Background

Abortion: Murder - or Human Right?

Uploaded 12/2/2021, approx. 39 minute read

My mother aborted my predecessor. I should have had a brother older than me. Had my mother made the wise choice to abort me as well, I wouldn't be here taunting you and tormenting you with an endless stream of utterly incomprehensible videos. This one being no exception.


Today we are going to discuss the loaded question, is abortion a murder or is it a human right?

The United States Supreme Court is now debating a Missouri law from 2018 which bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

There's a question of viability of the fetus, there's a question of stare decisis, all decisions, precedents. There are other complicated legal issues and questions which I will not go into.

The Casey ruling from 1992, Roe versus Wade, Roe v. Wade from 1933 etc. I will not go into all this.

In this video I will try to outline the philosophical dimensions of the kindled and difficult question of abortion.

This abortion puts together, brings together every known issue in ethics and in this sense it is a proceed, a compendium of everything humanity had been grappling with, at least since the ancient Greeks.

My name is Sam Vaknin, I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited and a professor of psychology in various universities. One of my PhDs is actually in philosophy so I take the liberty of lecturing to you on this topic from a position of some knowledge.

Abortion brings forth the issue of the social contract. The issue of abortion is of course emotionally loaded and it often makes for poor, not thoroughly thought out arguments.

So there are questions like is abortion immoral, is abortion a murder, but is abortion immoral and is abortion a murder are not equivalent questions. These questions are often confused.

The pregnancy and the resulting fetus are discussed in terms normally reserved to natural catastrophes, force majeure. At times the embryo is compared to cancer, to a thief, to an invader. I've seen all these similes and metaphors in pro-choice literature, pro-abortion literature. After all human fetuses are growth clusters of cells very similar to cancer.

The difference of course is that no one contracts cancer willingly except to some extent smokers, but then they gamble, they don't contract cancer.

And this leads us to the issue of consent. The issue of consent predicting the outcomes and consequences of one's actions and taking responsibility for them, being accountable for them, for one's actions.

When a woman engages in voluntary sex, I'm not talking about rape, I'm not talking about incest, but when a woman engages in voluntary sex and when she does not use contraceptives and then she gets pregnant, one can say that this woman had signed a contract. A contract with whom? A contract with a resulting embryo. A contract entails the demonstrated existence of a reasonably and reasonable free will.

If the fulfillment of the obligations in a contract between individuals could be life threatening, it is fair and safe to assume that no rational free will was involved of course.

If I sign a contract with someone that I will play Russian roulette with a loaded gun with three bullets, no one can enforce this contract because enforcing this contract would potentially be life threatening. This is an unenforceable contract.

So when people sign a contract whose outcomes can be life threatening and even contracts will negate self-interest, it is fair and safe to assume that there was no rational free will involved in signing such a contract.

No reasonable person would sign or enter such a contract with another person, though most people by the way would sign such contracts with society, for example, a soldier in the army.


Okay, so this is the whole issue of contracting of contracts.

Judith Jarvis Thompson argued convincingly in a defense of abortion. She argued convincingly that pregnancies that are the result of forced sex, rape being a special case, incest, pregnancies which are life-threatening should or could morally be terminated.

Very few people would disagree with that and those who do disagree with that in the deep south in the United States, it calls into question their intelligence and understanding of ethics. It also casts them as misogynists.

Using the transactional language, the contract of rape, the contract of incest was not entered too willingly, was not agreed upon reasonably and therefore its null and void.

Any actions which are intended to terminate such a contract and to annul its consequences including abortion should be legally and morally permissible.

The same goes for a contract which was entered into against the express will of one of the parties and despite all the reasonable measures that the unwilling party had adopted to prevent the contract from being signed.

Imagine for example, a mother, a would-be mother, she uses contraceptives, she uses contraceptives in sex in a manner intended to prevent pregnancy. When you use contraceptives, when a man puts on a condom, a woman is on the pill, it is as good as saying I do not want to sign this contract, I do not want to get pregnant or to make this woman pregnant, I'm doing my reasonable best to not sign this contract. If it is signed, if this contract ends up being signed, it is contrary to my express will as demonstrated in my previous actions of using contraceptives.

There is little legal or moral doubt that such a contract should and could be voided and annulled. It's the equivalent of stealing sperm. If you steal sperm from someone and get pregnant, the question of paternity arises and the question of abortion.

These are the easy cases, rape, incest, unwanted pregnancies, these are the easy cases. Much more serious problems arise when we study the other party to these implicit agreements and contracts.

There's the mother with her body, there are three parties, there's a man, we'll put him aside for a minute, which is a good strategy in general by the way.

There's the woman whose body is the container for the pregnancy and who pays a huge medical toll and later economic toll and emotional toll for being pregnant. So that's one party.

But there's always a second party. The second party is the embryo. I'm using embryo and fetus interchangeably although they're not exactly the same, medically speaking.


Okay, so there are two parties, mother and embryo.

To start with, the embryo lacks consciousness in the sense that is needed for signing an enforceable and valid contract. If you don't have consciousness, if you don't have consciousness, you cannot sign a contract, obviously.

So the embryo is not in a position to sign a contract with his mother but can a contract be valid even if one of the signatories lacks this sine qua non condition?

In other words, cannot contract be valid even if one of the parties is not aware of the contract, cannot be aware of the contract, is not conscious.

In the absence of consciousness there is little point in talking about free will or rights. There's no point to talk about rights when you don't have consciousness. Rights depend on sentience, they depend on being conscious.

So is a contract between mother and embryo not a contract at all because one of the parties is unconscious and not in the position to sign a contract? Does it not reflect the intentions of the parties?

The answer is in the negative. The contract between a mother and her fetus is derived from the larger social contract. There is an overriding contract. Society through its apparatuses and institutions, society stands in for the embryo, represents the embryo. The same way society represents minors or intellectually challenged people or people with dementia, society is the custodian and guardian at large of those without a voice, sometimes minorities.

So the embryo and the fetus is conscious and is represented in the act of creation when it is made in conception. It is represented by society and it is protected by this social contract.

Society defends the mentally incapable, defends the insane, it defends unconscious people in vegetative state, in coma, and it defends the fetus and the embryo. Society steps in and has a recognized right and moral obligation to step in.

Whenever the powers of the parties to a contract, implicit or explicit, are not balanced and the contract between the mother and the fetus, the mother has much more power, infinitely more power than the fetus.

There's a power asymmetry. Society through its institutions steps in to correct the imbalance. Society protects small citizens from big monopolies for example, protects the physically weak from thugs and bullies, protects the tiny opposition from the mighty administration, protects barely surviving radio stations from the claws of devouring state mechanisms.

Society is there to guarantee that everyone gets a fair shake and the playing field, the playing field is level.

Society also has a right and obligation to intervene, intercede and represent those who are unconscious. This is why euthanasia is absolutely forbidden in many jurisdictions without the consent of the dying person.

There is not much difference between the embryo for example and the comatose. People in coma are like embryos, their dependency is total, they are unconscious, they are unable to contract, society contracts for them.

When the mother conceives, when she makes a baby, when a fetus is created, at that moment a contract had been signed between the mother and society as the representative of the fetus. A typical contract states the rights of the parties. It assumes the existence of parties which are moral personways or morally significant persons.

In other words, a typical contract assumes that there are people who are holders of rights and can demand from us to respect these rights. If you have a right, it creates a commensurate obligation on me to honor that right.

So, a typical contract is about rights and the obligations and duties that are derived from these rights. Contracts explicitly elaborate some of these rights and they leave other rights unmentioned because of the presumed existence of this aforementioned social contract.

In other words, we don't need to specify every single right in the contract. When you sign a rental contract, you don't write, I have the right to exist and you have no right to kill me. It goes without saying, it's part of the social contract, plus all the laws and regulations of the state apply to your contract, even if they are not specified or explicitly incorporated.

So, every time a contract is signed, there are three parties, the two signatories and the state, sorry, society, the social contract.

Same with the mother and her fetus. The minute she had created the fetus, definitely if she had done so voluntarily and inadvertently or if she had done so knowing the consequences, knowing that it's possible to create a fetus, the minute she had done this, she had signed a contract with both the fetus and society as its representative. The typical contract assumes that there is a social contract which applies to the parties of the contract and which is universally known and therefore implicitly incorporated in every contract.

That is another way of saying the fetus instantaneously has rights and the mother immediately has obligations and so an explicit contract can deal with the property rights of a certain person while neglecting to mention the person's right to life, the person's right to free speech, the person's rights to enjoy the fruits of his lawful property.

In general, the person's right to a happy life.

You don't need to specify all this and you don't need to specify all this in a pregnancy. A pregnancy is a contract between the mother and society as the representative of the fetus.

Now there is little debate that the mother is a morally significant person and that she is a rights holder. All born humans are and more so all adults above a certain age are rights holders.

But what about the unborn fetus? What are his or her rights?

One approaches that the embryo has no rights until certain conditions had been met and only upon the fulfillment of these conditions does the fetus transform into a morally significant person, a moral agent.

Opinions differ as to what are these conditions and what is the exact moment when a fetus acquires rights.

One of these moments is known as a moment of viability.

Another cutoff line is when the fetus develops a heartbeat. At this point, the fetus automatically acquires most of the rights of a living person.

Rationality or a morally meaningful and valued life are some of the often cited criteria in the abortion debate.

The fallaciousness of this argument is easy to demonstrate though. Children are irrational and we still don't kill them. So the fetus cannot be rational.

When people in the abortion debate pro-life, pro-lifers, when they say, well, it's rational to not abort, it's the life of the fetus is meaningful and valued, etc, etc. They're undermining themselves because the fetus is not rational. And it's very debatable whether it has a life because we don't know what is life. And even though some classes of people are not rational, we have no right to kill them. We don't need rationality to justify the life of other people. They don't need to be rational. Rationality is not a precondition to existence or to life.

And even though the fetus is not rational, it may still have a right to life. We don't kill children. We don't commit infanticide because children are irrational.

A second approach is that a person has a right to life because the person desires this right. He wants to live. But then what about chronically depressed people who wish to die? Do we have the right to terminate their miserable lives at their request? The good part of life, and therefore the differential and meaningful test, is in the experience of life itself. Not in the desire to experience it, but in the experience. In the experience, existence justifies life, not the desire to exist. Mind you, the phrase the desire to exist is pretty meaningless. You can't desire yourself into existence. So the fact that a fetus may at some point wish to exist, desire to have a life, as any animal does, by the way, doesn't endow the fetus with a right to life. We come to it at the second part of this lecture. But then another variant says that a person has a right to life because once his life is terminated, his experiences cease. They stop.

So how should we judge the right to life of someone who constantly endures bad experiences and as a result harbors a death wish?

The quality of the experiences in one's life are not relevant. The quality is not relevant. The content and the quality of experiences should not determine whether someone's life should be terminated.

These are many of the arguments banded about in the abortion debate, and they don't have a leg to stand on.

Having reviewed the above arguments and counter arguments, Don Markey, M-A-R-Q-Q-U-I-S, Don Markey goes on in Why Abortion is Immoral, 1989. He goes on to offer a sharper and more comprehensive criteria.

Terminating a life is morally wrong because a person has a future filled with value and meaning similar to ours.

But all this debate makes two assumptions.

The first assumption is that the fetus has a life.

And the second assumption is that when society steps in to represent the fetus, society can make use of any of these arguments.

For example, it can say the fetus desires to live. The life of the fetus will be filled with experiences. The life of the fetus is valuable in the future as our life is valuable in the future. Society would draw analogies between the fetus and us.

But are these analogies justified?

The whole debate is actually unnecessary.

There is no conflict between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus because there is never a conflict between parties to an agreement.

When you make an agreement, the conflict ends. Debates, arguments, disagreements, they have a place before you put pen to paper, before you commit yourself to a contract.

But once you have committed yourself to an agreement or to a contract, this ends all debate, all arguments and all conflict.

By signing an agreement, the mother gives up some of her rights and limits other rights.

This is the meaning of an agreement or a contract. Contracts limit rights. Contracts impose obligations. Contracts eliminate rights altogether. This is normal practice in contracts.

Contracts represent compromises, the optimization and not the maximization of the party's rights and wishes.

The rights of the fetus are an inseparable part of the contract which a mother had signed voluntarily and reasonably. The rights of the fetus are derived from the mother's behavior. The mother got herself willingly pregnant or had assumed the risk of getting pregnant but not by not using contraceptives reasonably.

And so by doing this, this is the behavior which validates and ratifies a contract between the mother and the fetus.


Again, I'm putting aside cases like rape, incest, unwanted pregnancy where there was a clear signaling, clear behavioral signaling that pregnancy is not wished and so on.

In rape and incest and unwanted pregnancies, there's no case to claim that there is a contract.

But believe it or not, that's a minority. That's a minority of pregnancies, not a big minority even.

People just change their minds. People have sex unprotected or they have sex in a relationship or they're drunk and they have reckless sex and they get pregnant.

When you do this as a mother, as a woman, you had signed a contract with your fetus and now he has rights and your rights are limited.

Many contracts are signed by behavior rather than on a piece of paper. Numerous contracts are verbal or behavioral contracts.

These contracts, though implicit, are as binding as any of the written more explicit variants.

Legally and morally, the situation is crystal clear actually. The mother had signed some of her rights away when she had committed herself to such a contract.

Even if she regrets it afterwards, she cannot claim her rights back by annulling the contract unilaterally. No contract can be annulled unilaterally. The consent of both parties is required.

Many times we realized that we had entered a bad contract. We regret it. We withdraw, we discovered that we made a horrible mistake, but there's nothing much we can do about it.

These are the rules of the game.

And so the two remaining questions are, can this specific contract known as pregnancy be annulled, made void? And the second question is, in which circumstances can such a contract be null and void?

In contract law, his answers to both these questions.

Yes, a contract can be annulled and voided if it had been signed under duress, involuntarily, by incompetent persons like minors or the insane, or if one of the parties to the contract made a reasonable and full-scale attempt to prevent the signature of the contract, thus expressing the clear will to not sign the contract.

The contract is also terminated, avoided, if it would be unreasonable to expect one of the parties to see the contract through rape, contraception failure, life-threatening, medically life-threatening pregnancies, they're all such cases.

And in these cases, of course, the contract is invalid, because a contract which threatens your life, a contract which takes away your freedom, is an illegal contract, it's invalid.

And of course, the pro-life camp, they have contra-arguments.

They say that in the case of economic hardship, for instance, the damage to the mother's future is certain. The pro-choice camp, I'm sorry, the pro-choice camp says in the case of economic hardship, the damage to the mother's future is certain. It is true that her value-filled, meaningful future is guaranteed, but so is the detrimental effect that the fetus will have on her life once it is born.

And this certainty, this certainty of the damage that the fetus will wreak on the mother's life, economic at least, this certainty cannot be balanced by the uncertain value-filled future life of the embryo.

In other words, pro-lifers, some pro-lifers claim that the damage is certain, economic damage, emotional damage, medical damage, psychological damage, the damage is certain, but the future value of the life of the child is not certain.

And of course, you cannot balance certain against uncertain. The certain part should prevail. Always preferring an uncertain good to a certain evil is morally wrong. But surely this is a quantitative matter, not a qualitative one.

Certain limited aspects of the rest of the mother's life will invariably be adversely affected.

When you have a child, your life is affected. Some of these effects are not positive. Children, for example, create expenses. So definitely some limited aspects of the rest of the mother's life will be affected and can be obliterated by society's helping end and intervention.

So if she does have the baby, the effects, the long-term deleterious bad effects are pretty guaranteed.

The decision to not have the child, it's a different story. It's both qualitatively and quantitatively different. The decision to not have the child is to deprive the unborn of all the aspects of all his future life in which he might well have experienced happiness, values and meaning.

So it's not that we are balancing a certain evil with an uncertain good. We are balancing a very limited certain evil with a huge, huge number of certain goods and this discrepancy, this symmetry, this imbalance is something pro-lifers rarely take into account.

The question is whether the fetus is a being or it's just a clump of cells, a growth, a tumor. The question is whether the fetus is conscious in any manner or utterly unconscious, whether the fetus is able to value his life and to want his life, desire to live.

All these questions are not relevant. The fetus has the potential to lead a happy, meaningful, value-filled life similar to our lives, very much as a one-minute old baby does.

The contract between the fetus and his mother is a service provision contract. The mother provides him with goods and services that the fetus requires in order to materialize, to realize his potential to become a human being. It's a process of self-actualization aided and abetted by the mother's resources.

It sounds very much like many other human contracts for service provision and this contract continues well after the pregnancy had ended and birth given.

For example, education. Children do not appreciate the importance of education. They don't value the potential of education. They are truants. They don't want to go to school and still education is enforced. We impose education on children because we who are capable of such feats, we want them to have the tools that they will need in order to develop their potential.

We have an obligation to help fetuses, embryos, born children to become who they can become, to realise their potential and in this and many other respects, the human pregnancy continues well into the fourth year of life.

Physiologically, by the way, it continues into the second year of life.

Should the location of the pregnancy in uterus, in vivo, should determine the future of a pregnancy?

So if I'm inside the womb, my life is worthless and I can be sacrificed via an abortion, but if I'm outside the womb, suddenly the law protects me.

It's a very critical question. If a mother has the right to abort at will, why should the mother be denied her right to terminate the pregnancy after the fetus emerges?

I repeat, the human pregnancy is nine months inside the mother and about 13 months outside the mother.

Why not have a right to terminate the pregnancy when the baby is already outside the mother, continuing to develop and evolve the brain, for example?

The pregnancy continues outside the womb.

If we have a right to terminate pregnancy, why is it limited to when it is in the womb?

Even after birth, the woman's body is the main source of food for the baby and in any case, she has to endure physical hardships to raise the child.

There's a bodily medical prize to raising children and it doesn't end with childbirth.

So why not extend the woman's ownership of her body? Why not extend the woman's right to her body further in time and space to the postnatal period?

There's some inconsistency in these arguments.

Contracts to provide goods and services always come at a personal cost to the provider. These are the commonest contracts.

We open a business, we sell a software application, we publish a book, we engage in helping others to self-actualize, to realise their potential.

And we should always do so willingly and reasonably, otherwise the contracts that we sign would be null and void.

But to deny anyone his capacity to realise his potential and to deny anyone the goods and services that he needs to do so after a valid contract had been entered to, mind you, that's immoral.

To refuse to provide a service, service or to condition the provision of a service or a good is a violation of the contract should be penalized.

The mother cannot say I will provide the goods and services that I had agreed to provide to these fetus under this contract only if and when I benefit from the provision of these goods and services or if I like to do so.

I change my mind, I don't want to do so, I don't feel comfortable, you can't do that.

The mother has a contract with the fetus for the provision of goods and services.

Admittedly at times we have a right to choose to do immoral things because immoral things had not been codified as illegal, but it doesn't turn these actions into moral actions.

Not every immoral act involves the termination of a life and not every immoral act that involves the termination of a life can be classified as murder.

Phenomenology is deceiving, the acts look the same because there is a cessation of life functions and the prevention of a future.

Whenever we take a life we cut short the future and all life functions cease, but murder is the intentional termination of the life of a human who possesses at the moment of death a consciousness and in most cases a free will, especially the will to not die.

So you can't murder a fetus, murder always involves consciousness or the potential for consciousness.

You can of course murder an unconscious person, but that unconscious person used to be conscious and had you tried to murder him when he was conscious he would have told you that he wants to live.

Abortion is different, it's the intentional termination of a life which has the potential to develop into a person with consciousness and free will but hasn't done so yet.

Philosophically no identity can be established between potential and actuality. You can't say because there is a potential for something it is. The potential simply means it could be but never it is.

So it's very debatable whether a fetus is fully human. It has the potential to be fully human but it is not yet fully human.

The destruction of paints and clothes for example is not tantamount or identical to the destruction of a painting by Van Gogh. So if you take a lot of paints and throw them to the garbage and you tear apart the canvas it's not the same like taking a canvas by Van Gogh and ruining it.

Although the canvas of Van Gogh is made of the same elements, paints and canvas, but paints and canvas in raw form are a potential for a painting. They are not a painting.

A cluster of cells becomes human only through the agency of nature. And surely the destruction of the painting materials constitutes an offense against the painter.

In the same way the destruction of the fetus constitutes an offense against nature. It is the painter who takes the raw materials and creates a painting. It is the painter who realizes the potential in the raw materials by converting them into a painting.

Nature realizes the potential in a fetus by converting the fetus by making the fetus a human being.

So when we offend against the fetus we are offending against nature. The same way if we offend against the paints and the canvas we are offending against the painter who could have rendered them a painting.

In the same way there's no denying that in both cases there was no finished product. No finished product had been eliminated. The paints and the canvas are not a painting.

The fetus is not a human being and naturally this becomes less and less so. The severity of the terminating act increases as the process of creation advances.

Classifying an abortion as murder poses numerous and insurmountable philosophical problems.

No one disputes the now common view that the main crime committed in aborting a pregnancy is a crime against potential, against potentialities, a crime against what could have been a crime against the future.

And if so what is the philosophical difference between aborting a fetus and destroying a sperm and an egg for example. These two sperm and an egg, they contain all the information all the potential to become a human.

And so if we destroy a sperm and an egg it's philosophically no less grave than the destruction of a fetus. The destruction of an egg in a sperm is even more serious philosophically than the destruction of a fetus.

In the creation of the fetus limits the set of potentials embedded in the genetic material. The fetus is like the collapse of the wave function. It's like the end point. The fetus chooses some potentials from the egg, some potentials from the sperm and becomes the fetus.

The sperm and the egg separately could become any number of fetuses. The potential in a sperm and egg when they are separate is much bigger than the potential in a fetus.

And so destroying sperm and eggs philosophically at least is much worse than destroying a fetus because the number of potentials destroyed is much higher.

The egg in the sperm can be compared to the famous wave function state vector in quantum mechanics. They represent millions of potential final states, millions of potential embryos and lives.

The fetus is the collapse of the wave function. It represents a much more limited set of potentials.

If killing an embryo is a murder because of the elimination of potential, the elimination of the future, how should we consider the intentional elimination of many more potentials through masturbation and contraception?

These are also types of murder.

But of course there's no such thing as murdering a potential. You can murder only human beings. And human beings are realized potential, actualized potential.

The argument that it is difficult to say which sperm cell will impregnate the egg is not serious. Biologically it does not matter.

They all carry the same genetic content, the same DNA.

Moreover, would these counter arguments still hold if in future we were to be able to identify the chosen sperm and eliminate only it?

In many religions, Catholicism for example, contraception is murder. In Judaism, masturbation is the corruption of the seed. In such a serious offense that it is punishable by the strongest religious penalty, eternal excommunication.

Correct?

So religions do consider any destruction of life potential as a capital offense.

If abortion is indeed murder, how should we resolve the following moral dilemmas and questions, some of them patently absurd?

Is a natural abortion the equivalent of manslaughter through negligence? Do habits like smoking, drug addiction, vegetarianism, do they infringe upon the right to life of the fetus? Do these habits constitute a violation of the contract because they impinge on the future development of the fetus, limit its potential?

Reduction to absurdity?

If in the far future research will unequivocally prove that listening to a certain kind of music or entertaining certain thoughts seriously hampers the embryonic development. Should we apply censorship to the mother? Should we tell her you cannot listen to this music and you cannot read these books and you cannot think these thoughts? Should force majeure clauses be introduced to the mother embryo pregnancy contract? Will these clauses give the mother the right to cancel the contract? Will the embryo have the right to terminate the contract as well as the mother? Should the asymmetry persist? The mother will have no right to terminate, but the embryo will have a right to terminate or maybe vice versa.

Today we terminate pregnancies of seriously damaged or genetically deformed embryos. We do it on behalf of the embryo.

It's like the embryo is choosing to abort.

Being a rights holder, can the fetus, as represented by society, can the fetus litigate against his mother? Can the fetus litigate against third parties like the doctor who had aborted it? Can the fetus litigate against someone who had hit the mother and brought about a natural abortion after the fetus had died? Should anyone who knows about an abortion be considered an accomplice to murder?

If abortion is murder, why punish it so mildly? Why is there a debate regarding this question?

Thou shalt not kill is a natural law. It appears in virtually every legal system. It is easily and immediately identifiable.

Commandment, the fact that abortion does not enjoy the same legal and moral treatment, tells us that there's no way to cast it as a murder.


Now, the whole debate of abortions relies on arguments from the right to life.

And in a future video, I will go deeper into them.

But the right to life is a fundamental principle of most moral theories. And it says that all human beings have a right to life. The existence of a right implies obligations or duties or third parties towards the right holder. One has a right against other people.

The fact that one possesses a certain right prescribes to others certain obligatory behaviors and proscribes, inhibits certain acts or omissions.

And this Janus-like nature of rights and duties, as two sides of the same ethical coin, creates great confusion.

People often and easily confuse rights and the attendant duties and obligations which with morally decent or even the morally permissible.

So people confuse rights and attendant obligations with what is moral, what is allowed, what is decent.

And one must, what one must do as a result of another person's right, should never be confused with what one ought to do, with what one should do morally in the absence of a right.

These are very complex issues.

And the right to life has eight distinct strains.

The right to be brought to life, the right to be born, the right to have one's life maintained, the right to not be killed, not be killed, the right to have one's life saved, the right to save one's life, erroneously limited to the right to self-defense, the right to terminate one's life and the right to have one's life terminated.


Let's start with the first one.

The right to be brought to life. Only living people have rights.

There is a debate whether an egg is a living person, but there can be no doubt that the egg exists.

The rights of the egg and the sperm, whatever they are, derive from the fact that they exist and that they have the potential to develop life.

The right to be brought to life, the right to become, the right to be, pertains to a yet non-alive entity and because of that it's null and void.

Had this right existed, it would have implied an obligation or duty to give life to the unborn and the not yet conceived and there's no such duty or obligation.

What about the right to be born?

The right to be born crystallizes at the moment to voluntary and intentional fertilization, as I said before.

If a woman knowingly engages in sexual intercourse for the explicit and express purpose of having a child or if she takes the chance or the risk of having a child, then the resulting fertilized egg has a right to mature and has a right to be born.

A contract had been struck.

Furthermore, the born child has all the rights a child has against his parents. He has a right to demand food, shelter, emotional nourishment, education and so on.

It is debatable whether such rights of the fetus and later of the child exist if the fertilization was either involuntary like in rape or incest or in the case of unintentional accidental pregnancies.

It would seem that the fetus has a right to be kept alive outside the mother's womb if possible, but it is not clear whether it has a right to go on using the mother's body or resources or to burden her in any way in order to sustain its own life, but only in cases of involuntary pregnancy where a contract had not been signed.

What about the right to have one's life maintained? Does one have a right to maintain one's life and prolong this life at other people's expense? Does one have the right to use other people's bodies, their property, their time, their money, their resources? Does one have a right to deprive other people of pleasure, comfort, material possessions, income or any other thing to maintain one's life?

The answer is yes and no.

No one has a right to sustain his or her life, to maintain a life, to prolong a life, yet another individual's expense. No matter how minimal and insignificant the sacrifice required, it's not justified.

Still, if a contract had been signed, implicitly or explicitly, between the parties, then such a right may crystallize in the contract, and such a right creates corresponding duties and obligations, moral as well as legal.


Let's take an example.

No fetus has a right to sustain its life. No fetus has a right to maintain or prolong its life at his mother's expense. No matter how minor and insignificant the sacrifice required of the mother is, still, if the mother signed a contract with the fetus by knowingly and willingly and intentionally conceiving the fetus, then such a right for the fetus had crystallized, and such a right creates corresponding duties and obligations of the mother towards her fetus.

On the other hand, everyone has a right to sustain his or her life, to maintain or to prolong this life, at society's expense. Not to the expense of any individual, but the expense of society, and no matter how major and significant the resources required from society are. Still, if a contract had been signed, implicitly or explicitly, between the parties, then the obligations of such a right may crystallize in the contract, and create corresponding duties and obligations, moral as well as legal.

Again, let's take an example.

Everyone has a right to sustain his or her life, to maintain this life, and to prolong this life at society's expense. Public hospitals, state pension schemes, and police forces may be required to fulfill society's obligations. But to fulfill this obligation, society must, no matter how major and significant the resources required, are. And still, if a person had volunteered to join the army, and a contract had been signed between the parties, then his right to maintain his life has been abrogated. He gave up on this right, and the individual assumes certain duties and obligations, including the duty or obligation to give up his life to society.

What about the right to not be killed? Every person has a right to not be killed unjustly. What constitutes just killing is a matter for an ethical calculus in the framework of a social contract.

But does A's right to not be killed include the right against third parties? In other words, can A force third parties to refrain from enforcing the rights of other people against A? Does A's right to not be killed preclude the writing of wrongs committed by A against other people, even if the writing of such wrong means the killing of A?

Not so. We have the capital punishment. Someone has a right to not be killed, but if he had killed someone, he will be killed. He will be electrocuted or poisoned by the state. Capital punishment is a perfect example of this.

There is a moral obligation to right wrongs. There is a moral obligation to restore the rights of other people. If A maintains or prolongs his life only by violating the rights of other people, and these other people object to it, then A must be killed if that is the only way to right the wrong and to reassert the rights of these wrong people.

What about the right to have one's life saved? There is no such right, and there is no corresponding moral obligation or duty to save a life. This so-called right is a demonstration of the aforementioned muddle between the morally commendable, desirable and decent, the ought, the should, and the morally obligatory, the result of other people's rights.

In some countries, the obligation to save a life is legally codified. But while the law of the land may create a legal right and corresponding legal obligations, it does not always or necessarily create a moral or an ethical right and corresponding moral duties and obligations.

In the Talmud, they say, he who saves one life saves the entire world. But that's not a moral thing. There is no moral obligation to save a life.


Okay, what about the right to self-defense?

There is no such right, and there is no corresponding moral obligation or duty to save a life.

One has the right to take certain actions. One has the right to avoid taking certain actions in order to save one's own life.

It is generally accepted that one has a right to kill a pursuer who knowingly and intentionally intends to take one's life.

It is debatable, though, whether one has the right to kill an innocent person who unknowlessly and unintentionally threatens to take one's life.

So a fetus could be a pursuer. The fetus doesn't know that he's killing the mother. But if he's killing the mother, if he's endangering the mother medically, or if he's endangering her quality of life, it raises the issue of does the mother have a right to kill it? What about the right to terminate one's life?

Watch my video on suicide.

What about the right to have one's life terminated? The right to euthanasia? The right to have one's life terminated at will. It's restricted by numerous social, ethical and legal rules, principles, considerations.

But in a nutshell, and there's a video, a separate video I made about in a nutshell, in many countries in the West, one is thought to have a right to have one's life terminated with the help of third parties if one is going to die shortly anyhow and if one is going to be tormented and humiliated by great and debilitating agony for the rest of one's remaining life if one is not helped to die.

So the quality of life determines a lot. Of course, for one's wish to be helped to die, to be accommodated, one has to be in sound mind and one has to will one's death knowingly, intentionally and forcefully.

There's a hierarchy of rights. There's a calculus of rights. All human cultures have hierarchies of rights. These hierarchies reflect cultural mores and mores and there cannot therefore be a universal and eternal hierarchy.

In Western moral systems, the right to life supersedes all other rights, including the right to one's body, to comfort, to the avoidance of pain, to property, to you name it, the right to life is number one, two and three.

And yet this hierarchical arrangement does not help us to resolve cases in which there is a clash of equal rights.

For example, the conflicting rights to life of two people, mother and fetus.

One way to decide among equally potent claims is randomly by flipping a coin or casting dice. Alternatively, we could add and subtract rights in a somewhat macabre arithmetic.

If a mother's life is endangered by a continued existence of a fetus, and assuming that both of them have a right to life, we can decide to kill the fetus by adding to the mother's right to life her right to her own body.

And so outweighing the fetus' right to life.

What about the difference between killing and letting die?

There is an assumed difference between killing, taking a life actively and letting someone die, not saving a life.

And this is supported by moral reasoning. While there is a right to not be killed, there's no right to have one's life saved.

And so while there is an obligation to not kill, there's no obligation to save a life, although it's morally commendable.

And what about killing the innocent? Often the continued existence of an innocent person threatens to take the life of a victim.

By innocent we mean not guilty. Innocent is someone who is not responsible for killing the victim. Innocent is someone who doesn't intend to kill the victim, doesn't know that the victim will be killed, owing to his or her actions or continued existence.

An innocent person can continue to exist and someone dies because the innocent person is continuing to exist. An innocent person can do something totally unrelated and someone dies.

It is simple to decide to kill the innocent person, to save the victim, if the innocent person is going to die anyway shortly, and if the remaining life of the victim if saved will be much longer than the remaining life of the innocent person if it is not killed.

All other variants require a calculus of hierarchically weighted rights.

One form of calculus is the utilitarian theory. It calls for the maximization of utility, maximization of life, happiness, pleasure. In other words, the life, happiness, or pleasure of the many outweigh the life, happiness, or pleasure of the few. It is morally permissible to kill the innocent person if the lives of two or more people will be saved as a result and there is no other way to save their lives.

Despite strong philosophical objections to some of the premises of utilitarian theory, I agree with its practical prescriptions.

In this context, the dilemma of killing the innocent, in this context, one can also call upon the right of self-defense. Does the victim have a right to kill the innocent person regardless of any moral calculus or rights? Probably not.

One is rarely justified in taking another's life to save one's own life. But such behavior cannot be condemned.

Here we have the flip side of the confusion.

Understandable and perhaps inevitable behavior, self-defense, is mistaken for a moral right. It's not moral to act in self-defense. It's expedient and it's understandable and it's legally permissible. It's absolutely not moral.

The most victims would kill the innocent person and we would sympathize with the victim. We would understand the victim's behavior.

But it does not mean that the victim had a right to kill the innocent person. The victim may have had a right to kill the innocent person, but this right is not automatic, nor is it all encompassing, nor is it a question of morality or ethics, but a question of survival of the fittest in the wind.

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