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A dualist analysis of abortion: personhood and the concept of self qua experiential subject.

Review article
Himma KE. J Med Ethics. 2005.


There is no issue more central to the abortion debate than the controversial issue of whether the fetus is a moral person. Abortion-rights opponents almost universally claim that abortion is murder and should be legally prohibited because the fetus is a moral person at the moment of conception. Abortion-rights proponents almost universally deny the crucial assumption that the fetus is a person; on their view, whatever moral disvalue abortion involves does not rise to the level of murder and hence does not rise to the level of something that should be legally prohibited. In this essay, I argue that, under dualist assumptions about the nature of mind, the fetus is not a person until brain activity has begun.(i) First, I argue it is a necessary condition for a thing to be a moral person that it is (or has) a self. Second, I argue it is a necessary condition for a fetus to be (or have) a self, under dualist assumptions, that there has been some electrical activity in the brain. I conclude that a dualist can take the position that abortion ought to be legally permitted at least until the beginning of brain activity in the fetus.iI make no attempt to determine what conditions are sufficient for moral personhood; for this reason, the relevant claim about personhood is purely negative.


15634753 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]



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