Explain and Evaluate a Utilitarian approach to the issue of abortion

The issue of abortion has become more and more prevalent in the last 20 years as science has evolved into what we know today. However, that does not mean that it is now easy for people to realize its effects. When killing a foetus, you are killing a life, the autonomy of a person and any possible future contributions that life could have made. Religious organizations argue that humans don’t have authority over life and death- as God is the life-creator and giver. Utilitarianism however, from the views of Bentham and Mill takes an entirely different approach on the topic.We must firstly realize that in Utilitarianism there are no absolute rules that one must follow in a religion such as Christianity or Islam. Christianity has very stringent rules on the issue of ‘murder’ and abortion. Utilitarianism, however, always looks at the circumstances of an action and in some cases says that actions, even that of murder, can be argued for and justified. Bentham would allow an abortion (murder) to take place if his Hedonic Calculus shows that it would result in more pleasure or pain for the people involved. Mill, on the other hand, would use his concept of higher and lower pleasures in determining whether an action is justified or not. It is plain to see the problems that the issue of abortion would cause in the approaches of both Bentham and Mill. For example, they both look at an act without even really thinking about whether we can actually classify a foetus as a human or not. If we say ‘no we can’t’ then both of their theories would be worthless. Problems like this one make this subject an extremely difficult one to analyze and give a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. In this essay I will look at the situation of abortion from the sides of both Bentham and Mill and then try and draw a conclusion from that.When looking at this issue from the point of view of Bentham, he would use his ideas of the Principle of Utility and the Hedonic Calculus in determining his answer. He believed that the rightness (happiness) or wrongness (unhappiness) of an action is determined by its ‘utility’ or usefulness. He said:”An action is right if it produce the greatest good for the greatest number”His Hedonic Calculus weighs up pain and pleasure based on intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, purity and extent. The Calculus seems to be purpose built for abortion in determining whether it is intrinsically right or wrong. Unlike in other situations when a decision has to be made quickly, here the calculation can be made over a longer period of time. After all, if we are going to base the decision just on the circumstances, there can always be times at which an abortion is right.For example, if a woman is raped by a man totally against her will, then it is only fair to let her have an abortion because the woman didn’t have a choice in the first place and the baby isn’t truly hers.However, it’s when we start to look at other situations when a parent decides not to have her baby due to not having enough money or not having the time that serious moral arguments have to be taken into account. However, when moral arguments are taken into account, we have to think to ourselves, when is a foetus actually thought of as being human with a soul and a brain? Many doctors say, as a kind of unwritten rule, that 24 weeks is the absolute deadline for giving women abortions and 14 days is when they class a baby as human- when they can start to feel intrinsic human feelings such as pain. By looking at abortion in the Hedonic Calculus we can see what Bentham would say if this kind of issue was brought up with him.For example, if a young woman in Bedford wanted to have an abortion at 16 because it just wasn’t the time for children at that time in her life, what would Bentham say? We can find out by using his controversial Hedonic Calculus. In the next few paragraphs I will analyze how the Calculus gives us an answer as to whether Bentham would allow abortion in a case such as this.We start off with intensity and duration- how long does an action last for and how intense is it? In this instance, the mental and physical scars of abortion will be seen for years to come. Abortions can actually give the woman a lesser chance of giving birth later in life due to the scaring that takes place in an abortion. Is it really worth it to have an abortion at such a young age when it might prevent you from having a baby in later life? I think that many women would find it difficult to have an abortion with all of these risks that are there, plain for all to see. Also, could you really give the doctor the go ahead to kill a human being that could have done many great things in life. For me, the guilt that this entails would probably be too great to bear and it would take an extremely long time to come to terms with. Abortion is no different from murder in life- if you consider the baby as a human. Could you have the heart to kill such an innocent and pure thing?Uncertainty and certainty prove to be very important factors in the Hedonic Calculus when ascertaining whether something is intrinsically wrong or not. We see this area of the calculus as how certain abortion is to bring pain to the mother and to the baby. What stage can we safely say that the baby starts to feel proper pain? Some say it’s only after a few weeks, but we do not really properly know the answer to this. What we can say though is that both the mother and the foetus do feel pain at points during abortion. This gives people a very good indication of whether you should submit an undefendable baby to death. The pain the two parties feel is very real and it last for a long duration- even after the operation has taken place.Proquinquity and remoteness are defined to mean how ‘ near by’ and personal the abortion is. This question in the calculus is not a particularly hard one to answer. The death of your child in the womb is going to be as personal a thing as it is possible to be isn’t it? Grievance for something that you have not even had the chance to see and feel with your bare hands is very hard to take. The guilt and sense of not doing your duty to God would be the hardest things to swallow though. We should all respect our duty as humans because we have the ability to take life whenever we want to. Murderers can be put into prison for over 30 years for murder- why should this be any different when we are allowing babies to be killed even though they have brains, bodies, souls and they can feel pain. Questions like this one come into many doctors’ minds when talking about the operation that they feel they have a right to give to women.Fecundity and purity give you the possibility of what will result from the action. A lot of pleasure could ensue but pain might also be there to a very real extent. In the case of abortion, we know that a lot of pain is directed to both the baby and the mother so it begs the question ‘does the pain outweigh the pleasure in this situation?’ After all, an abortion is painful for the woman both mentally and physically but you could also argue that the relief that the woman might feel after abortion is a pleasure that she will welcome. Mill for example, argues that abortion is not pleasurable in any instance. When a woman has an abortion, a part of her is lost in her as well as the foetus’ possible life. In my opinion, abortion is not at all pleasurable in the slightest so Bentham and Mill would probably sway to the ‘against abortion’ side of the argument.A woman who is having an abortion is having it because she cannot bring the child up- it is rarely for any other reason. With this fact in mind, an abortion is not out of choice for most women, but because they have a moral obligation to the child to not bring it into the world under these bad circumstances. Although some could argue that this is quite a valid and moral answer to the question, there is still a giant loop-hole because murder is always classed as wrong no matter what the situation- but this is especially the case is abortion.Extent is seen clearly in the Principle of Utility. We have to ask ourselves the question when is a baby a life? If we go along with the opinion that a baby is just as much a life as the mother, what right do we have to kill it? In a society that prides itself on morals and laws, such a blatant injustice such as killing an innocent foetus goes against laws that have been in place for thousands upon thousands of years. Can we really go against all of these moral and historical arguments just in the case of abortion? Society in general will be badly affected by such immoral behaviour, just as family members will be. An act such as this needs a lot of thinking out. The argument of ‘we live in a modern society with moral rules’ just doesn’t seem to be a very valid answer for me or many other people. In this way, we start to see that Bentham’s theory is invalid when it comes to the issue of abortion in some areas.By looking at this typical example of abortion in our society and putting it up against the Hedonic Calculus, it seems quite obvious that the negatives by far outweigh the positives in the issue from Bentham’s point of view.Mill’s approach to the issue is much more qualitative than quantitative and is not as mathematical as Bentham’s. He is of the opinion that mental pleasures are much more fulfilling than that of physical ones such as sex or masturbation. He enjoys far more things such as poetry, literature and languages, which he feels satisfy us much more. He says.”It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”He always thought that the well being of the individual was of the greatest importance, and that their happiness is most effectively gained when individuals are free to pursue their own ends subject to rules that protect the common good of all. One of the things that Mill rated highest was the importance of freedom in people’s lives- the individual is important. All of these things relate very intricately with the situation of abortion in our modern world. His idea of higher and lower pleasure is a very valid one when ascertaining what is a higher (better) pleasure with people in life, but with a baby in the womb it’s an entirely different situation than that of you and me. We can’t really give a foetus the same amount of rights as us when it’s in the mother’s womb or should we give it more rights as it develops a capacity to experience higher pleasures? After all, how can a foetus experience the pleasure of reading literature in the womb?! Surely it should be ignored because it can’t really experience higher pleasure to the same degree of fully grown babies or adults. How can we know what foetus’ actually experience in the womb anyway?All of these things from both Bentham and Mill give us a good indication of the bad effects of abortion in the issue. However, what would happen if we were to say that a woman decided to go ahead with an abortion? There would probably be more good to come out of an abortion in the long term anyway. For example, if you had other children, they would benefit by getting better clothes, better education and in general a better quality of life. This is a very valid argument for abortion if you were to look at it from the woman’s point of view but still it’s very difficult to quantify what would happen in the short term to what would happen in the long term.We can never really predict what is going to happen in the future to a foetus, if it is born. It’s dilemmas like this that make this topic such a difficult one to give a definitive answer on. There are quite a few problems of relating utilitarianism to abortion. Abortion devalues the human life if you have to say when is a person a person? It’s a slippery slope in killing weaker members of society. Bentham however ignores the rights of the minority so you could find his theory as being difficult to apply to abortion seeing as the foetus does not have proper rights until it’s born. There are a number of things that are good though about using utilitarianism in this example. Firstly, it’s not a religious belief which means it can be used universally without anyone taking offence. Rule utilitarianism gives us a guideline to follow that helps people in dilemmas. It’s quite rational to base abortion on pleasure and pain.Any consequentialist approach faces the flaw that it is very difficulty to predict the consequences of abortion. You never know what the foetus will or would have actually achieved in his/her life anyway. The foetus could have grown to be a Mozart that would have given much pleasure to millions of people in the world or, on the other hand, he/she could have developed into a Hitler type figure that sent many innocent Jews to death.We will never actually be able to predict the consequences of our actions so the question is very difficult to answer. However, utilitarianism has many positive features and it provides a logical way to approach an emotive issue.

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