Elif Batuman, Edna Bonhomme, Hazel V. Carby, Linda Colley, Meehan Crist, Anne Enright, Lorna Finlayson, Lisa Hallgarten and Jayne Kavanagh, Sophie Lewis, Maureen N. McLane, Erin Maglaque, Gazelle Mba, Azadeh Moaveni, Toril Moi, Joanne O’Leary, Niela Orr, Lauren Oyler, Susan Pedersen, Jacqueline Rose, Madeleine Schwartz, Arianne Shahvisi, Sophie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Alice Spawls, Amia Srinivasan, Chaohua Wang, Marina Warner, Bee Wilson, Emily Witt in the LRB (image by WomenArtistUpdates – Own work):
The most famous philosophical treatment of abortion is an essay by Judith Jarvis Thomson published in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade was decided, in the inaugural issue of the journal Philosophy and Public Affairs. ‘A Defence of Abortion’ opens by dispensing with the standard pro-choice premise that the foetus is not a person. A ‘newly implanted clump of cells’, Thomson writes, is ‘no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree’, but ‘we shall probably have to agree that the foetus has already become a human person well before birth.’ But is that what matters? Imagine, Thomson says, that you wake up to find that the Society of Music Lovers has hooked your circulatory system up to a famous violinist with a life-threatening kidney ailment. Unless you stay in bed, attached to him for nine months (you are the only one with the right blood type), he will die. Are you morally permitted to unplug the violinist?
The hospital director explains why not:
Tough luck, I agree, but you’ve now got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you ... Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body.
Thomson suggests that most readers will find the doctor’s logic ‘outrageous’. Yes, the violinist is a person; but no, obviously, his right to life does not trump your right to bodily autonomy.