not true as maternal instinct in many women does not even rise after the birth of a child, there are many examples that can prove otherwise. For instance, if to cut the hand from a woman, she will suffer from a severe physical pain as well as from deep depression because the hand is a part of her, and without it she cannot perform many functions. The same thing is with abortion – apart from extreme pain, it brings to a woman the feeling of desolation.

Moreover, abortion may result in infertility. On my opinion, it should be, as well as killing of person, considered as a crime and be punished too as everything in the world obeys the “boomerang’s law” – evil entails evil. However, many people believe that there are a lot of reasons that may justify the woman who decides to kill her unborn child. Michael Tooley presents the next arguments: “For if a human fetus is a person, one is inclined to say that, in general, one would be justified in killing it only to save the life of the mother... Most people would prefer to raise children who do not suffer from gross deformities or from severe physical, emotional, or intellectual handicaps” (Tooley 1972).

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However, as for me, we do not have the right to decide when it is necessary to kill a fetus and when to save its life because we do not have the power to give this life. For example, no person, even with the help of money, can buy youth and health. No technological appliances are able to revive the person. It is necessary to remember that it is always easier to destroy something than to create it. Thereby, before doing it, everyone should consider whether it will be possible to restore, in appropriate moment, everything after the destruction. Human life cannot be restored for sure.

Third Argument

Thirdly, considering the position of Tooley about humans’ desires, we can state that desires of a fetus should be respected as well as desires of any person. Although Tooley states that a fetus does not have any desires as it does not have consciousness and life experience that shapes his past, present, and future desires, the reverse can be easily proved with the help of the example from his essay Abortion and Infanticide. He gives the example about a man in a coma: “The second set of situations are ones in which an individual is unconscious for some reason-that is, he is sleeping, or drugged, or in a temporary coma. Does an individual in such a state have any desires?

People do sometimes say that an unconscious individual wants something, but it might be argued that if such talk is not to be simply false it must be interpreted as actually referring to the desires the individual would have if he were now conscious” (Tooley 1972). Thereby, as well as the desires of a person in a coma should be respected (his future desires when he comes to life), the desires of a fetus should be respected too (his future desires when he comes to this world). Thereby, taking into consideration the respect to desires of a sleeping person, desires of a fetus should be treated with the same respect. It means that killing of it is the same as killing of the person while he is in a coma in a defenseless state.

Moreover, to my mind, a fetus does not have only potential future desire to live but present ones, as well. There are many videos that show how a fetus tries to escape from the scalpel. Moreover, even if a pregnant woman simply thinks about abortion, a fetus begins to behave in a strange way. Its heartbeat accelerates, and movements enlivens. That is why Tooley’s argument about desires is not proved if to consider different analogies and examples.

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On the other hand, we can find a grain of truth in Tooley’s work. He describes that, sometimes, the hard situation itself requires sacrificing the life of a fetus in order to save the life of his mother. On my opinion, in this case, woman decides to kill her unborn baby not because of her wishes, but because of difficult almost unsolved combination of troubles. However, it is very difficult to make this choice as nobody knows for sure that it is morally permissible to kill one human being in order to give the chance to live for other.

Tooley states: “The choice is thus between giving the mother more of an opportunity to live while giving the fetus none at all and giving the fetus an opportunity to enjoy life while not giving the mother a further opportunity to do so. Surely fairness requires the latter. Secondly, since the fetus has a greater life expectancy than the mother, one is in effect distributing more goods by choosing the life of the fetus over the life of the mother” (Tooley 1972). As for me, such hard choice is depended on the decision of parents, doctors, and the situation itself. However, I prefer to believe that such situations occur rarely, and parents only once in a blue moon have to face such hard choice between life and death.

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To sum up, there are many opinions about abortion and the permission of it. Some people believe that the life of human being is the most important value, and that is the reason why killing of a fetus is a crime. Others state that a fetus cannot be treated as a human being as it does not have conscientious. Thereby, Michael Tooley admits that a fetus does not have the right to save its life in many cases. However, if humanity starts killing babies even not giving them a chance for life, there is a high probability that it will turn into a flock of animals, which in the pursuit of pleasure and profit kills its own future. The only difference between killing a man and killing a fetus is that the fetus is defenseless.

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