What is meanty by the term sanctity of life?
The Prahse sanctity of life is used by many religious believers when talking about human life. They use it to mean that life is God given conferring on it a special status and making human life sacred and worthy of the highest respect. That means efforts must be made to preserve human life and its destruction is wrong.
'God creared human beings making them to be like himself' - Genesis
If humans are made like God then harming them is like harming God.
'I was born with nothing, I will die with nothing' - Job
For christians this is a clear statement that God alone has the power to create and to end life. For humans to intervene in such matters is wrong and is an attempts to 'play at being God'
Whilst the life of a person demands respect some have disputed whether the same rights are applicable to human tissue.
Being capable of rational thought - the ability to solve problems using the power of reason distiguinsihes humans from animals or from human tissue grown in the laboratoyy. Whilst a newborn baby is not rational inidivudla, it does have the potential to develop rational though. The difficulty may arise with the status of a severly handicapped adult.
Having a form of consciousness that enables them to feel pain or pleasure - it is wide enough to include newborn babies, well developed foetuses and severly handicapped adults. The problem is that it would also include animals.
Self Awareness - this means rhat the individual knows they belong to society has a sense of their own identity and is aware of the past. It is not thought that animals have this sort of awareness but neither do babies or some severly handicapped adults.
Having human genetic make up - this is certainly wide enough to include babies and adults but also would include human tissue which some might not want to accord full human rights to.
Being able to survivde independantly as a human - this definition would clarlify the status of a foeutus or human tissue but is open to question when a person is dependant on kidney dialysis or some other medical support for their life. It has also been pointed out that a baby can only survive with an adult support.
Quality of life vs Sancitity of life
Peter Singer is one of the modern philsophers who has suggestred it would be more helpful to focus on the quality of life rather than the sancitity of life when making life and death decisions. It enables the amount of pain involved , the imminence of death and whetehr life holds any pleasure for the individual to be taken into consideration.
Abortion - right to a child
Abortion is the premature termination of a foetus from the womb legal up to 24 weeks with the agreement of two doctors.
This is fundamental to ones systems of belief and their views on abortion if a foetus is terminated after the point at which it can be considered a person such an action can be ragred as mrderous.
Jonathon Glover - argued that determining the point at which a person becomes a person is not logically possible.
Conception - Beginning of creation of a human being. Roman Catholics say you are 'ensouled' at the point of conception. A foetus is not a potential person but a person with potential.
Implantation - The point at which the embryo knits itself into the womb lining. At this point,, the potentiality of the foeutus is highter than at conception.
14 day stage - Peter Singer argued that we cant define a person 'until we know what we are talking about'. At 14 days we become aware of a growing foetus. Singer 'a person' cannot be in existance before 14 days.
Heart Beating 25th day - when the heart stops - yo can be defined as dead. it would be logical therefore to define the beginning of life when the heart starts. however what about those people who have artificla help with sustaining their heart beat? do they not meet the critieria for personhood?
Pain - some argue that people are capable of feeling pain. Therefore a foetus becomes a person when it is able to feel pain (no defined stage as of yet). But does this mean those who are paralysed and not capable of feeling pain are not really people?
Viability - this occurs at around 22 weeks when the foetus can survive independently.
Birth - the point at which a pre mature being becomes physically independant and outwardly recongised as an individual.
Right to life
Once we have considered the point at which a foetus can be considered as a person with rights we must further question what exactly what rights the foetus is deserving of or perhaps more importantly what right the mother has over a growing foetus.
Judith Jarvis Thompson
was a pro choice - supporter of feminist ethics.
Thompson uses an analogy of a violinist to support the right of the mother to decide to have an abortion;
A man is kidnapped and wired up to a famous violinist in a hospital in order to save the violinist. He wakes up and is given the choice of staying attached to the violinist for nine months and saving him or leaving the hospital and letting the violinist die.
Violinist - Foetus - Person - Mother - Hospialisation - Pregnancy
The violinist (foetus) has the right to life. However this right is not greater than the persons right to freedom. The violinist has no right over the persons body and therefore the person is morally justified in reversing his hospitliisation by leaving - just as the mother has the right to terminate her pregnancy.
Developed the analogy of the violinist.
You visit a friend in hospital but accidentally get off the elevator on the wrong floor where doctors are waiting to rig you up to someone.
This represents the situation in which a women (the friend) has accidently become pregnant. Her mistake (getting on the wrong floor) permits her to have an abortion (to leave the floor) if she so desires.
Thompson uses a seond analogy to support the rights of the mother over the right to life of the foetus. Imagine a world in which pregnancy occurs when little pollen seeds take root in soft furnishings. A woman likes having the window open so she takes precautions by putting a fine wire mesh to stop the pollen seeds. However one seeds still ends up on the rug and she becomes pregnant.
Therefore a woman who does not want to get pregnant has only two options-
1 - close the window completely - never have sex
2 - have all her furnishings removed - have womb removed.
Thompson thus argued that if a woman takes reasonable steps to avoid pregnancy she hould not be held responsible for the pregnancy and has the right to choose to have an abortion.
Criticisms of Thompsons Analogies
The examples are not relevant - a foetus is innocent and did not choose to come into existance whilst a intruder is guilts of freely choosing to climb into sosmeone elses property.
Thompson fails to take emotion into account
She talks of a baby as if it were a possession or object.
IVF and the benefits
Sperm and egg are fertilised in a laboratory
fertility drugs given to women to stimulate super ovulation causing her to produce
allows women who have damaged or diseased dallopian tubes to become pregnant.
super ovulation means the couple can select the healthiest fertilzed egg.
eggs and sperm are dodnated to single women or homosexual couples
can be used on women who are post menopausal
can be used by women who want their dead partners offspring.
1. Personhood (the morality of discarding an embryo when it is considered a person)
2. the right to life (what is done with 'spare' embryos?)
3. the right to a child (do we have the right to have IVF treatment?)
The probability of producing a child through IVF is 8%
Singer accepts that the decision to destroy or conduct research on an embryo may be refusing a human being the right to life, but so is the decision to have protected sex or not to have sex at all. Therefore it IVF treatement is equally moral as the use of contraception.
Benefits and Issues of Embryo Research
Benefits - it is hoped that stem cells can be stimulated to develop ant tissue or organ of the human body. A cue for Alzheimers and Parkinsons may be possible in the near future as a result of embryo research.
Issues - The main issues that arise with embryo research are personhood whether or not an embryo can be considered as a person with rights and the right to life and the extenet to which an embryo has the right to life and the morality of discarding it for research.