Monday, December 21, 2009

A Pro-Life Version of a Pro-Choice Analogy

Here is an analogy written by Judith Jarvis Thomson which is used by pro-choice people in an attempt to show that it is ridiculous to expect a woman who is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy to carry the child for 9 months and give birth, against her will:

"I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. . . . 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 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 now is 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 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 you've now 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. . . ."

-Judith Jarvis Thomson

Below is my pro-life version of the same analogy. I have modified it so that it is a closer analogy to a women who experiences an unwanted pregnancy after having consentual sex, which is how the vast majority of unwanted pregnancies occur.

"I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. . . . But now let me ask you to imagine this. You go to a concert and meet a famous violinist, who is a hotty. After the concert, you invite the violinist back to your house. As you are sitting on the couch chatting with him, he tells you that he has a fatal kidney ailment. He tells you that he's having a very hard time finding someone with the blood type that can help him. You like him so much that you volunteer to have your blood type checked to see if you can help him. The next day, you have the blood test, and it is determined that you have the right blood type to help the violinist. When you call the violinist and tell him the good news, he is overwhelmed with joy.

The next week you go to the hospital with the violinist for the procedure. You both meet with the doctor, and he tells you the procedure (called a "quicky") normally takes about 15 minutes, but he makes you fully aware that the procedure might take up to nine months if a particular complication occurs during the procedure. You like the violinist so much that you are willing to risk being connected to him for up to nine months. You tell the doctor that you are fully aware of what you're getting into, and tell him you want to go through with the procedure.

You and the violinist are then taken to the room where the procedure will take place. The violinist's circulatory system is plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. Several minutes into the procedure the doctor informs you that the complication he had mentioned earlier has occurred, and the procedure is going to take up to nine months to complete. He says that if the violinist is unplugged before the nine months have passed, it will kill him. After the nine months have passed, the violinist will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you. The doctor looks into your eyes and says, "I know that this is a very difficult situation for you to be in. Because of this situation, your life is going to be radically different for the next nine months. However, by enduring it, you will be giving this violinist the gift of life."

I pray that you would regard this as an opportunity to do something extremely heroic, to take responsibility for your actions . . . ."

- A modified version of an analogy by Judith Jarvis Thomson (with extensive meaning-changing alterations by Paul Schlenker)

I'd like to emphasize that in my version, the woman and the violinist were made fully aware before they had the procedure that they might have to be connected to each other for nine months. Whenever a man and woman have consentual sex, they are fully aware that the act might result in the conception of a child, even if they are using contraception. Contraception is not 100% effective. When a man and woman conceive a child, it is their responsibility to give birth to the child. If they don't want the child, it is their responsibility to allow someone to adopt the child, and give it the love and life that all human beings deserve. 

I hope that you can see after reading my version of the analogy that it is an act of extreme love and heroism for a woman to endure nine months of pregnancy and give birth to a child that she doesn't want or is unable to take proper care of. It is not outrageous for society to expect her to do such a thing.


  1. There is a *huge* flaw in Judith Jarvis Thomson's analogy:

    In a normal pregnancy, a pregnant woman is not strapped down to a bed for nine months! Like all other women, she can walk around and follow a regular routine, she can go shopping, she can go to the theatre, she can go out to dinner with friends, she can drive around, she can play board games or video games with her family, she can go swimming at the beach, she can even continue to work until a couple weeks before her due date, etc. etc. etc.

    If the allegorical woman "forced" to donate to the violinist could do all these same things that a pregnant women is free to do, Judith's analogy would be regarded as - to use her own word - "outrageous."

  2. Excerpt from my blog, "Cutting Through Prochoice Rhetoric" -

    In response to Christian Prochoicer ...

    What they say: Even if a fetus is a person, no woman should be forced against her will to carry to term.

    What they mean: No one can be forced to donate a kidney to someone else against their will, therefore; no woman should be forced to donate her uterus to a fetus.

    There are some crucial differences here. If someone is in need of a new kidney, it's because their current kidney is damaged; the reason being a disease/infection, a birth defect, or perhaps an injury. If no one offers to donate their kidney and this person dies, what will be the root cause of their death? It will be the disease or injury that initially damaged their kidney; the person who refused to donate their kidney is not the cause of death. Now, let's compare this to pregnancy. If the mother goes to an abortion clinic and ends the pregnancy, what will be the root cause of death for the preborn child? A disease or an infection? No - the abortion. The hands that held the currette and scalpel, the hands that turned on the aspiration vacuum. See, whereas the person with a damaged kidney dies because of their disease or injury, the fetus will not die unless it is deliberately killed. One death is natural, the other is unnatural. (I should note that the same applies to a fetus with a fatal defect. Yes, they will eventually die. But if aborted, the cause of death will be the abortion, not the defect.)

    Let's take this one step further because the prochoicer is probably standing there right now saying, "Look, you just don't get it. The fetus needs my uterus like the patient needs my kidney. He can't have it without my consent!"

    Not the same thing. In the case of the patient needing a new kidney, you aren't responsible for the disease or injury damaging their kidney. But, if you are pregnant because you consented to sex (pregnancy is the natural result of procreation), then you are responsible for the child growing within you. So, in the first case, you aren't responsible, but in the latter you are. That's the difference. You consented to the risk of pregnancy when you consented to sex. To this the prochoicer says, "That's ridiculous. That's like saying if I catch an STI while using contraceptives, that I consented to having an STI." No, not quite. See, you engaged in the behavior knowing the risk, and that makes you responsible for the consequences. So, it's not that you consented to being pregnant - it's that you took the risk. That's what makes you responsible for the child growing within you.

    The smoker who develops lung cancer is responsible for his lung cancer because he was the one who consented to the risk by willfully smoking.

    Tip: Ask the prochoicer if a mother should have the right to allow her newborn infant to die of starvation if she doesn't consent to breastfeeding (the infant needs milk from the mother just as the fetus needs nutrience from the uterus). To this they will likely reply, "She is responsible because she consented to the pregnancy and birth. If she doesn't want to care for the child, she can place it with child services or up for adoption." To that you can reply: The same goes for a preborn child - The mother consented to the risk of pregnancy when she consented to sex - so, as soon as the infant is born, they can be placed with an adoptive family.


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