Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Who you are is enough: Unconditional love and the ethics of abortion

Love in its deepest sense (agape love) is concerned for the well-being of others regardless of their talents or accomplishments or other desired qualities. It is unconditional. We ought to love people simply because they are who they are—that is enough.

This kind of love, I think, has something to say about the ethics of abortion.

In his highly-regarded book A Defense of Abortion, David Boonin describes photographs on his desk depicting his son, Eli, at different stages of life. "Through all of the remarkable changes that these pictures preserve," Boonin writes, "he remains unmistakably the same little boy."

Boonin continues:
In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken ... 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.
It would have been okay to kill Eli, Boonin argues, because at that stage Eli had not yet developed the "organized cortical brain activity" necessary for the kind of conscious desires that Boonin thinks confer a right to life. According to this view, none of us should receive the moral respect of others simply by virtue of who we are. Who we are is not enough. It was not enough that Eli was Eli.

Instead, Boonin—like most other pro-choice philosophers and bioethicists—contends that we must exhibit certain mental functions in order to merit respect and protection. If we do not yet have those abilities (due to age), or if we will never have them (due to disability), or if we do not have them any longer (due to disease or injury), then we may be killed.

I think there are significant flaws in Boonin's position, as many others have argued. But perhaps no flaw is more significant than the fact that this view goes against the nature of love.

Love is a commitment to the good of others irrespective of their abilities (or disabilities), their age, their appearance, their stage in life. Love is a commitment to the good of others simply because they are who they are, and that is enough.

We ought to love others, not kill them, and that's why abortion is wrong.