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Monday, January 6, 2014

Revisiting the Bodily Rights Argument (Again)

Pro-choice blogger Deanna Young has responded to my last piece about the Responsibility Objection to the Bodily Rights argument. I would like to take the time now to offer a response to her essay.

Deanna has adjusted the thought experiment slightly to indicate that the fault now lies with the parents. Her revised thought experiment is as follows: "Imagine you and your wife are watching your three year old adopted child from the window. He is playing with a ball in the back yard. You both turn away for about 10 seconds to load the dishwasher. During that time, the ball your child was playing with rolls into the street. He runs after it and gets hit by a car. He now needs a kidney transplant. You are the only match. Are you morally or legally obligated to donate to your adopted child?"

This still doesn't strike me as the parents really being at fault. They only turned away, it's not like they pushed their kid in front of the car. Remember that in the case of pregnancy, not only are you responsible for creating new life through the act of sex, you are responsible for creating new life in a naturally needy position, and bear a responsibility for the child because you are responsible for the child's needy condition. Consider the following thought experiment by Scott Klusendorf in his book The Case for Life (Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2009, p. 195): Suppose you come across a button on the wall that says "BABY MAKING MACHINE." That button will give you a pleasurable experience but has a 1/100 chance of producing a baby that comes out the chute below. You walk up to it and push the button, receiving the pleasurable experience, but a baby comes out. It seems that you are now responsible for that child, either to take him home and raise him or to drop him off someplace where he will be safe. You can't just leave him there to starve.

So in order to really capture the parallels of pregnancy, I would have to adjust Deanna's thought experiment like this: Suppose a man just left his wife, leaving her to raise her child all by herself, and has skipped town so that he can't be forced to pay child support. The child becomes such a burden on the single mother that she decides she can't deal with the child anymore, so she gives him a cyanide pill. The neighbor notices what she is doing through the window, and calls 911. An ambulance arrives and rushes the child to the hospital and manages to save the child's life, but the child's kidney has now been damaged beyond repair. The question in this scenario is: should the mother be legally compelled to donate a kidney to her child?

When I mentioned that the very nature of the sex act is intrinsically ordered toward procreation, I was not speaking about necessary and sufficient conditions. Obviously sex is not necessary for procreation, and neither is it sufficient (since certain conditions have to be right). I meant more in the vein of its purpose. The fundamental purpose of sex is for procreation. In the same way, the purpose of eating is to nourish the body. Now people derive enjoyment from eating and there's nothing wrong with this unless you overeat, because it damages the body. But the purpose of eating is to nourish the body for survival.

So let's take a look at Deanna's thought experiment in response: "Imagine you are teaching your young daughter how to shoot a gun. One of the purposes of a gun is to kill. you are using all the safety precautions you can, but an accident occurs and your daughter is shot in a way that requires her to need a kidney transplant. Should you be legally obligated to give her your kidney?"

We keep coming back to the kidney transplant in these scenarios, but another key aspect to bear in mind is that the act of sex and procreation is entirely natural. Sex is the process by which the sperm is transported to the ovum, then the resultant zygote is moved along the fallopian tube by little cilia, and implants in the mother's womb. The act of pregnancy is one in which the mother's body has been designed/has adapted to handle. It is the natural way our species reproduces. It is not an unnatural act, like being shot with a gun, requiring another unnatural act, a kidney transplant, to rectify. I think this fact is important.

Despite this, I'm not convinced that the father shouldn't be legally compelled to give a kidney to his daughter (or, putting it in a way without double negatives, I think the father maybe should be legally compelled to give a kidney to her, especially if he knowingly put her in harm's way, but without all the information I'm not sure we can really draw any moral or legal obligations from it).

Lastly, Deanna responded to my argument about frivolous lawsuits. I understand that frivolous lawsuits happen, but there's a huge difference between what's right and what's legal. My argument is that frivolous lawsuits shouldn't happen. Whether or not they do is beside the point. I've been to a recycling center which posted signs describing a "fair risk" law. By being at that center, you understand there are risks involved and if something happens, you can't sue them because by being there you understand the risks and implicitly agree to them. Sex is the same way. We know that sex leads to pregnancy, and by engaging in sexual intercourse the woman understands that it could lead to pregnancy and implicitly accepts the risk thereupon.

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