Medical Ethics
Michael Green
Manuel Vargas
phone, office information

03 April. The Basic Argument Against Abortion
08 April. The Voluntariness Objection
10 April. Samaritanism and objections
13 April. Warren's criticism, more voluntariness
15 April. Fetuses aren't persons?
20 April. Does Marquis have to say contraception is wrong?
20 April. Nicole's point, one more time.
22 April. Wrapping Up

Medical Ethics: 06 April. The Extreme View

In general. The Extreme View is extreme because it maintains that abortion is wrong even if carrying the fetus to term will kill the mother. But the vast majority of abortions are not matters of life and death (for the mother). Thus Thomson's arguments against the Extreme View won't defend abortion in the vast majority of cases.

Killing and letting die. A crucial point for the Extreme View concerned a comparison between killing another person and letting another person die. I provided a reason for thinking there must be such a distinction (Shannon and Jen's objections aside): our best way of explaining why it's wrong to kill one person in order to save four appeals to such a distinction.

Here's another way of looking at that argument.

a) Assume for the sake of argument that there is no distinction between killing and letting die.

b) Then a doctor would be responsible for any death that it could have prevented in just the same way that she would be responsible for any death that she directly caused.

c) It's worse to be responsible for four deaths than for one.

d) So, it would follow that a doctor should kill me, a perfectly healthy person, and redistribute my organs to four patients who would otherwise die, if this were possible.

e) But that's a ridiculous conclusion. The doctor should not do that.

f) Premise c) is correct.

g) So premise a) must be wrong.

It's what philosopher's call a reductio ad absurdum argument. The trick is to suppose that a point you want to disprove is true and then show that some absurd consequence would follow if it really were true. Conclusion: the point couldn't be true since it would lead to absurd conclusions if it were.

Kate's challenge Is there any psychological data on how people tend to balance lives in cases like these? We may admit that one person should not be killed to save four but we also would agree that one person should be killed to save, say four million (or some similarly high number). Roughly speaking, where's the threshold for most people? What number of lives have to be in jeopardy before people are willing to kill one?

Kate wanted to know if there was any empirical data on where people draw the line. I don't know. Do you? Here's a challenge: find out. You're wasting your time on the internet anyway, why not use it to find out something useful and interesting? Hit those indexes!

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