During a psychology course I attended some decades ago, the lecturer asked us to answer -anonymously- the following question: Would you be able to kill someone if you knew for sure you weren’t going to be found responsible or suspect, nor otherwise penalized in any way? A not negligible part of the students (me among them, if you care to know) answered ‘yes’.
Along our lives, a whole lot of people eventually get to wish someone else’s death, and many of them would besides be ready to personally cause that death were they sure they wouldn’t be discovered guilty.
Wishing to get rid of John or Jane Doe is something quite natural. Eventually, we always come across someone who causes us severe or tough to bear affliction or pain, physical or emotional: that loud insufferable neighbour, the embittering boss, some humiliating and aggresive bully, the intimidating borough gantster, the extorting mobster, our nation’s cruel and vile opressor, that terrorist who slaughtered our father, the swine who’s raped our wife… The casuistry is infinite, and one can’t be blamed for wishing our tormentors’ death, or even for feeling the impulse of personally killing them. But the criminal code is there, heavily punishing homicide to dissuade us from commiting it; and, some way or other, we all understand that it’s how it should be, even though this abiding by the law forces us to curb our protection, justice or vengeance instincts. It seems sort of unnice to go around slaying people who get in our way.
However, among the uncountable number of instances in which we might like to get rid of another human being, there is a special case, one only exception on which -without us fully understanding why- most societies seem to agree. I mean those situations in which this other human being, though yet not guilty of anything, will mean -we anticipate- such a colossal hindrance in our life, such an obstacle to our projects and expectations, that we’ll be forced to drastically modify them or to wholly give them up. In such cases, and if a particular circumstance is met, the law allows us to terminate a given fellow being. This circumstance lies in carrying inside our to-be enemy. I’m of course talking about abortion. I’m thinking of the ethical revolution involved in stating the right (not decriminalising, but establishing the full right!) to murder someone for the sole reason that he/she is going to thwart our aspirations and to make our existence a lot more complicated.
I say murder instead of just kill and I mean it, because it fits better the definition when the victim is a newborn.
“Oh!, but the woman who calls off her pregnancy is not killing a newborn -someone will promptly object- but just getting rid of a foetus still unborn”. True; but it turns out that, these days, the question of extending the abortion right to delivery day is already being debated in the US; and I can’t see any essential difference between one day before or one day after, as the litle one who’s dying is exactly the same. Argueing that, as long as the foetus is inside the womb (or still connected to it via umbilical cord), it lacks any “autonomous life” and can’t live by itself seems quite unconvincing, given the fact that, in reality, a newborn also can’t. Likewise, it doesn’t sound acceptable to me that proposition according to which a newborn is not yet a full person, since ethics are not about persons, but about human beings. Not to talk about the outlandish thesis stating that the foetus belongs to the mother’s as much as her liver or her ears do, and is therefore subjected to her real whim. Any pregnant who’s not brainless or a fanatic knows quite well that what grows inside her is a living thing quite distinct from herself. That vague and generic “right to choose” so frequently invoked nowadays regarding a variety of topics is, oftentimes, but a nice-looking mask (the word right has a positive connotation) for hiding some unlawful or unethical real claim. In the case of abortion until delivery date, let’s be honest, right to choose actually means right to murder.
No, no, no. None of these “reasons” convinces me. Alongside with so many other people, I’ve many times questioned myself what’s my own take on abortion; and I still do, because this million dollar question keeps lacking an objective and determining answer: When do the embryo or the foetus stop being a negligible fisftul of dividing cells or an organic scrap we can finish off on a clean conscience? Every criteria I’ve heard so far (heartbeats, movement, full human shape, etc.) seem to me arbitrary and insufficient to some degree or other, perhaps because none of them takes into consideration the prior question, yet more philosophical and unresolved, of what is actually a human being?
Maybe I won’t ever find a satisfactory answer to both issues, but something I believe for sure: the day our civilization begins accepting the legal right to day-before murder, humankind will have taken a trascendental leap towards a novel ethics of unforeseeable results, because from there to an absolute relativization of the right to life there is only one more step.