Sanctity of Life & Abortion

What is the Sanctity of Life (SoL) argument?

The SoL argument states that human life is valuable in itself. According to SoL all life is worthy of RESPECT and REVERENCE and is intrinsically worthwhile. This implies all life is equal and we have a duty to protect it.

Ties with Christianity…

Christians sometimes use this argument to found some of the their ethics (particularly medical ones) because ‘the body is the temple of the holy spirit’. Within Christianity, however, views are divided between the strong and weak SoL argument.

The strong SoL

The strong SoL principle is sometimes known as the pro-life argument, which begins by asserting God is the creator of life, God created us in his image and likeness (Imago dei doctrine). We are different from animals as God blew into Adam’s nostrils not any other animals. The incarnation reaffirms the view that humans are different and that this ensoulment, unique to humans, begins at conception. Abortion then is immoral as God created life and only He can destroy it especially where human beings are concerned because they have a soul.

Further evidence for the strong SoL principle can be found in Exodus ‘Thou Shalt not murder’. Book of Job ‘God gave life, so he can take it away’.

The Weak SoL

This principle is more common within the Church of England.

The principle does not begin by asserting claims about God but rather recognises, there have been advances in medicine hence why the strong SoL argument is no longer suitable. They say that abortion is an extraordinary means (not something which happens all the time) hence can justify terminating a pregnancy. Further evidence to their approach is Jesus’ teaching of love and compassion. 

The Church of England will use this principle when dealing wit situations of rape or where there is threat to the mother’s physical or mental self.

Evaluation

Strengths

– It values all human life, promoting equality and human dignity.

– (Strong) Clearly states that abortion is incorrect in all situations. (Weak) The criteria of rape, damage to mother’s physical or mental self is arguably a clear method of working out whether abortion can be morally acceptable.

– Avoids ‘group’ pressure and power e.g. aborting all disabled babies

– A secular version of this principle (parallels with Kant) can be formulated which suggest that love and compassion should be given to all life and hence should be protected.

– Weak SoL combines all forms of Christian teachings.

Weaknesses 

– Equality – surely some forms of human life are more valuable than other e.g. Mother Teresa’s life is more valuable than Jack the Ripper. 

– It is a difficult and demanding to adhere too, for example, we cannot justify spending money on fertility treatment when we know the elderly and the sick can benefit from the money. Arguably, the theory is not meant for the real world and global politics.

– Strong SoL principle clashes with Jesus’ teachings of love and compassion.

– Weak SoL principle – Any situation can be argued that the pregnancy affects the mothers mental or physical self. Difficult to know true intentions of people.

– Isn’t quality of life more important than sanctity of life?

– If the Imago dei doctrine is wrong, which according to Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection is, then so is the SoL principle.

– Peter Singer accuses advocates of SoL of specieism aren’t all life forms equal not just humans.

– Argument cannot cope with conflicts e.g. where only the mother or the child can survive.

– Outdated – not practical for a world where world population is exponentially growing.

– If we are made in the Image of God can we not destroy life like God?

Ethical Responses to Euthanasia

Utilitarianism

Act: Bentham would use the hedonic calculus to work out what the right thing to do is. Often in cases of euthanasia the pain is so great that Bentham would be for it as euthanasia is produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

Rule: Mill would agree with euthanasia because he held firm beliefs in the sovereignty of individual. He would however, look at each situation individually, e.g. Thomas Hyde who has the same condition as Steven Hawking ALS  would say that even though the body is dead the brain isn’t which is a higher pleasure and so the act of euthanasia would not be acting on the GHP.

 Singer – Singer was very much in favor of the QoL argument saying we should replace the outdate SoL principle with 5 new commandments:

  1. All humans do not possess equal worth
  2. We should take responsibility for out actions
  3. By saying humans are greater than animals we are committing specism 
  4. Bring children only in this world if they are wanted
  5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

The last commandment particularly forces us to accept euthanasia as a morally permissible act.

Kant

In order to work out Kant’s response to the ethics concerning euthanasia we must explore how they would fit in with the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative.

1. Universalization

It would be absurd to say it is logical to universalize a law such as ‘I should help X die’ as that would imply that everyone is being helped to die. A claim like ‘ I should help X die if they are in  terrible pain and request to do so’ makes more sense if you are a Kantian and wish to embrace euthanasia. The problem is euthanasia is essentially form of suicide [assisted] and Kant gives the example of suicide being a perfect duty – something we should in no circumstances do.

2. Means to an end

By committing euthanasia we may be using the ill patient as a means to an end so we may be using it to cut costs, use the medical equipment etc for someone else, to be free of constantly visiting the hospital etc and Kant would say this is wrong. Some scholars however argue that euthanasia uses a person as an end in themselves because one is respecting their wishes. However, the problem is Kant clearly states that suicide is an immoral act and lists it as a perfect duty.

3. Kingdom of ends.

Here Kant says we should as though we were making the maxims into laws of nature and obviously euthanasia could not be a law of nature because it is unnatural and hence immoral.

Natural Law

Natural Law follows similar principles to the SoL principle. One of the primary precepts is to live – life the supreme good. This implies that secondary precepts which are absolute can be formed such as do not kill or commit suicide. As euthanasia is clearly a form of killing or suicide then Natural Law ethicists would be against it. However, it isn’t as absolute as Kant because the principle of double effect exists. If you overdose a patient with morphine with an intention to reduce pain and suffering but the by product is death – this can still justify euthanasia.

Situation ethics

A Christian God is personal one hence each situation should be looked at personally bar an legal rules and regulations. In many of these situations the most loving thing to do is to commit euthanasia and hence euthanasia can be accepted as a situation ethicist.

Religious Ethics

Bible

    • Job “God gives and God takes away”
  • Countless passages on SoL 
  • The body is the temple of the Holy Sprit 

All these hint towards a case against euthanasia

Catholicism

They see abortion and euthanasia as murder and hence it is immoral.

They believe in the strong SoL principle.

Church of England

    • Weak SoL
  • Recognises that in some situations it is necessary

Salvation army 

Direct challenge to Mill because they believe in the sovereignty of God.