Sanctity of Life

Sanctity of Life

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Christians and Sanctity of Life

  • always been debate on issue of abortion-e.g. Aristotle favoured it as a way of controlling family size whereas Hippocratic oath prohibited it.

Bible extracts which are used in discussion today:

  • Genesis 4:1-> Eve gives birth to Cain, with God's help she has brought her son into the world (each human is God's work)
  • Isiah 44:24, 48:1-5-> what God says he formed you in they womb and makes everything and everyone his children.
  • Jeremiah 1:5-> before you were born, God knew you in the womb and set apart chosen prophets.
  • Matthew 1:18-> children are born with Holy Spirit as Mary got pregnant with Jesus before she got married.

Abortion is directly prohibited in early Christian texts such as the Didache and in writing of Church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria. There was a debate over the issue of ensoulment and whether later abortions were morally worse than early ones, but it was essential regarded as murder.

'sacred' comes from the word 'sanctus' which means holy and shows that something is set apart for a special purpose.

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Christians hold to the principle of Sanctity of Life- life is sacred and deserves reverence and respect. Killing has many negative effects: ending life (which is sacred), taking the autonomy of a person, preventing future contributions (adding whole idea of purpose) and grief to family and friends. (the most acute form of distress for humans).

Human limits on authority-> Christians believe that God is the sole life-giver and humans ought not to destroy what he has given so therefore it is considered SINFUL.

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH- condemns the act of abortion as intrinsically evil. It goes against Natural Law and the Word of God, and there are no exceptions. Those involved in procuring abortions risk excommunication.

LIBERAL PROTESTANTS- advocate the preservation of life but would allow for abortion in certain circumstances e.g. prior to the formation of the nervous system and brain, where the mother's life is threatened, in cases of **** or incest or when the mother's health is endangered- mental or physical.

DAVID SMITH-> summarise Christian rejection of abortion in the following way: God alone is Lord of life and death, Humans have no right to take life, Human life begins at conception, abortion at any stage therefore is the murder of the innocent.

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Double Effect

all abortions are prohibited unless they are the side effect of another procedure e.g. removal of cancerous womb/pregnancy in Fallopian tube. These factors must be considered: 1) the action itself (it must be good) 2) the intention is upright (removing to save the mother's life) 3) killing of the foetus=true by-product as womb would be removed whether it had the foetus or not.

When considering abortion:

2 central issues: a) whether foetus is a person or a potential person b) whether the foetus has rights and if so, how these are balanced against the rights of a mother.

Person or a human being:

  • are all humans people? e.g. baby born without a brain, is it really a person? not regarded as person but only a human? A dolphin is a person if it's got high intellect?
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Jack Mahoney: in "Bioethics and Belief": characteristics determine if it's a person e.g. ability to ration, to make free choices, continuity, sensations, experiences, emotions, all actions among criteria of personhood.

Michael Tooley: in article: "Abortion and Infanticide" if being lacks conscientiousness of self-love and has no conscience feelings about future existence-> not a person.

Problem: these characteristics don't apply to that of new-born babies.

Or do we suggest criteria for personhood based on biological development and viability?

  • trying to draw the line between bundle of cells and human. until main organs are formed foetus isn't a person?
  • Mary Anne Warren-> in "A companion to Ethics" argues that "birth, rather than some earlier point marks the beginning of true moral status" She believes abortion up until 3 weeks is liable and permissible as after that the foetus is capable of surviving outside of the womb and entitled to moral rights.
  • John Finnis-> desire for freeom from physical and mental pain, knowledge for its own sake, play, aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness.
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  • when does the soul become implanted? Augustine maintained it was implanted at 46 days whilst Aq argued it was 40 days for boys and 90 for girls. Which led them to believe that abortion was not important provided it was carried out before the soul was implanted.
  • Gilbert Ryle-> "concept of the mind" maintained that all talk of the soul rests on a "category mistake" e.g. showing a foreigner a cricket team- can point out all players but what about team spirit?

How do you balance out the rights of the mother and the foetus? Beverly Harrison argues for the rights of women maintaining that abortion can't be argued without consideration of psychological and social condition of the mother. Women have to take care of the child, go through labour etc. so women's decision should be paramount. Permitting abortion is seen by many feminists as a way of emancipating women from a form of slavery to their body

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Judith Jarvis Thomson-> made up story talking about imagine if you had woken up having been kidnapped by a group of music lovers. One violinist has been plugged into your bed supply because your kidneys had failed, you are asked to support him for at least 9 months. According to Thomson, although you would be doing a generous act, you don't have the moral obligation to do so. Women have the right to have ownership of their own body and have a greater significance to that of their unborn foetus. It is wrong to focus on rights alone as responsibilities must also be taken into account, a woman's life plan must be considered but also it must be recognised that actions have consequences. If a man and woman make love, there may be implications that can't be ignored.

Feminists argue that not allowing someone to abort infringes their rights of LIBERTY, RIGHT NOT TO BE HARMED and SELF DETERMINATION. However, if you have a right it also means you have a duty and a responsibility. Without abortion, women lose reproductive autonomy.

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Quality of life argument

  • claims that SOL does not explain the intuitive feelings we have both to value life but also to allow humans the autonomy to dispose of it when they wish. QOL is not based on existence of God and removes the absoluteness of life.

1) Desires-> classical util view - if you want to die you should be allowed to. BUT you may cause others pain by your death. and desires may be unreliable (a temporary state of depression for example)

2) Preferences-> SINGER argues that preference direct reasons why a person's life is to be respected according to his or her preference to die.

3) Autonomy-> Util doesn't value autonomy in itself, only as the means by which preferences are made. LIBERALISM e.g. J.S. Mill maintain that liberty is the means by which a person determines his morality and values. An expression of liberalism is the ability to take ones own life without interference from the state. EXISTENTIALISM e.g. Jean-Paul Satre argue that freedom is what makes humans different. Giving up your freedom means you cease to be human in a fundamental way. Kantian followers say that a universal moral law means that people are respected for their own sake. Although freedom is paramount it does not licence any kind of behaviour.

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4) Rights and contracts-> Egoism e.g. Thomas Hobbes- "Every man has a Right to do everything;even to one another's body". Survival is key, there is no intrinsic reason why killing is wrong, but life is protected.

5) Consciousness-> Jonathan Glover claims that life is always valuable, providing it's conscious. Killing isn't intrinsically wrong but wrong because of its detrimental effect on consciousness.


  • permits too much group pressure and power.
  • slippery slope, where killing humans for good reasons results in less good reasons being offered in other cases.
  • QOL reduces a persons autonomy.
  • fails to treat humans with equal dignity.

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