Abortion: Sanctity and Quality of Life

In this video I explore both the Sanctity and Quality of Life principles in relations to abortions and I discuss where I stand at the moment with abortion.

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 Application to Abortion and Right to a Child

Approaches to abortion + Right to a child

Ultimately, as discussed in a previous post ethical theories accept or reject abortion on the basis of what they consider the status of the embryo to be.

Natural Law

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.

Evaluation

Strengths

-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.

Weaknesses 

    • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.

 

  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.

 

The right to a child

Reproduction, is of course a significant aspect to being a natural law theorist. However, this does not imply that everyone has a right to a child, the outcome of reproduction, they have a right to try to procreate.

One of the reasons why a couple does not have a right to a child is because the various methods such as surrogacy and AID threaten the sanctity of marriage which as Aquinas said is one of the important constructs of society. It also enables homosexual couples to have babies which is unnatural and opposed by the Natural Law theory.

Another primary precept is ordered society and some of the artificial techniques used to get the child involve a child having theoretically several parents which may result in mental problems and a loss of identity and this is a threat to the ordered society in which we live in.

Kantian Ethics

Abortion

Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong. However, if the moral status of an embryo is not a person then abortion is acceptable.

The right to a child

Kant would not agree that we have a right to a child because a parent does not have a right to a real live child then how can a person have a right on a hypothetical child.

– If a child is born in response to a person’s emotional needs then it is being used as a means to an end not end in itself.

-Reason is King so one must be taken adrift with emotion, this is immoral

Utilitarianism

Abortion

In general all forms of utilitarianism would be in favour of  abortion because it always women to have a choice as well as unwanted pregnancies in general lead to nothing but pain which is what a utilitarian seeks to avoid.

Right to a child 

Right to a child is a little bit more difficult to say that utilitarianism would be in favour because of the vast amount of factors a utilitarian would have to consider here are some.

Benefits

– joy of parents

– benefits may be unknown such as if the child turns out to discover an important theory

– Women are given the choice to sell their reproductive organs

– Financial benefits to surrogate

Disadvantages

– harm to unborn child if surrogate mother fails to take care of herself

– No way of avoiding medical problems which can affect the individuals involved

– psychological harm to the child of having multiple parents

– Possibility of rejection if child is born handicapped

– What if surrogate bonds with baby?

– Surrogate mother could black mail parents?

As we can see it is really difficult to work out a utilitarian answer to this ethic dilemma. We can however look at past experiences in  this matter and create generalised rules which would follow Mill’s rule utilitarianism which one would guess would be in favour for couples having a right to a child.

Religious Ethics – Here we would use the SoL principle

Euthanasia: Sanctity of life vs. Quality of life

Sanctity of Life and Quality of Life in relation to euthanasia.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia literally translates from the Greek as “good death” but it is more commonly defined as the intentional premature ending of life. There are four types.

 

Euthanasia can be one of two types; voluntary and involuntary

 

Voluntary = When individual requests for their life to be prematurely ended

 

Involuntary = When the individuals consent is not taken into account – even if the individual can make a consent.

 

There are two methods of terminating a life than can be classified as euthanasia

 

Active – this is when deliberate drugs are given to bring death

 

Passive – this is when drugs and other machinery on which the individual is reliant are withdrawn in order to hasten death.


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’.

Catholicism

 

The SoL principle is crucial to the catholic position. According to Natural Law any form of euthanasia should not be allowed because it conflicts the first primary precept of life – to live the supreme good. However, now it is recognised that not everyone can handle suffering physically and psychologically, it is impractical to assume that. So even though ‘suffering has a special place in God’s plan of salvation’ and it conflicts the primary precept, the Doctrine of double effect can be used to justify some acts. If the intention is to reduce pain by giving medication not to end the individuals life it can be justified as moral. The church distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary means and euthanasia is an extraordinary means which can occasionally be used.


Evaluation


Strengths

– Avoids ‘group’ pressure and power of using euthanasia for selfish reasons
– Includes Christian teachings of love and compassion

Weaknesses 

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

– It is unclear then when this extraordinary means can be utilised.

 

Quality of Life

 

The Quality of Life principle essentially uses the ideas about Personhood to argue when people are considered persons and their life is worthwhile living.

 

Daniel Maguire

 

Maguire who is a professor of Theology argues that saying that God creates life and can only destroy it implies that we are his property. He says that we intervene to save and preserve life  and there is no real difference between than and euthanasia because they both have the goal of ending life with a good death. 

 

Peter Singer

 

Singer says we should move away from the SoL ethic because it is leading to people having a low quality of life. An individual can judge them self whether euthanasia is appropriate and if they are in a position where they can’t consent someone else must do it for them depending on the quality of their life which could be measured medically. 

He puts forward five new commandments which he believes we should abide by:

1. Human beings do not possess equal worth

2. Accept responsibilities for the consequence for our actions

3. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted

4. Do not discriminate on the basis of species

5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

Number 5 obviously tells us how Singer feels towards euthanasia.

Evaluation

 

Strengths

– By focusing on the quality of life, we are approaching the topic more practically  in the 21st century.

 

Weaknesses

-Individuals in Permanent Vegetative State and other forms of suffering can be sometimes seem as a life not worth living. But this has further implication such as that many disabled and handicapped people have a life which is also not worth living – this does not sit well with the vast majority of people.

Peter Singer and Preference Utilitarianism

Singer says that actually pleasure, whether higher or lower, is not the most important things, the interests of the individual are. Even though he believes that all humans do not possess equal worth, he says that everyone’s interests are equal. Essentially when make a moral decision we need to way out what action will result in the most interests being satisfied.

Three examples

Killing

Murder would be wrong because the person’s interest of being alive is not be met and is being overrun by the murderer’s interests . However, on the same basis voluntary euthanasia is moral because it satisfy the interest of the individual requesting it – even if they are not thinking straight. 

Racism

He would say that racism is wrong because of two reasons (i) fails to acknowledge the interests of the individual and (ii) gives greater value to the racists interests.

Dam

In this book Practical Ethics, Singer gives the example of a hydro-electric dam that is going to be built. He explores some of the interests that would be met and other violated as a result of this e.g. create jobs, provides cost effective power, destroy natural beauty, endanger species. He said by looking at preference we protect minority groups. 

In terms of medical ethics he is in favor of persoonhood and the Quality of Life argument. He says the Sanctity of Life is old and should not be used. He gives five principles which make the Quality of Life argument which he believes should replace the old Sanctity of Life argument and that is:

  1. All humans do not possess equal worth
  2. Only bring children into this world if they are wanted
  3. Respect one’s wishes to live or die
  4. Humans are not a superior life form to animals
  5. We should take responsibility for out actions