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Answering a More Sophisticated Defense of Abortion - Part 5

Answering a More Sophisticated Defense of Abortion - Part 5


Feb 11, 2008 / By: Jeffrey Jones
Category: Abortion Arguments

In this post we will examine a third argument defending the conception criterion as discussed by Boonin: the kindred species argument (26-27). Remember, chapter two of Boonin's book deals with the main arguments abortion critics typically give in favor of protecting life in the womb from conception. The kindred species argument basically says that we ought to favor the interests of our own species over those of another, such as a non-human animal. That is, I should not respect the zygote merely because it is human (as in the parsimony and species essence arguments), but because it is a member of my species. This, according to Boonin, is a widespread assumption. In support of this, he points to a report by the members of the commission on embryonic research (see Mary Warnock, "Do Human Cells Have Rights?" Bioethics, Vol. 1, No 1, January 1987, pp. 1-14), where all agreed (over against many points of disagreement) that (1) the human embryo should be subject to different considerations simply in view of the fact that it is human, and that (2) "it would require justification not to prefer one's own species to another." Boonin does nothing to deny these two claims, but instead brings up two questions. The first: is it morally justifiable to favor one species over another? And the second: if so, can this fact be used to protect life from conception onward?

In order to argue on terms a critic of abortion can accept, Boonin answers "yes" to the first question. To the second question, however, he states that the answer is "plainly no." That is, even though we may grant that our own species be favored over another it does not follow that this grants the zygote a fundamental right to life. Strangely (in my opinion), Boonin discusses the differing obligations we have toward our own species vs. non-human animals as analogous to our differing obligations to relatives vs. friends, or to friends vs. strangers. He argues, "[E]ven if I have greater duties to friends than to strangers, this does not show that my friends have a greater right to life than do strangers." He applies this same principle to human fetuses, concluding that having greater duties to a fetus than to a mature pig does not in itself show that one has a greater right to life. The duties we have toward those whom we have a special relationship ought not correspond to their rights. Thus, says Boonin, the kindred species argument cannot be used to protect fetal life from conception.

While I personally think that the claims of the kindred species position need some specific justification, I do no think Boonin has satisfactorily shown the position to be clearly false. My main problem with his argument is that his counter-analogy concerned having differing obligations to members of the same species (friends vs. strangers), where the kindred species position concerns differing obligations to members of different species (humans vs. non-humans). For Boonin's argument to be successful, I think his analogy needs to be equivalent to the latter.

Now for you: Do we have higher obligations toward humans over another species? If so, why?

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