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Fetus Is Not An Actual Person Philosophy Essay

Thomson believes that a mother possesses the right to request an abortion because it is her body while the fetus does not have the right to continue using the mother’s body for survival since it depends on the mother’s body for existence. However, Marquis contests that this notion of personhood is not morally central to the argument when compared to the value of the aspects of life that is deprived of a fetus when abortion is performed. Although it is more clear that Thomson is leaning towards pro-abortion, Marquis’s argument is not that apparent and ends up addressing both sides. After a critical evaluation of both sides, I ultimately support Thomson’s view that abortion is not considered murder if the fetus is not an actual person.

Under the circumstances where a baby poses a threat to the mother’s life, Thomson asserts in her overall argument that although it is not impartial for a third party alone to decide whether or not to abort a mother’s pregnancy, it is permissible for a bystander to decline the order of a mother requesting an abortion. If the mother remains neutral and does not give her opinion on wanting an abortion or not, a third party may not make that choice for her since both the mother and the baby are innocent. “For this reason we may feel that we bystanders cannot intervene” (Thomson, 1971, p. 53). The woman and child’s life is not threatened because of any fault they committed; rather it so unfortunately happens that both lives are in jeopardy. Since they’re equally innocent, a bystander does not have the right to determine who deserves to live more. On the other hand, if the mother asks for the bystander to abort her baby, the bystander goes from not having the right to choose to having the right to refuse this demand. Despite the fact that the mother has a right to declare what she wants done to her body since it is her body, the third party, as well, possesses the right to “refuse to lay hands on people, even where it would be just and fair to do so” (Thomson, 1971, p. 54). Similar to how the child and mother are equally innocent, the bystander and the mother are also equal but in terms of both being human and holding the same rights. Even though leaving the child in the woman’s body would likely result in the woman’s death, the third party cannot be held responsible for this loss of life if he simply cannot execute this abortion due to personal reasons. Not only is nothing requiring him that he must perform this act, but he also has a right as an individual to make his own decisions because he has control over his own life. However, this does not mean another person can’t help carry out the abortion. Thomson argues that a bystander’s freedom and right to refuse to lay hands on another person does not hinder the mother’s chance to live, but instead leaves room for others to possibly want to intervene.

While Thomson believes that a mother has the right to decide what she wants done to her body, Marquis argues that personhood is irrelevant to the ethics of abortion because killing anyone who has a potential future is wrong. Starting off with Thomson, she asserts that due to the fact that the mother has prior claim to her own body, she thus possesses the right to choose the outcome for her body. For whatever reason if she feels that an abortion would be best for her, no one has the right to tell her otherwise. They can refuse to perform the operation, but they cannot think and judge for the mother as to what is better for her body or her life. The mother is a fully-grown person with a functional body while the fetus is a clump of cells within that body. The mother has prior claim over her body because she has matured with it whereas a fetus does not have a body of its own yet and relies on living inside the mother’s body to develop it. For this reason of dependence, the fetus does not have the right to use the mother’s body as a means for survival especially since it is the mother’s, not fetus’s, body. Marquis deems this concept as personhood comparing the mother’s notion of a person to the fetus’s notion of a potential person. However, he does not think that the category of personhood is what determines abortion ethically wrong. Instead, it is the “future of a standard fetus [that] includes a set of experiences, projects and activities…that [makes] abortion prima facie seriously morally wrong” (Marquis, 1989, p. 31). Prima facie, in this case, refers to abortion being intuitively wrong. The value of a potential person’s (fetus) future is so great that it is incommensurable. It is the sum of all there is to life and to deprive someone of that natural gift is wrong. Just because a fetus isn’t physically a person yet doesn’t mean that it won’t possess the same future as a currently developed human being. If anything, the fetus won’t even have the chance to prove that it has a valuable future if a mother decides to abort it.

After critically evaluating both sides to the argument, I agree more with Thomson’s view that a mother has the right to decide what she wants done to her body even if that means aborting the baby. Assuming that the mother wants an abortion, my central argument is that she holds the right to have this desire because it’s her own body. This assertion is similar to my previous summary of Thomson’s overall argument except it disregards the notion of a third party. We, as human beings, exist throughout life by the physical body we possess. Our bodies grow and develop as we age and are a part of who we are so we have prior claim over it. Due to this “responsibility” we have over our bodies, we are then allowed to decide how we use it and ultimately, what the outcome of it would be. Thomson uses the metaphor of the mother owning the house or body in which the child is in. “The fact that she does adds to the offensiveness of deducing that the mother can do nothing” (Thomson, 1971, p. 53). It is insulting and wrong to tell a woman that she cannot do what she wishes to her body when in fact, it is her body and her own life. The mother has a special relationship with the fetus that no one else can have. Who are we, as human beings, to tell another equal human being that they cannot go through with abortion when it’s not even our own child? However, Marquis argues that it doesn’t matter whose body or child it is, abortion is wrong because it “deprives…what [the fetus] would come to value” (Marquis, 1989, p. 29). It is true that removing the ability to live also takes away the potential value of a fetus’s future, but nevertheless, that is the mother’s decision. I’m sure it’s already hard enough for the mother to weigh the costs and benefits of wanting an abortion, so we should leave the decision up to the woman’s moral conscience. Her body, not anyone else’s, is the means to which this fetus is even existing so she has the right to stop providing that life support whenever she pleases regardless of how much potential value that fetus can experience when it grows into an adult. The possibility of a future-like-ours is not strong enough to strip away the mother’s right and control over her own body because the fetus’s value is uncertain.

However, an objection to this argument would be that allowing the mother to decide to abort her baby is murder. Marquis agrees with this opposition because a fetus is biologically human and “it is wrong to kill beings who are biologically human” (Marquis, 1989, p. 30). Containing human tissues and DNA, the fetus possesses genetic attributes that constitute it as biologically human. Given that Marquis does not address the physical qualities of the fetus, it is implied that bodily features do no hinder the scientific fact that a fetus is biologically human. Although at first sight, the fetus looks very different from a fully grown person, its early stages of life are still part of the process of becoming a human being so Marquis considers that killing a fetus is the same is murdering a human being. Using Thomson’s argument of a right to life as a basis, I think otherwise. The fact that the fetus is already relying on the mother’s body for its existence is natural since being pregnant involves carrying a potential child around. Yet, this does not mean that the fetus has a right to continue to use the mother’s body in order to live. “Nobody has a right to use your [body] unless you give him such a right” (Thomson, 1971, p. 55). It is a privilege, if not, gift for the fetus to already be making use of the mother’s body, with her consent, before she comes to a decision whether or not she wants to keep the baby. Conversely, once the mother reaches a conclusion that she wants an abortion, thereby meaning that she doesn’t want to give the fetus a right to use her body, she has every right to do so. It’s not murder if the fetus was the mother’s own creation and she has the authority and right to decide what she wants to do with that creation.

A rebuttal to this argument is that abortion can’t really be murder if the fetus is not an actual person, but just a clump of cells. “[The] fetus is not a person, but only a bit of tissue that will become a person at birth; and why pay out more arguments than you have to?” (Thomson, 1971, p. 48). Just from the last question, it is already evident that Thomson advocates the notion that the fetus isn’t a person even though she does not elaborate on why for argument’s sake. I would like to elaborate based on my reasoning that this claim is true if we apply it to any scenario. Thomson uses another analogy regarding an acorn is not an oak tree just like a newly fertilized ovum is not a person. An egg is not a chicken and so forth. Yes, the clump of cells has the potential to be a full-grown person, but we cannot live in the future when the present hasn’t been decided on yet. Presently speaking, we are not murdering a person, we are simply killing the potential of the fetus to become one. However, Marquis argues that this potential is vital to the process of life and eliminating that is deliberately terminating or murdering a human. Once again, the concept of a “future-like-ours” comes into play. He states that that the greatest loss in a person’s life is the loss of life. “The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future” (Marquis, 1989, p. 29). Although the fetus cannot value all these opportunities, it will value them in the future as it is born and grows older. I can agree that life itself is the greatest gift of all, but I have to reiterate the fact that the future cannot define the present. If someone is not capable of experiencing what life has to offer, it is unfortunate but not considered murder for the “owner” (mother) of that person (fetus) to want to take away what is rightfully hers, which is the baby’s future. Also, abortion is made legal by law with the Roe vs. Wade case. Since murder is illegal in the United States, how can abortion be considered murder if it is declared legal by the government? Abortion should not be considered murder not only because a fetus is not an actual person, but also due to the fact that the law permits this operation.

Although Thomson and Marquis both make convincing cases, I ultimately agree more with Thomson on the mother having the right to request an abortion because it is her body. My central argument revolves around Thomson’s notion that the motion has prior claim over her body, which allows her to decide what she wants to do with it and I declare that Marquis’s defense of the wrongness of taking away a fetus’s potential for a valuable future is nevertheless still up to the mother because she created the fetus. I then provided an objection to this argument by stating that regardless of whose body it is, abortion is considered murder supported by Marquis’s belief that the fetus is biologically human which makes killing it the same as murdering a human being. However, I dismissed this account by using Thomson’s argument and saying that it’s already a privilege for the fetus to be in the mother’s body as a means for survival, so aborting it would not be murder if the mother previously allowed the baby to use or occupy her body. Finally, my rebuttal to this is that abortion cannot be murder if the fetus is not an actual human being, but just a clump of cells. This opinion rests on Thomson’s view that the possibility of being human is not to be mistaken for the reality of the situation, which is that the fetus is currently just an embryo. I rejected Marquis’s idea that this potential encompasses all that life has to offer and depriving it would be murdering because of the absurdity that abortion is deemed murder when the state of law rules it legal.


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