Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Mother as Many?

**This is from guest blogger Eric B.**

In all honesty, much of this paper confuses me. Perhaps it is the sometimes slim difference between what we intend to do and what we foresee happening after certain actions (Direct vs. Oblique). Perhaps it is the simple volume of hypothetical situations that Foot presents in this paper. Most of all, I feel that the main issue is that the conclusion regarding abortion seems unresolved. To be specific, I am focusing on the third case provided by Foot, in which an abortion can be performed that would kill the fetus and save the mother, or the mother could be let to die, while the fetus is safely delivered.

Foot uses positive and negative actions to help us determine the moral obligations we have to certain situations. A positive duty is one in which we provide aid to another individual, whereas a negative duty is one in which we agree to avoid injuring them. The abortion of a baby is akin to providing aid to the mother while violating our duty not to injure the baby. It seems, that the violation of the negative duty outweighs the positive duty, namely the benefit gained by providing aid to the mother. Therefore it would follow that aborting the baby is the wrong action to take. This situation becomes even clearer if we treat change the situation to one in which a toddler may result in the death of the mother. In this case we would surely agree that it would be wrong to kill the already born child to aid the mother.

What Foot then proposes is quite strange and rather unintuitive. She suggests that people have a different conception of the scenario if we suggest that a group of individuals is harmed (P.588). In this, she submits that we treat the mother as if she was a group of people and the fetus as only a single person. It follows that we must protect the group by willingly sacrificing the single individual, no matter how difficult this may be. I find this conclusion rather bizarre, in that we must treat a single woman as a group, when in fact we know that she is a single person (and presumably has the same rights as the child). Here I would like to involve you, the reader, to help me understand exactly what is meant by this “mother-as-a-group” analogy that Foot uses. I look forward to hearing the varied responses that you all can provide.

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