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Why the Violinist Argument for Abortion Fails: A Poorly Tuned Analogy

If you’ve spent any time debating the issue of abortion, examination such debates on the Internet, or reading about them in the some-more modernized novel on possibly side, you’ve almost come opposite two arguments that are ostensible to be the strongest in the pro-choice arsenal. In reality, they are surprisingly groundless and easy to answer

In this article, I’ll answer the oldest, which is Judith Jarvis Thompson’s famous violinist argument. It goes something like this: Suppose you arise up one day in a hospital to find yourself bending up to a world-famous violinist whose critical viscera have temporarily close down. Through a series of intravenous feeds, the violinist is contingent on your physique for dialysis, circulation, and maybe defence function. You are totally healthy, but firm to a bed beside his. The alloy explains that you were selected and chosen as a human life support complement for this eminent musician given no other concordant horde could be found. The medicine says that the violinist, who is currently unconscious, will redeem if he is allowed to use your physique for 9 months. He will die within minutes, however, if you unplug and leave.

According to Thompson’s reasoning, you are within your rights to unplug and let the violinist die, given no human being, no matter how special, has a right to use your physique against your will. You have finish liberty over yourself, and no one–not even a foreigner who is there by no choice of his or her own–has a current explain on you. Applying this analogy to abortion, it is therefore excusable to “unplug” your physique from that of your fetus, given he or she has no right to use you for 9 months against your will, even yet the fetus did not select to be contingent on you.

It sounds indisputable at first, but the violinist evidence is actually filled with deadly holes. As Greg Koukl points out, the pivotal doubt to ask is either the characters and conditions in the analogy are truly analogous to genuine life. Is the attribute between the violinist and the foreigner bending up against his or her will allied to that of an unborn child and its mother?

For several reasons, no. First of all, a profound mother, solely in the case of rape, was not unperceiving and forced to support another life with her body. She intent in an activity (sex) which not only causes but is specifically designed to create life. It is given of her choices (along with the father’s) that the tiny human flourishing in her womb exists. No one forced her to have sex. In biological terms, enchanting in the reproductive act and then being astounded when a baby shows up is like pulling a push noted “adopt a puppy” and then being astounded when a puppy slides out of the chute.


Second, a foreigner who happens to be learned with the violin is not equivalent to a person’s own child. It is not immediately apparent that we have a dignified requirement to support any pointless person who comes to count on me, generally if doing so would effectively hurt my life, cost me my career, and so forth. It is much easier to disagree that I, as a parent, have an requirement to support my own child. In fact, if one substitutes one’s teenage daughter or son for the violinist in Thompson’s analogy, the conditions instantly becomes some-more formidable to arrange out. Would a good primogenitor really unplug from his or her child? Would we see a primogenitor as guiltless who refused to scapegoat a few months to save his or her own strength and blood?

Thirdly, in Thompson’s analogy, the violinist’s story is ambiguous. We’re not told either he asked to be connected to a foreigner but that person’s permission. We know zero of how he got there. We only know that he is dependent, and that I, as the host, had zero to do with it. But again, this is not at all equivalent to the conditions of a profound mother, who had a partial in bringing her child into existence. And that child, remember, did not ask to be conceived. He or she is much some-more plausibly the victim, generally when the mom who helped create the child wants to kill him or her.

Finally, Thompson’s analogy depends on the element of sum corporeal autonomy. “My body, my choice!” she competence say. But sum corporeal liberty is a myth, and everybody knows that it’s a myth. If we have finish and sum control of my body, but any subordinate bounds or commitments, then we should be means to go anywhere we want. But we all determine that we can’t simply go wherever we want, given other people own property, and entering it but their permission is called trespassing. If we have finish corporeal autonomy, then we should be means to walk around exposed in public. But almost no multitude on earth would concede this, given the way in which we use my physique affects others, in this case by showing them much some-more of me than they bargained for. If we have finish corporeal autonomy, then a breast-feeding mom should be means to simply repel nourishment from her child and let it die. After all, it’s her body, and the child has no explain on it, according to Thompson’s principles.

Any respond to this last indicate that appeals to some dignified disproportion between a nursing child and an unborn fetus is simply question-begging. It sidesteps the violinist evidence and assumes a fetus is not a child. But the whole indicate of Thompson’s analogy is to infer that it’s excusable to means the death of a person who depends on you. The analogy is not served by merely reporting that the unborn is not a person.

Thompson’s analogy, distant from being a absolute evidence for abortion, is hopelessly divorced from the tangible conditions in which a profound mom who was not the victim of rape finds herself. The mom who wants an termination is opposite from the horde in the violin analogy in that 1.) she chose to rivet in passionate intercourse, which is designed to create babies, 2.) the life contingent on her physique is not a stranger, but her own child, 3.) who did not select to be there, and 4.) may very good have a explain to its mother’s physique in the same way a nursing child has such a claim.

We competence even supplement one some-more critical difference: In the violin scenario, the horde merely withdraws support from the musician and allows him to die of healthy causes. In an tangible surgical abortion, a baby is vigourously and directly killed–either tainted and vacuumed out of the womb, or ripped to pieces and extracted.

Thus, if we were to recast this analogy to better simulate the tangible conditions of a mom seeking an elective abortion, we would have to suppose something like the following scenario: we along with an accomplice, perform an examination on a famous violinist but his consent. This examination involves digest him unconscious, and hooking him up to my physique for dialysis, circulation, defence function, etc. He becomes totally contingent on me for 9 months, but we confirm twelve weeks into the routine that we wish to back out and concede him to die. However, given unexpected disconnecting from him is dangerous to my health, we sinecure someone to gash the violinist’s conduct and leave his brains.

One some-more detail: The violinist is my son.

It becomes apparent that a some-more accurate analogy for termination is implicitly horrifying. Thompson’s evidence convinces so many people precisely given it is ambiguous, and worded in such a way as to paint the relatives who wish to cancel their child as victims, and the child as an invader. It even involves a third party (whoever unperceiving the horde and bending him or her up to the violinist) who corresponds to no one in the conditions of an abortion. This alone should tip us off that something is astray with the analogy.

One final note: we have done exceptions via this critique for the case of rape, in which someone coerces a lady and can potentially soak her against her will. Sexual retort is not consensual, here. Obviously, this conditions is almost opposite from the immeasurable infancy of conceptions. Pro-life thinkers have explored this problem and come to the end that termination is still not implicitly acceptable, but the logic is rather different. we will leave the doubt aside for another time.

In my next entry, I’ll tackle the second, some-more recent, big gun in the pro-choice arsenal, a “gotcha” evidence that, if anything, is even weaker than the violinist argument.


(Editor’s note: This piece creatively ran at the Troubler of Israel blog at Patheos.)

Image: iStockphotos


G. Shane Morris is a comparison author for BreakPoint. 

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