You are now entering the “application” section of the course. You have studied eight different ethical theories, five different principles of biomedical ethics, and several tools of logical analysis. For the remainder of the course, you will be applying those ideas and tools to dilemmas raised by various topics in biomedical ethics. Please listen to the lecture that is linked to this session because it gives a framework for what you will be asked to do for the remainder of the course, and it also tells you what you will be responsible for by the final exam. I have started each of the remaining sessions of the course with a “thinking question”. You will see that each question involves whether or not we have certain “rights”. I think that it is a useful way to organize the topics, and it might give you a starting point as you read each of the articles. Each section also includes a “Social Context” section, which is a couple of pages that give you updates, statistics or case studies that involve the issues discussed in the articles. Please read the thinking question and the social context section before you read the articles, and that will give you some good background for thinking about each issue. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me, and I hope you enjoy using the tools you’ve acquired to think about some of these issues.
Thinking Question: Is there a “right to life”? If so, what is it, who has it, and when do they get or lose it?
READING ASSIGNMENT, Social Context: “A Statistical Profile of Abortion in the US”, pages 435-439.
READING ASSIGNMENT, Articles: Noonan, Thomson & Warren. Pages 469-490.
Read Decision Scenario 7 on pages 501-502. Then answer questions 1 & 2 that follow the scenario. For each answer, please give me a page number reference each time you use an idea or an exact quotation from the author you are discussing. For example, in question 1 you need to contrast Noonan and Warren’s responses to the dilemma in the scenario. When you say what you think Noonan’s response would be, that should include some support with page reference(s) from his article. Likewise, when you say what Warren’s view would be, it should include ideas or quotations from her article plus page references which show why you believe that she would think that way. Please label and answer each of the two questions separately: 1______________________, 2_______________________. Each author is worth 5 points for a total of 15 points.
Helen and John Kent waited nervously in the small consulting room while Laurie Stent, their genetic counselor, went to tell Dr. Charles Blatz that they had arrived to talk to him.
“I regret that I have some bad news for you”, Dr. Blatz told them. “The karyotyping that we do after amniocentesis shows a chromosomal abnormality.” He looked at them, and Helen felt that she could hardly breathe. “What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a condition known as trisomy 21, and it produces a birth defect we call Down Syndrome. You may have heard of it under the old name of mongolism.”
“Oh, God,” John said. “ How bad is it?” “Such children are always mentally retarded,”
Dr. BLatz said. “Some are severely retarded and others just twenty or so points below average. They have some minor physical deformities, and they sometimes have heart damage. They typically don’t live beyond their thirties, but by and large they seem happy and have good dispotions.”
Helen and John looked at each other with great sadness. “What do you think you should do?” Helen asked. “Should I have an abortion, and then we could try again?”
“I don’t know, John said. “ I really don’t know. You’ve had a hard time being pregnant these last five months, and you’d have to go through that again. Besides, there’s no guarantee this wouldn’t happen again.” “But this won’t be the normal baby we wanted,” Helen said. “ Maybe in the long run we’ll be even unhappier than we are now.”
1. Explain the nature of the conflict between the positions taken by Noonan and Warren that arises in this case.
2. If one accepts Thomson’s views, what factors are relevant to deciding whether an abortion is justifiable in this instance?
Clues for assignment…
I think almost all of you understood both Noonan and Warren’s views about abortion, and you did a nice job contrasting their ideas about whether or not the fetus is a person and the implications of this for the permissibility or impermissibility of abortion. Most people who lost points on this first question were the couple of you who didn’t give any page references or didn’t mention the Kents or the scenario (meaning that you were correct about Noonan and Warren’s views but didn’t take that next step of applying their views to the case in order to say whether or not they would think an abortion was permissible for the Kents). Think of this as “closing the loop” of the argument – you need to state the author’s view, mention the circumstances of the case, and then say how that author’s view applies to the case – what would that author say was right or wrong in that case? A couple of you spoke about Thomson’s view saying it was Warren’s, and another couple didn’t summarize Warren’s view at all (instead you quoted something from part one of her article, where she summarizes and then rejects Noonan & Thomson’s positions – that’s why I have you read these three together, but you have to be careful about what the author is saying is his/her own view and what the author is summarizing as someone else’s view but which later gets rejected). Arguments are sort of like a game of chess or checkers in that sense – you have to watch each move carefully to be sure you understand the author’s own position and what are other views that he/she states but the argues against). However, most of you did very well with these first two authors.
For question 2 about Thomson – most of you did very well here too, and this was the most difficult article of the three. The two places where some of you lost points are as follows: if you said that Thomson thinks “life begins at conception”, that is actually NOT her view (as she demonstrates with the acorn analogy at the beginning of her article and which she states clearly at the end). However, she says that she will assume, for the sake of argument, that life begins at conception and still show that she thinks there are many cases where abortion is permissible. The other place that you might have lost points is if you said that Thomson only allows abortion in the case of rape or a threat to the woman’s life. She DOES believe that those are situations where abortion should be permissible, but her position is a bit more liberal and also includes exceptions for failed birth control or cases where having the child would require “large sacrifices”. What she does not approve of is having an abortion for “trivial” reasons. Of course, in using her argument, you have to define “trivial” or “large” (which many of you did nicely), and different people will define them differently, and that’s fine.
However, some of you clearly again were reading something other than what I assigned – you spoke about Ruth & Carl or Dr. Savano or utilitarianism or addressed questions about whether or not abortion should be legal. I don’t know if you were using different versions of the text (which would have different page numbers – that’s why you need the 9th edition, as I have said before). So, PLEASE, for your own sake, be careful to read and respond to the the specific scenarios in the instructions, because I can’t give you points for essays about something I didn’t assign.
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