Abortion and Utilitarian Essay

A) Explain how a Utilitarian might respond to the issue of abortion Utilitarianism is a teleological theory basing the goodness of an action by its presumed consequences. The aim is ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number of people’ and Utilitarian’s base the ‘goodness’ of an action on human experience. There is no single view on the concept of abortion amongst utilitarian’s because there is variation on how utilitarian’s choose to apply the theory. Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as “the greatest happiness principle” (GHP).

Following this logic, a fundamental Utilitarian would go on to consider the views of all the people involved in the situation and go on to make their decision based on what action will make the greatest number of people happy. For instance, if the birth of the baby would send the mother, father, and baby into crushing poverty, then the Utilitarian thing to do would generally be to have the abortion. However if the abortion causes more general misery than abortion, a Utilitarian would have to reject the abortion as this is must be ethically right.

When considering abortion, the foetus is the utility but the party whose interests are being taken into account are still undecided. The foetus view should of course be taken into consideration, as should both the mother and fathers, and some would the communities welfare should also be regarded. Following Jeremy Bentham’s, ‘each to count for one and none for more than another’, all of these viewpoints being examined should be seen as equal. Therefore, the interests of the members collectively constitute the interest of the community.

When something is in favour of an individuals interest, it tends to add to the person’s pleasure and take away some of their pain. So it is logical to assume whatever is promoting the interest of the individual would also advance the interest of the community. However some individuals would have an issue with this as they would consider it unjust to take a general person in the communities view as valid as the unborn child’s genetic parents. Jeremy Bentham also said ‘do not ask if they can reason but can they suffer? , if a Utilitarian chose to follow this then the moment when the foetus is developed enough to feel pain would become the moment it becomes wrong to abort. When looking at abortion Utilitarian’s may find it useful A rule utilitarian might be interested in the rights issue. However, rule utilitarians would only allow the father to have a say if doing so led to the greater good. Allowing the fathers to have a say wouldn’t work in practice because it would make many cases unresolvable if mother and father disagreed.

If you forced women to have babies against their wishes, there is no guarantee that the father would be able to bring the baby up properly. B) ‘The foetus is a person’ Discuss Personhood is the state or condition of being a person, especially having those qualities that confer distinct individuality. It is also argued personhood implies an ability to make decisions and to be in some way both independent and also a social being.

Using this definition some would go on to say that the foetus can never be a person until it fully emerges from the mother’s womb, as surely it can only be a social being once it is out in the world amongst other people. That is to say, personhood is defined by the foetus/baby’s location and the process of giving birth to the baby suddenly allows it to be defined as a ‘person’. This would make it reasonable to kill it at any time while it was still inside the womb, but it would also mean having a definition of personhood which was not inherent.

However others would disagree with this and argue that it is impossible for there to be a significant change in the foetus purely down to its geographical location, the baby does not suddenly develop the capacity to make decisions and be independent. Therefore if the baby is considered to be a person straight away, then a developed foetus in the womb must be a person. Some would choose to bring the law into this argument, as the law is there for a reason and we are told not to murder.

It can then go on to be said if the foetus was really a person all the existing abortion control laws would be diminished except in the case of self-defence. However to be consistent, we would then need to permit killing other types of people, such as adults, for the same reasons. A six-foot woman on life-support is a person; a six-inch fetal girl on life support is a person. When we take into consideration scenarios such as this, it is easier to say the degree of independence one has should actually not be a determining factor.

We can also look at the case of a disabled child/adult, does the fact they are not independent or may not have the ability to socially interact mean they are not a person? If so what are they? The scholar John Locke claims human beings are sentient – part of this includes the principle of reciprocity meaning to be a person you must be able to give and take from a relationship. It is claimed the foetus does not have these qualities so it is therefore not a person going by the usual definition of this term.

There is also a presumption that the foetus is in some way on the road to personhood but is not yet a person. However there are weaknesses in this argument, the most significant one being again the argument for disability. Take for example a teenager who is unable to speak, hear and generally communicate in any way. How would this teenager be classified? If they are considered a person then a foetus certainly should be. David Chamberlains argument that ‘babies remember birth’ can also be tied in here – surely the capability to have memories of any kind means the foetus was a person.