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Property Rights and Abortion: What If Women Laid Eggs?

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dchernik Posted: Wed, Mar 21 2012 3:47 PM

Suppose that instead of carrying children in their wombs, women laid eggs. Once a fertilized egg is laid, it develops entirely on its own, with no costs to its parents whatsoever. The property regime is such that guardianship rights over the egg and later the child are still assigned to the parents. Now suppose that after a serious discussion, the parents decide that they do not want the responsibility of caring for the child (again, the egg requires no care at all). Can they "abort," i.e., destroy the egg on demand for convenience's sake?

Of course, the egg could potentially be sold and adopted, but let's worry about ethics here. Is it still the unconditional right of parents to destroy the egg?

Remember that Rothbard argued that the parents ought not to be required to care for the child but can by libertarian law let it die. Block has improved on this by saying that a baby that’s not being cared for has the status of “abandoned” and the parents have the legal duty to notify authorities and institutions like adoption agencies that the guardianship rights over the baby have been relinquished and are up for grabs. This relieves the absurd consequence of Rothbard’s theory that the parents can take a child to a dark forest and leave it there to be devoured by wild beasts.

Given that, are we prepared to argue that the parents are not allowed to destroy the egg, but when the child hatches and suddenly becomes dependent on them, they can let it die through negligence?

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Wheylous replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 4:42 PM

There are other (imho more-)valid reasons to support abortion. For example, the fact that the fetus is not sentient.

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dchernik replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 6:04 PM

In other words, Rothbard has seized upon an important but accidental feature of human procreation, namely, that the child is attached to the mother.

One consequence is that a proper Rothbardian abortion would proceed as follows: (1) the child is carefully extracted from the womb, alive and well, placed near the mother, and then slowly dies from exposure and lack of nutrients, if no one is willing to pick it up.

But don't actual abortions occur in a different way, viz., (2) the child is killed inside the womb, and the remains are sucked out? Rothbard himself writes that "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children," but do not abortions that take place in the second way described do exactly that?

Praxeologically, (1) and (2) constitute a distinction without a difference. The child dies either way, and the parents go home happy either way. A non-philosopher may well ask what the big deal is in this hair-splitting.

Thus, the question of whether unborn children have rights does not become irrelevant even if we use Rothbard's approach.

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dchernik replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 6:41 PM

Here's the formal argument.

[1]: Rothbard: "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children."

[2] According to a non-philosopher, EITHER both (1) and (2) are permissible OR neither (1) nor (2) is permissible.

[3] If both are permissible, then a parent has the right to "aggress" against the fetus.

Therefore,
[4] (from [1]) A fetus is not a "child."

Is it really the case that a fetus is not an (unborn) child? What is it then?

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FlyingAxe replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 7:41 PM

Wheylous wrote:

 There are other (imho more-)valid reasons to support abortion. For example, the fact that the fetus is not sentient. 

So, would you argue that it is ok to kill a newborn (or recently born) baby or an Alzheimer's patient? How about someone under general anesthesia or merely sleeping?

 

Re: question in the topic:

It seems that you have to ask first whether the egg is a human being. If it is not, there is no problem.

If it is, then I don't see justification for killing the egg. At least when the baby is attached to the mother, someone can claim that the mother is evicting the baby (i.e., the mother is upholding her rights to her property even though it will kill the baby). But when there is no conflict, what's the justification fort the killing?

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FlyingAxe replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 7:46 PM

dchernik wrote:

 Remember that Rothbard argued that the parents ought not to be required to care for the child but can by libertarian law let it die. Block has improved on this by saying that a baby that’s not being cared for has the status of “abandoned” and the parents have the legal duty to notify authorities and institutions like adoption agencies that the guardianship rights over the baby have been relinquished and are up for grabs. This relieves the absurd consequence of Rothbard’s theory that the parents can take a child to a dark forest and leave it there to be devoured by wild beasts.

I have argued in a parallel post that Rothbard may be wrong in that the parents are breaking the implicit contract they made with the child by not providing for it. (The implicit contract was to provide the child with what was considered to be by the society reasonable care until the child is old enough to provide for himself.)

I don't understand Walter Block's position at all:

1) How is not caring for something equal to abandoning it? If I don't change oil in my car, can you come and seize it from me? If I don't visit my country house for a few years, can you just settle in?

2) Why should the parents notify the authorities? Whose rights (and which rights) are they breaking by not doing it? How is that an answer to Rothbard?

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One consequence is that a proper Rothbardian abortion would proceed as follows: (1) the child is carefully extracted from the womb, alive and well, placed near the mother, and then slowly dies from exposure and lack of nutrients, if no one is willing to pick it up.

But don't actual abortions occur in a different way, viz., (2) the child is killed inside the womb, and the remains are sucked out? Rothbard himself writes that "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children," but do not abortions that take place in the second way described do exactly that?

Killing the fetus inside the womb and sucking out the ramains is not necessary for abortion qua abortion.  That a particular method for removing an intruder may be agression in no way implies that the removal of an intruder is in itself agression.


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dchernik replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 7:53 PM

Here's another illustration. Let Smith be trespassing on Jones' property. (1) = Jones' bouncers escort Smith out. (2) = Jones kills Smith and dumps his corpse on a public road.

Clearly, these are very different. (1) is obviously OK, (2) is obviously not.

But in the case of abortion, (1) and (2) are almost indistinguishable. What is OK and what is not OK is no longer "obvious."

A clue toward a Rothbardian reply can be found here:

"Jim Sadowsky is worried about ejecting a stowaway on an airplane. Yes, I suppose that would be 'overkill,' to coin a pun. But the point here is that, just as an assault on someone’s body is a more heinous crime than the theft of his property, so the trespassing on or within a person's body is a far more heinous trespass that merely strolling on his land or stowing away on an aircraft. For the crime of trespassing within a person's body, any means necessary to evict the trespasser should be legitimate."

Any means, including (2). So, (2) is legitimate, if it is the only way to abort. Hence, the argument fails at [1]. What Rothbard is, in fact, saying is something like this:

[1] "A parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, unless she is protecting herself from the child's own aggression." If Smith, instead of walking on Jones' land, was a demon who tried to possess Jones' body, then surely, Jones would be justified in killing the demon.

On this reasoning, abortion, in both (1) and (2) types, is simply self-defense against a deadly enemy and is OK for that reason.

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dchernik replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 8:09 PM

Block's suggestion seems like a very reasonable "procedural" law, useful to all concerned for proper disposal of property rights and for children's welfare.

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gotlucky replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 8:44 PM

JackCuyler:

Killing the fetus inside the womb and sucking out the ramains is not necessary for abortion qua abortion.  That a particular method for removing an intruder may be agression in no way implies that the removal of an intruder is in itself agression.

QFT.

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Marko replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 7:24 AM

That a particular method for removing an intruder may be agression in no way implies that the removal of an intruder is in itself agression.

When did the fetus become an intruder?

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Marko replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 7:45 AM

There are other (imho more-)valid reasons to support abortion. For example, the fact that the fetus is not sentient.

Do expand if you have more on this.

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This laying eggs scenario is equivalent to when Block talks about how "50 years ago, the evictionist theory was 'pro-choice'; 500 or 100 years from now we'll be 'pro-life'; right now we're 'moderates'." 

If women laid eggs, evictionist theory would be pro-life; a mother could not destroy her laid egg or leave it in the dark forest, except in the extremely unlikely scenario that NO ONE else wants to take care of the egg and the child that hatches from it, and this is why she has to notify other people that she has an unwanted egg/child.

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If sentience is defined as the ability to feel sensations. Then yes a fetus has sentience. Feeling sensations doesn't even have to be a pre-requisite to be alive either. The fetus certainly isn't an intruder - seeing as the body is designed to create a fetus- its not in the same category as a foreign parasite.

 

 

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On this reasoning, abortion, in both (1) and (2) types, is simply self-defense against a deadly enemy and is OK for that reason.

The fetus was created by the woman's body. Its not a foreign deadly enemy that decided to invade the woman's body on its own. What you're talking about would certainly apply to the creatures from "Alien". 

 

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dchernik replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 7:15 PM

Graham, nice post, thanks.

auctionguy10, that's a useful observation. My point is that abortion of type (1), i.e., a Proper Rothbardian Abortion, is permissible for the less controversial (in libertarian circles) reason of the rights of the mother to her body, i.e., on the grounds of evictionism.

But if you read the Sadowsky discussion, you'll notice that Rothbard argues that abortion of type (2) is also permissible, though for perhaps somewhat more dubious reason of self-defense: the mother is defending herself against a dangerous parasite who is preying on her, and if she has to kill it to get it out, then so be it.

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dchernik replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 8:03 PM

Stated differently, since most abortions are not Proper Rothbardian and of type (2) (or praxeologically very similar to type (2)), evictionism is a pleasant theory -- one which I like a lot -- but it's inapplicable to real-world situations.

The theory that is actually used to justify abortions -- by none other than Rothbard himself -- i.e., the self-defense theory, is one which reasonable libertarians can disagree about. Statements like "an assault on someone's body is a more heinous crime than the theft of his property" already entail that the difference is not in kind but in degree, and we can immediately ask whether the killing of the fetus is proportional to the woman's injury, etc.

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When did the fetus become an intruder?

The fetus becomes an intruder the moment the mother decides it is, in the same way a house guest becomes an intruder the moment his host decides he's overstayed his welcome.


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FlyingAxe replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:45 PM

So, if you take your friend for a sail in your yacht and then decide in the open ocean that you've grown tired of his company, you can just throw him overboard?

Or, let's say, both of you got drunk and woke up on your yacht in the middle of the sea. You tell your friend: "It was only by accident that you ended up here. I never planned for this. Now please get out." You don't think it would be murder to throw him overboard just like that?

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FlyingAxe replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:52 PM

Also, who is to say that we can shoot someone who has invaded our property if it is clear that he is not endangering our life? (For instance, it's our close relative.) We can certainly use force to evict him or take our stuff back (we can also defend our life if he threatens it in the process), but his right to his life trumps our right to our property.

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dchernik replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 12:12 AM

Again, the Sadowski debate shows how great a role raw intuitive emotions play in this issue.

On the one hand, we have Sadowski’s stowaway on the airplane. Of course, it would be crazy for the pilot to insist on his property right and throw the poor guy overboard. Same with FlyingAxe's examples.

On the other hand, we have Rothbard’s pianist hooked up to your kidneys. Moreover, you’ve been kidnapped. I imagine you lie in some Matrix-like cradle with wires coming out of your body to sustain the pianist. In this situation, I’ll be damned if I let this continue. To hell with the pianist; I’m ripping the wires off and getting out of there!

Pregnancy is clearly somewhere in between. This is why I have no strong feelings one way or another here. But lots of other people do have strong feelings. Therefore, I am content to let them vote and pass a law that is acceptable to the majority. I don’t see anything of value I can add to this discussion other than what’ve so far written.

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So, if you take your friend for a sail in your yacht and then decide in the open ocean that you've grown tired of his company, you can just throw him overboard?

Or, let's say, both of you got drunk and woke up on your yacht in the middle of the sea. You tell your friend: "It was only by accident that you ended up here. I never planned for this. Now please get out." You don't think it would be murder to throw him overboard just like that?

So a fetus and a mother are completely equal as persons, capable of rationally understanding one another? That is absurd.

That aside, if you and your friend ended up on your boat out in the middle of the ocean for some mysterious reason, does your friend thus have a right to your food?

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Also, who is to say that we can shoot someone who has invaded our property if it is clear that he is not endangering our life?

If it's my property, I am to say; I don't necessarily need any other reason other than the fact that you are trespassing (whether I might mitigate such punishment with consideration to how neighbors and businesses might choose to interact with me is another issue entirely).

...his right to his life trumps our right to our property.

Another example that is not analogous to abortion, but I digress.  If you understand that you are intruding on someone else's property, you understand that you may be violating that person's rules and, if you continue to remain on that property, you may have to offer compensation to that person in the form of the termination of your life.

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If it's my property, I am to say; I don't necessarily need any other reason other than the fact that you are trespassing (whether I might mitigate such punishment with consideration to how neighbors and businesses might choose to interact with me is another issue entirely).

Why would you think you have the right to initiate violence against another's property, in this case his self, simply because he is stading on your property?  You have the right to remove him from your property, using force proportional to his resistance.  Anything more, and you become the agressor.


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So, if you take your friend for a sail in your yacht and then decide in the open ocean that you've grown tired of his company, you can just throw him overboard?

Or, let's say, both of you got drunk and woke up on your yacht in the middle of the sea. You tell your friend: "It was only by accident that you ended up here. I never planned for this. Now please get out." You don't think it would be murder to throw him overboard just like that?

 

That a particular method for removing an intruder may be agression in no way implies that the removal of an intruder is in itself agression.


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FlyingAxe replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 10:14 AM

Yes it is. Every time you're using aggression, you're using aggression. If you don't like the word aggression, you can use violence, or force, etc.

Sometimes the use of aggression (or force) is justified. For example, in self-defense. What you're doing effectively is saying that you're choosing the lesser of two evils: either aggression is going to be committed against you or against the one who is violating your rights. Since you have a better claim on whatever he is agressing against, let it be the aggression against him. This is why, as I understand the argument, non-scarce objects cannot be property: there is no justification for using aggression/force to prevent other people (the supposed "non-owners") from using it.

So, in the case of evicting someone from your property by killing him, the argument could go that the use of violence against one's life is not justified as a form of protection from violence against one's material property.

Otherwise, instead of detaining stowaways or criminals on ships and planes, we could just throw them out.

There is actually a science-fiction story (which I remember reading from back when I was in high school :) ) about a girl who hid on a spaceship that was delivering antibiotics to some space colony on a different planet. She hid because she wanted to see her brother who worked on the colony. The captain of the ship had to eject her into the space (to her death, obviously) because he only had enough fuel to land the ship with himself and the drugs, but not also with her. If he did not eject her, not only would he die as well, but the colonists would not get the drugs and die from the infection.

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FlyingAxe replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 10:24 AM

myhumangetsme wrote:

 So a fetus and a mother are completely equal as persons, capable of rationally understanding one another? That is absurd.

 

That is a separate issue. If you want to advance a theory of what makes someone a human vs. not, you're welcome to do so. If you can show that the fetus is a non-human, then obviously there is no crime. We don't consider it to be criminal to kill vegetables or animals. If you can shows that the fetus is a half-human (whatever that means), then you can device some sort of scale of comparing humans' and half-humans' rights.

[For example, in Jewish Law there is a variance of opinions on the subject of humanity of the fetus.]

 

 That aside, if you and your friend ended up on your boat out in the middle of the ocean for some mysterious reason, does your friend thus have a right to your food? 
Presumably not. But aggressing against someone's life and non-supporting it are two different things.

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FlyingAxe replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 10:31 AM

Sorry, I didn't see the "capable of rationally understanding each other" part.

So, if that is your basis for determining humanity, I repeat my question: do you consider it a crime (violation of natural rights) to kill a newborn baby, an Alzheimer's patient, someone who is asleep, in a coma, severely intoxicated, or under general anesthesia?

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dchernik replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 2:41 PM

A couple more scenarios.

1. You are flying a small plane while participating in a race which is important for your career. You're pretty confident you can win. For some reason, the plane feels sluggish. You turn around and see a stowaway, a fat guy just sitting there staring at you. You realize that with this guy on board, you're going to lose. So, despite the high costs that the stowaway imposes on you, you still can't get rid of him. Could a similar argument be made in the case of abortion?

2. Smith was shipwrecked on a desert island which over the years he has thoroughly homesteaded. Then Jones gets shipwrecked near the island, swims ashore, and is greeted by Smith who tells him: "This is my island. You are trespassing on private property. Go back where you came from. Go swim in the ocean." Does Smith have the right to do that, or is it murder?

By the way, I doubt these examples are original; I'm sure these issues have been discussed by libertarians before.

FlyingAxe, this science fiction story is a typical "lifeboat situation" which has no non-tragic solution, so it need not apply to our cases.

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FlyingAxe replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 3:04 PM

I was using it as a contrast, to present a stow-away situation when ejecting someone would be justified. So, ejecting someone a) to benefit your career -- nope, b) to save your life -- yes. In my opinion.

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dchernik replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 3:12 PM

FlyingAxe, I see, that makes sense. So, then, when a "career woman" has an abortion, so she may focus on climbing the ladder, that should be illegal?

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FlyingAxe replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 3:23 PM

Well, I don't know whether it should be illegal. Under minarchist system, the role of the government is to protect natural rights, including those of helpless individuals. So, if we say that fetus = human, then it seems so.

On the other hand, under anarchist system, I don't know how crimes against helpless individuals are prevented and/or punished. But I guess that's a separate issue...

I definitely don't think whether it's done for career or not makes any difference. One cannot murder for one's career advancement. And if determine it's not a murder, then it doesn't matter.

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MaikU replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 4:50 PM

FlyingAxe:

So, if you take your friend for a sail in your yacht and then decide in the open ocean that you've grown tired of his company, you can just throw him overboard?

Or, let's say, both of you got drunk and woke up on your yacht in the middle of the sea. You tell your friend: "It was only by accident that you ended up here. I never planned for this. Now please get out." You don't think it would be murder to throw him overboard just like that?

 

 

Here comes sentience part. Fetus is not human. your friend is. Killing fetus is not immoral. Throwing your friend into the open waters if he becomes an intruder is immoral, unless he starts agressing against you and that becomes the only possible defence at that moment.

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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I would like to nominate this thread for "Best Thread Title of The Year"

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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dchernik replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 6:17 PM

Thanks for the nomination. :)

Another thought: I've distinguished between abortions of type (1) or Proper Rothbardian Abortions, in which the fetus is unambiguously expelled, and abortions of type (2), where the fetus is destroyed inside the womb and the remains are sucked out. Now suppose that human biology worked in such a way that the dead fetus could not be extracted (though perhaps a live one could be); rather, the mother digested the remains. Clearly, in (2) no eviction of any kind any longer happens. Smith does not escort Jones out onto a public road; he kills Jones and dissolves his body in a vat of acid right there on his property. Does the woman really have the right to kill the trespasser and eat its flesh?

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That aside, if you and your friend ended up on your boat out in the middle of the ocean for some mysterious reason, does your friend thus have a right to your food?

The fetus doesn't come into the mother's body for a "mysterious" reason. It appears BECAUSE of the mother. In what way is a fetus trespassing when its existence cannot begin without the mother directly involved in its creation? I really can't make sense of equating a fetus with an intruder. 

 

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The fetus becomes an intruder the moment the mother decides it is, in the same way a house guest becomes an intruder the moment his host decides he's overstayed his welcome.

The removal of a fetus from the mother's body for the purpose of its death is a bit different from removing someone from your house. Someone who was invited into your property is also not the same as someone who's very existence is because of your own decision to create it. I am failing to see how these analogies hold up in any sense. 

 

 

 

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Here comes sentience part. Fetus is not human. your friend is. Killing fetus is not immoral. Throwing your friend into the open waters if he becomes an intruder is immoral, unless he starts agressing against you and that becomes the only possible defence at that moment.

Again the sentience argument doesn't make any sense. A fetus is absolutely human. A fetus doesn't suddenly receive a stamp of humanity the day after it leaves the mother's body(unless a birth certificate is your proof of sentience/humanity/whatever). A fetus also develops the capability to feel sensations in the mother's body. Not only that but sentience itself has never been a pre-requisite to be alive. You lose sentience everytime you go to sleep. Not to mention countless other conditions a human can be under where they have no sentience yet still remain alive(general anesthesia for example as noted many times). 

 

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Marko replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 7:23 PM

The fetus becomes an intruder the moment the mother decides it is, in the same way a house guest becomes an intruder the moment his host decides he's overstayed his welcome.

I get the point, but I don't think term "intruder" is appropriate. The fetus never acted to get itself into the womb, so calling it an aggressor like that is character assasination.

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Marko replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 8:37 PM

1. You are flying a small plane while participating in a race which is important for your career. You're pretty confident you can win. For some reason, the plane feels sluggish. You turn around and see a stowaway, a fat guy just sitting there staring at you. You realize that with this guy on board, you're going to lose. So, despite the high costs that the stowaway imposes on you, you still can't get rid of him. Could a similar argument be made in the case of abortion?

Not sure of the implications, but one difference I can think of is the fat guy is an aggressor guilty of trespass and can be made to work off the damages he has caused the pilot upon landing, possibly in full. While stil flying the pilot can not be certain he will end up a net loser because of this.

A fetus on the other hand did not act to get itself in the womb, doesn't have the capacity to go places, any anyway can't be resonably expected to take instructins to do so when doing so would mean it's death, so it can't be an aggressor. In fact for as long as it is in the womb it would be absurd for the mother to claim it is there against her will. The new human life is guiltless and can not be later forced to repay being carried to birth, somehow against the mother's wishes. Any costs of pregnancy were wholly self-imposed, and not imposed by the fetus (who anyway isn't a stowaway).

2. Smith was shipwrecked on a desert island which over the years he has thoroughly homesteaded. Then Jones gets shipwrecked near the island, swims ashore, and is greeted by Smith who tells him: "This is my island. You are trespassing on private property. Go back where you came from. Go swim in the ocean." Does Smith have the right to do that, or is it murder?

This seems a much more closely related example than #1. It seems to be a lifeboat scenario albeit one where participants have uneven stakes. Either way one of the two shipwrecks is going to lose. Realistically it would seem Jones stands far more to lose, however, what if Smith has since his own shipwreck developed a pathological fear of other people and so sharing the island with Smith would represent to him a fate just about as bad as death? In such a case this is a life or death situation with no real right or wrong possible,or just about that, for both of them.

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