A Regrettably Inadequate Defence of Abortion
This essay shall examine and critique Judith Jarvis Thomson’s analogy of the sickly violinist, as it relates to the moral permissibility of abortion. I shall conclude that the analogy is ultimately too dissimilar from a general case of abortion to be an accurate representation of the mother-foetus relationship. I will further conclude that at best the analogy only provides justification for abortion in cases of rape, and when a developing foetus becomes a threat to the mother’s life.
The Impermissibility Argument
Much of the debate concerning the permissibility of abortion surrounds the notion of ‘personhood’, specifically whether a developing foetus qualifies as such a being.
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The hospital director explains to you that he is apologetic this state of affairs has befallen you, but to detach you now would kill the violinist. You are therefore to remain his personal dialysis machine for the next nine months, at which time you will be allowed to leave. (Thomson: Page 49). Who would be so willing as to assent to this situation and sacrifice nine months of their life for the continued life of a stranger? I daresay, very few. But if one extends the length of stay required from nine months to several years, or perhaps even the rest of your natural life, the flaw of the Impermissibility Argument becomes readily apparent. If the violinist, as a person, has a right to life, and your personal autonomy does not outweigh his right to life, then you must remain his personal dialysis machine for the rest of your days. To disconnect yourself from him would be to commit murder (Thomson: Page 49). Clearly, something is amiss here. It bears noting that this argument is not perfectly amendable to a usual case of pregnancy which has resulted from a failure of contraception during consensual sex. Rather, it is more closely analogous to a case of pregnancy via rape, as you have been kidnapped and forced into this position of responsibility against your will (Thomson: Page 49). Furthermore, for the opponent of abortion to make a concession to allow abortion in cases of rape would