Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Yes, "a person is a person, no matter how small," but . .

It's sometimes claimed that people who think that is abortion is generally not wrong think this because of fetuses’ Size, Level of development, Location or Environment, and Dependency (the “SLED” test). 

The suggestion is that pro-choice people think that anything small, dependent, and undeveloped that is located in someone else’s body is permissible to kill. 

The objection is that this principle, and related principles, are false, so this principle fails to support thinking that abortion is permissible.

The problem here is that no thoughtful abortion advocate accepts such a principle: nobody should think personhood is defeated or eliminated by SLED factors. 

Consider a case inspired by Dr. Seuss’s “Horton Hears a Who”: if there were a baby Who, that baby would be tiny, undeveloped (at least not a developed adult Who and so, in a sense, undeveloped), and dependent; and we could even imagine that Baby Who somehow in someone else’s body (imagine the baby Who is on a speck eaten by someone, but not digested). 

This Baby Who would be prima facie wrong to kill since that baby is a person or conscious being: the SLED factors are irrelevant to that.

The lesson here is that if a being is prima facie wrong to kill, then it’s size, location, dependency, and development do not matter. (This simplification ignores relevant concerns raised by Judith Thomson). 

But if a being is not wrong to kill, those factors are irrelevant. Advocates of the SLED test might merely assume then that abortion is wrong, which is begging the question [which is assuming the conclusion that one is trying to argue for, which is a fallacy, and so it appears that SLED-related objections to abortion are a distraction from any serious issues since they merely assume, without arguments for support, that beginning fetuses are persons].

* This is from footnote 6 of Nathan Nobis's "Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law," in Bob Fischer's Ethics: Left and Right (Oxford University Press, 2019). 

P.S. I was inspired to post this in part by this recent, amazing, and but mostly unrelated (although there is an ethics-connection!), Dr. Suess-related video here: 

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