On the Ethical Issue of Abortion (2): Hare, Golden Rule and Soe Hok Gie

I would like to continue the abortion discussion from the previous post. One of the interesting arguments against abortion is the argument of abortion against the golden rule. One of the proponents is R. M. Hare. He says that

“when I am glad that I was born (the basis, it will be remembered, of the argument that the Golden Rule therefore places upon me an obligation not to stop others being born), I do not confine this gladness to gladness that they did not abort me. I am glad, also, that my parents copulated in the first place, without contraception. So from my gladness, in conjunction with the extended Golden Rule, I derive not only a duty not to abort, but also a duty not to abstain from procreation.”

One interesting point of the argument is to say that abortion is actually against the Golden Rule. If we are glad that we are here right now, then we should not abort any potential. This is because Golden Rule teaches us to do to others what you would like others do unto you. Thus say, abortion is wrong from the perspective that if we are in the position of the ‘potential,’ despite the fact that we do not have yet any decision whether to born or not, we should be given a chance to live by our mothers considering the fact that they have experienced happiness and thus have a duty to give such gladness to their potential as well. Another interesting point is by applying the Golden Rule against abortion, the ethic can actually be extended to human beings’ duty to procreate. This then means that copulation using contraception can be regarded as against the Golden Rule since it also prohibits the procreation process. Such a position would then open a new debate in procreation and contraception which is out of the scope of what I would like to discuss.

What about Gie?

When I was reading Hare’s position about abortion, I was then somewhat remembered about Soe Hok GIe, an Indonesian political activist. Differ from Hare, he says that the best fate is actually not to be born rather than being born and can live until old since he also says that the worst fate is the old age. This saying is somewhat understandable from my point of view. Considering what he had been going through his life and what Indonesia’s situation in that particular time really looked like, he might then start to wonder that it was better not to be born. The question is then: what about Gie’s argument if we relate this to Hare’s argument and abortion? Can we actually say that by aborting the fetus, we actually have saved the fate of the unborn and there is nothing wrong with that?

Answering such questions need a broad perspective about the condition where someone really lives. As mentioned above, Gie might say such things considering the political and economical situation at the place and time where he was still alive. So the right question to consider is not about whether in aborting child we have negated the Golden Rule or supporting the best fate advocated by Gie. We just have to simply ask, considering our current circumstances and the future, what is the best fate of the fetus? Are we really glad to live in this world right now? Can we predict what the future really looks like so once grown up, our children can also feel this gladness?

The problem is we never really know about the future, in particular in this fast-pace changing world. People might argue that the current condition is probably the best condition related to information technology, food distribution, etc. In short, this current condition is the best imaginable condition. But, world keeps changing and the issues such as climate change, robotic, the advent of artificial intelligence, social media and security are hot topics that can still be debated in the near future. Such issues actually will shape how the future will look like. For example, in the advent of AI and robotics, can the future people feel as glad as we are experiencing now with our information technology? Or with the climate change and uncertainty from some countries about the policy, will it be better for the fetus not to be born since at the time they are grown-up, the would probably start to struggle finding good quality air or struggle to find foods. Even in Indonesia itself, this topic can be made longer including the fate of minority (racial, religious, sex, etc.) and what is their position in Indonesia since it seems that the problem of intolerance in Indonesia in particular is still alarming.

These are probably the things that we need to consider if we would like to argue about the abortion and the Golden Rule. It is true that we are probably glad with our situation right now, but how about the future? If the future does not look as good as ours, then the Golden Rule does not dictate us to copulate and procreate and finally to avoid any abortion. It actually tells us like what Gie’s saying, namely to give the best bet to the fetus for not being born.

This is the thing that we should actually consider. Every human being should have an idea what the future would be for the unborn which also can turn our discussion to the ethic of procreation (which I would think to discuss it later). This also partially explains why people might consider abortion for the imperfect fetus or those who are predicted to be born with disabilities. They might probably think about the future that does not look good for the unborn, in particular in the area where they are living. We might be glad by our situation right now, but considering the future, at some situations Gie might probably right for not letting the fetus to be born.

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On the Ethical Issue of Abortion

Last week I went to a church and found out that the church did not only distribute the newsletter but also a statement on abortion to commemorate the 50 years of abortion law in UK. I think the position of Catholic Church regarding abortion is firm and clear: it basically has a pro-life position and thus can be regarded, most of the times, opposing the abortion except in some circumstances.

Discussing about abortion is then always interesting. This is because the morality and ethics surrounding the issue can still be discussed further. It cannot be doubted that there will always be pros and cons for the legalization of abortion. Having said that, it is also interesting to look into the arguments revolving around the issue.

The pros and cons discussion

Those who support abortion can may have an opinion saying that the woman itself has the right to choose what she is going to do with the embryo inside her womb. This argument is undoubtedly strong if the pregnancy is caused by something that is against her consent, rape for instance. There is also another case where this argument has a strong position, namely when the risk of continuing the pregnancy will risk the mother’s life herself. In this particular case, there are two lives that need to be considered: both the embryo and the woman. Thus say, the pregnant woman may say that she actually has the right to decide whom she is going to save: whether her baby or her own life.

But the argument does not stop there. There are some arguments supporting the abortion in relation with the embryo itself. In this regard, a question that is usually asked is: when actually an embryo can be considered to have a life or even a human being? Does it happen when we can call it a fetus? The answer can then vary a lot. Some people might argue that before reaching three months. Some might even argue further that they cannot be considered as human being before reaching certain age when the develop their own consciousness. Thus say, there is nothing wrong in abortion as long as what is eliminated is not considered as human beings and thus there is no harm to humanity at all.

Meanwhile, for those who oppose abortion, this would be a different story. They usually regard the humans’ lives start from the fertilization process itself. The background of this argument is related to the unity or wholeness of every human life. Since human beings never stop to develop, the development process itself must be traced back from the very beginning of life which is the fertilization process and thus killing embryo can be considered as harming humanity.

Still related to human development, another point related to this argument is killing embryo can be regarded as killing the unknown potential. Since we never know what future looks like, killing a human being-to-be is considered something that can probably hinder us from getting any great potential in the future. We never know what the embryo will be when they grow up, maybe they can be the next Albert Einstein. We might be lucky if they can be potential criminals but we will be losing opportunity if can be great thinkers.

This argument can be actually opposed by saying that the future is somewhat predictable. For example, it might be argued that the future can be predicted from the gene of the potential human beings. If later on in the future human beings have been able to determine which gene is responsible for what behaviour, they then might start to think that abortion is possible for embryo having the ‘bad’ genes. This argument could also be taken further to embryo who have been predicted to have disabilities or potential ‘abnormalities’.

Some answers can then be offered for this case. Regarding the ‘bad’ genes, it might be argued that nurturing is somewhat more important than nature. Thus, if it is proven that children who grow up in a positive environment can be a good man regardless of their genes, such a justification for abortion can then be eliminated. For the disability perspective, I found that the statement of abortion that was distributed from my church is quite good to answer such a justification. Essentially it says that if the abortion is justified for such things, then we basically have not respected the Paralympic athletes or those who already have had a huge achievement despite their disabilities. It is also a question about nurture and nature. If disabled people grow up in a supportive environment that does not marginalize them, it might be the case that they can achieve their best potential.

The future position

It cannot be doubted that abortion will still be a complicated issue in the near future. This issue is quite complicated since it involves the term ‘killing.’ Almost all people might agree that to kill someone else is not a right thing except in some circumstances such as defending ourselves. But in abortion, the question to ask is: do we really kill someone or something? We are probably okay when we kill animals if we want to consume it as our food source (excluding vegetarian). But things get more complicated when we talk about human beings since ‘killing’ term in human beings bears an ethical significance that cannot be neglected: moving its borderline can impart a domino effect to other issue related to ‘killing;’ which makes the situation worse.

Apart from that, there are numerous ethical questions about abortion need to be answered in the future as well regarding the issue. Are we okay to kill a ‘potential human being’? How we regard the ‘potential human being’: are they really human beings or just cells? If we regard them as only cells, then it can be argued that all human beings are also composed mainly by cells and atoms and nothing is different between us and the ‘potential human being’ except that we have already had consciousness and can become rational in our thinking. But then it may pose another question: are we then justified to kill a mentally ill person since we regard them for not having rationality?

All of these examples and discussion just show the difficulties in reaching the consensus when discussing about abortion. There are still other pros and cons arguments revolving the issue that will still be scrutinized and developed in the future I still think that the disposition of this issue is still subjective since everyone has different reasons and background for doing abortion. But it does not mean that there will be a possibility that we can reach a common ground in the near future on what we can do regarding this issue for the best of humanity. Since I always believe what Kant suggests, namely for not using other people as means and to always do things that can be universally applied.