Why Even Thomson’s Violinist Condemns Planned Parenthood’s Selling Baby Parts

The silence from pro-choice people in response to the recent Planned Parenthood videos is deafening. In this post I explain why they should be furious with the Planned Parenthood too.

planned-parenthood-violinist-title

My dad Rich is currently receiving treatment for a type of cancer called Mantle Cell Lymphoma, so he needed to put together an advance directive for his health care. Much of the language for his particular advance directive comes from the language National Right to Life includes in their recommended “Will to Live” forms. He named my mom Lisa as his “Health Care Agent,” the person responsible for making decisions in the event that he is incapacitated in some way. If my mom also became incapacitated, that significant responsibility would then fall to Josh, and then to me. Naturally, we carefully read his advance directive and had conversations with him so we could better understand his wishes. (If you believe in God, please keep him in your prayers.)

dad

My parents, Rich and Lisa Brahm

The reason I mention this is that there was a requirement in the advance directive that stood out. In order for it to be legally valid, he had to sign it in the presence of two witnesses, and there are very specific guidelines for who those witnesses can be. In addition to needing to be of sound mind and at least 18 years old, a witness,

– Cannot be a person who was selected to be your health care agent or back-up health care agent;

– Cannot be a person who will knowingly inherit anything from you or otherwise knowingly gain a financial benefit from your death; or

– Cannot be a person who is directly involved in your health care.

This is a great rule, because it helps to protect the patient from others making decisions about his health care out of their own self-interest. Even though my dad named his wife as his health care agent and she could financially gain from his demise, he is not allowed to name her without the approval of two objective witnesses that do not gain.

While there is no way to perfectly protect the patient, I really appreciate this rule because it implicitly acknowledges the dangerous conflict of interest that can exist between a patient and his family. I want that danger to be acknowledged because I want my dad to be treated as an end, not merely as a means to an end. I want all human beings to be treated as ends, not as means to ends. [Tweet that]

That doesn’t mean humans can’t ever be useful to each other. It’s okay to ask your friend to be useful by helping you move; it’s not okay to treat him disrespectfully when he helps you. Treating humans as ends means treating them like they’re valuable in and of themselves, not based on what you can get out of them.

There is a very stark contrast between how careful we are to make sure a cancer patient is treated as an end and how Planned Parenthood treats the unborn.

There are two ways to justify the practice of abortion. The pro-choice person must either 1) Deny the personhood of the unborn, or 2) Argue that abortion is justified killing of human persons on the grounds of bodily autonomy, that a woman’s right to her body trumps the right to live of a human person inside her body. I have come to believe that one of the most common causes of confusion for pro-life advocates is a lack of understanding of bodily rights arguments, which are incredibly common and are the basis of much pro-choice rhetoric (for instance, “my body, my choice”).

I think the only way to defend Planned Parenthood’s selling of fetal organs is to deny that an unborn human in the second trimester is a moral subject, a person, someone who deserves to be treated as an end. In other words, they have to take the first of the two paths I described above; they cannot defend Planned Parenthood via the second path. But many pro-choice people are only comfortable with second trimester abortions because of bodily rights arguments (after all, the later in pregnancy it gets, the harder it gets to deny the personhood of the unborn). It seems like those pro-choice people ought to be coming out in droves condemning Planned Parenthood for selling baby parts, and it’s very puzzling to me that they aren’t.

If you believe a second trimester unborn child is a person, then you believe it is a moral subject that ought to be treated as an end. Many pro-choice people justify killing that child on the grounds that one cannot ever be forced to use her body to support even her child (the most famous bodily rights argument). I strongly disagree with that argument, but let’s suppose for a moment that they’re right. I’ll assume for sake of argument that just as you have the right to unplug from Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violinist (described below), you have as much right to dismember an unborn child in an abortion. You should still be standing with me, infuriated, and demanding justice for these children in light of the recent Planned Parenthood videos.

The Violinist Revisited

In Judith Jarvis Thomson’s essay A Defense of Abortion, she famously wrote the following thought experiment:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.”

Let’s take the violinist story a few steps further. Suppose the hospital staff has briefed you on the situation and you are wrestling with the difficult decision to either unplug from the helpless violinist and let him die, or support his kidneys with your own for nine months. He’s an innocent human being and you don’t want him to have to die, even though it is your moral and legal right to unplug from him.

So you do what any wise person would do in such a difficult situation: you ask for help. The hospital offers you a free counseling appointment with one of their nurses. As you discuss your options, the nurse consistently uses dehumanizing language to describe the violinist, and clearly seems to think that getting the “unplugging procedure” would be the best thing for you. (Naturally you wouldn’t unplug yourself because it could damage your kidneys, and this surgery would only cost $450. If you elected to not get the procedure, you would go home with the violinist until his kidneys heal.)

Suppose the nurse then shows you a consent form she wants you to sign. The form gives the hospital permission to donate the violinist’s body for research, and assures you they won’t change the “unplugging procedure” at all. You protest that you aren’t the violinist’s next of kin so you can’t sign any such form. She tells you that the violinist has no family, that you are the closest thing he has to family. Legally, your consent would be enough. She reminds you how much good could come from the research. Diseases could be cured. People’s lives could be saved. “Everyone wins if we do this…well, everyone except the vegetable there. And it has no right to your body. Why not make the best of the situation? Why let its body go to waste?”

Suppose then you did some research on this hospital. Suppose you discovered that many of the people in this hospital didn’t even think of the unconscious violinist as a person. They had the peculiar belief that only someone completely bodily independent of someone else is a person.

Suppose you discovered that they have a track record of “counseling” people in your condition to always unplug, that that’s always “the best thing for them.”

Suppose you discovered that this hospital wasn’t really a hospital, it was a business that brought in over 147 million dollars of revenue per year from doing procedures like yours.* Suppose it’s a business with a former director turned whistleblower who has published documentation that the business has a quota for how many unplugging procedures they need to do per year to meet their budget, and that they give an award to their affiliates who increase the number of unplugging procedures they do each year.

quota

A former abortion industry worker took a picture of this award and sent it to And Then There Were None, the ministry of former Planned Parenthood manager Abby Johnson to those employed in her former industry.

You’d probably feel like there was a conflict of interest at work here.

Suppose then you discovered that they weren’t hoping to donate the violinist’s body, they were hoping to sell it, and, contrary to what they promised you, they would adjust the “unplugging procedure” to make it more likely they would get sellable parts.

stem-flyer-with-arrows

Pages 1 and 3 from the Stem Express flyer it uses for Planned Parenthood affiliates. The red arrows are not in the original. Download the full version from the Center for Medical Progress Document Vault.

If it were me, I might still unplug from the violinist, but if so I’d certainly want to find a more trustworthy group of people to do the procedure, people who weren’t financially motivated to end the violinist’s life, people who saw the death of the violinist as a tragedy, and people who would honor his remains, not sell them.

Try to be intellectually honest enough to not get hung up on a single detail. If you’re unconvinced that Planned Parenthood profits off selling baby parts, ask yourself how comfortable you would be with the violinist being treated the same way. Make it the same story and just remove that detail. Don’t dismiss the story out of hand if, when all the evidence is out in the open, we discover that Planned Parenthood has not profited from their fetal tissue “donations.” In the same way, it is the height of intellectual vice to disregard everything in the CMP videos just because you think some of the editing is questionable.

“We shouldn’t let them go to waste…”

Many people have been saying recently, “But we don’t want them to go to waste, they’re dead anyway.” Forgive the crass comparison, but you could use the same reasoning to justify raping corpses. “We don’t want them to go to waste, they’re dead anyway.”

To be clear, I’m not saying that doing research on wrongfully killed human fetuses is as morally heinous as raping corpses. I’m saying that if you’re going to justify the research, you need to use a different argument than merely, “we don’t want them to go to waste.” We don’t harvest the organs of death row inmates without their consent, even though that’s letting them “go to waste.” And there’s a good reason for that. If we allowed the same justice system that sentences criminals to death to also be in charge of whether we harvest the organs, they may be more motivated to sentence criminals to death as opposed to life imprisonment. It’d be a dangerous conflict of interest.

Julius Hallervorden

Julius Hallervorden

What if you’re a doctor and you’re offered hundreds of brains to study from murdered Jews, like Nazi doctor Julius Hallervorden? Hallervorden said of his research on executed Jews “…those brains offered wonderful material, of mentally poor, deformities and early children’s diseases. Of course I accepted the brains. It really wasn’t my concern where they came from and how they were brought to me.” Do you study them, or do you let them “go to waste?” Studying the brains rationalizes the murderous actions that caused the brains to be available to study. You cannot say “I disapprove of murdering Jews, but hey, now that they’re murdered, we might as well study their brains!” You are tacitly giving your stamp of approval to the murders by studying the murdered bodies. You need to find other brains to study.

I don’t want bodies to “go to waste” either, but it’s not my call to make and it’s not any doctor’s call to make. If you want to donate your body to science, that is your call to make, no one else’s. If my dad wants to donate his body to science so they can better understand cancer, that is his call to make and no one else’s. If we’re going to do research on dead bodies, we need the consent of the deceased, and we need to do that research in a way that honors the person’s wishes and the life they lived.

“But the fetus’ mother gave consent. Can’t parents give consent for their child’s body to be used for research?”

Yes, parents of born children that die tragically have the right to give that kind of consent on behalf of their child. But you don’t get to have those kinds of parental rights without corresponding parental obligations. The parent has the right to make a decision about how to use her child’s remains only if she is a parent with the responsibility to protect her child. You cannot have one without the other, and you cannot justify abortion if you concede that the mother is a parent with the responsibility to protect her unborn child.

The only way for any decent human being to feel comfortable with how Planned Parenthood sells the bodies of the babies they kill is to deny the humanity of those babies. You have to say they are not moral subjects, that they are morally valueless flesh that you can put through a shredder without any moral recourse. You can say that you can unplug from the violinist, but you cannot then turn around and treat the violinist like he doesn’t have serious moral value or treat him as a means to an end.

And for the record, we aren’t just talking about first trimester babies, we’re talking about second trimester fetuses like the “seventeen-weeker” Dr. Nucatola killed the day she was captured on film.

This is an unborn child at 15 weeks LMP, two weeks younger than the child Dr. Nucatola destroyed that morning.

Nilsson, Lennart. Life. Editor Mark Holborn. New York: Abrams, 2006. 141. Print.

Nilsson, Lennart. Life. Editor Mark Holborn. New York: Abrams, 2006. 139. Print.

How late into pregnancy can you not only “unhook” from this child, but you can also dishonor his memory?

Josh wrote a few months ago about our experience seeing actual preserved miscarried children at the OMSI exhibit. I distinctly remember feeling a little bit of sympathy for people who don’t consider an embryo before 5 weeks to be a person. It honestly doesn’t look much like a human. But by the time it’s 9 weeks old, it is undeniably a human child. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no less a child at 5 weeks, it’s just less obvious. At 9 weeks, it is obvious. Denying the humanity of a 17 week unborn child and turning a blind eye to its parts being sold for research is unconscionable.

Where is the consistency? Where is the outrage from the pro-choice community? If pro-lifers learned that pregnancy resource centers were selling children’s remains, we would all lose our minds we’d be so angry! Could you put away the partisan games for a minute and think about what you’re defending with your silence? Is there literally anything Planned Parenthood could do that would spark your outrage? What good could they possibly do that could justify giving them a pass on this?

It’s bad enough that they’re killing these babies by the thousands every day. Is it really so much to ask that they not desecrate their bodies too?

desecrate definition

Would you care if someone desecrated my dad’s body by using it for research without his consent? Would you care if someone desecrated a murdered Jew’s body by doing research on it?

Would you care if Planned Parenthood desecrated the violinist’s body?

* Planned Parenthood does not include in its annual report exactly how much income they bring in from abortion procedures. They do publish how many abortion procedures they do, and Politifact (non pro-life source) agrees that $450 is a fair number to use as an average abortion cost. So the 147 million number in the post comes from multiplying 450 by the 327,653 abortions Planned Parenthood did in 2013, and rounding down.

 

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The post “Why Even Thomson’s Violinist Condemns Planned Parenthood’s Selling Baby Parts” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blogClick here to subscribe via email and get exclusive access to a FREE MP3 of Josh Brahm’s speech, “Nine Faulty Pro-Life Arguments and Tactics.”

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Director of Training

Timothy Brahm is the Director of Training at Equal Rights Institute. He is interested in helping pro-life and pro-choice people to have better dialogues about abortion through 1) taking care to understand what the other person means, 2) using more carefully-constructed arguments, and 3) treating each other with care and respect. He graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in philosophy and is a perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Thanks for a beautifully-done article.

    One question, though:

    If it were me, I might still unplug from the violinist, but if so I’d certainly want to find a more trustworthy group of people to do the procedure, people who weren’t financially motivated to end the violinist’s life.

    At this point in the article, you have expressed concern about two ways, and I think only two, in which Planned Parenthood is financially motivated to end an unborn child’s life (and I think those are also the only concerns of any kind about abortion that you have identified as being concerns that Thomson would share with you):

    1. PP wants to increase its business (awards)

    2. PP profits from sale of the body parts.

    But you offer to let us dismiss 2. (“If you’re unconvinced that Planned Parenthood profits off selling baby parts . . .”)

    If the PP people stand to enrich themselves by committing abortions — given the influence they are likely to have over the victims’ mothers, even though it is those mothers who technically make the decision, and given that the PP people could refuse to do an abortion if their conscience demanded — that will of course unduly jeopardize the unborn.

    But your people who weren’t financially motivated seems to say that they should do the abortion for free. Since we’re joining Thomson in assuming that abortions are justifiable, this would not be reasonable.

    I think the concept should be that if abortion should be legal, doctors and clinic workers should have alternative means of livelihood open to them, and the compensation for abortions should not be any higher than via those alternatives.

    And regarding the organs: just before seeing this article, I had taken a small stab here and had said, “there’s an ethical issue here. . . . Someone benefits from the organs of the unborn, whether Planned Parenthood makes a profit or not. That benefit to someone inevitably becomes an additional incentive to kill, whether that incentive is small or big.” (Even if only the mother, who will not get anything financially, is the “justice system that [both] sentences [the child and is] also . . . in charge of whether we harvest the organs.”)

    Even if Planned Parenthood and the mother are motivated to donate the organs only altruistically, in order to provide some medical benefit to someone other than themselves, that motivation puts unborn children slightly more at risk.

    I don’t think logic absolutely dictates that donation of the organs should be forbidden, but my moral intuition says . . . they should go to waste.

    I would not say the same for the organs of someone who died in a traffic accident, without anyone’s decision-making involved in the death, even if the person had not given consent. I don’t see why that person’s organs should not be used. As I wrote here, “There should be a little ceremony honoring the memory of the dead person.”

    I said, “my moral intuition says they should go to waste.” Well, my moral intuition also says that those organs should not have been available the first place. I don’t agree with Thomson. But that is another story, discussed also at the link just above.

  • Guest
  • Hypatia

    What if a women gives birth to a still born should she be able to donate the remains for research or does she not have the ‘parental obligations’ as you mentioned?

    • It doesn’t seem like that would apply, since a parent in that situation never gave up their parental obligations. The differences between parents choosing to have their children killed and parents who want their children but who tragically die during pregnancy, (as two of mine have,) are vast.

      • Hypatia

        Thanks for taking the time out to respond. My sympathies are with you and your partner for the miscarriages . Take care

  • Studying the brains rationalizes the murderous actions that caused the brains to be available to study.

    But we are assuming in the first place, for the sake of argument, that abortion is morally equivalent to unplugging from the violinist and therefore not a murderous action. So wouldn’t the “don’t let it go to waste” argument carry some weight? It might not outweigh the desecration argument or the additional-incentive-to-kill argument against the use of body parts, but wouldn’t it carry some weight?

  • Adelai Rickman

    I don’t believe it is accurate to say that because a woman has the right to donate fetal tissue that this must also mean that she has some sort of parental obligations to the fetus. (Although even if she did, parental duty still never goes so far as to demand a sacrifice of autonomy.) It could also be said that because a fetus is NOT a person, that therefore the woman could claim the fetus as a sort of biological property, and would be justified in donating her fetus for research if she wished. I don’t think there’s any cognitive dissonance there.

    • To your first point, I think the claim that parental duty never goes so far as to demand a sacrifice of autonomy is problematic. But I’m sure we would agree that there is a limit to how much sacrifice parental duty can demand. I generally don’t push back against the violinist on the grounds of parental obligations because while I think it is a very real problem in the analogy, many pregnant mothers don’t see themselves as “parents,” and I generally don’t think haggling over that definition is the most productive way to spend time in an argument. This is something of a weird case because it’s one where the defender of abortion has conceded that she is a parent.

      To your second point, we essentially agree, I basically said as much in the next paragraph. If the fetus is a non-person, I don’t think it’s morally problematic to sell it and study it (though there could be some conditions, like a great amount of unnecessary suffering that could complicate things). I think the only way to justify Planned Parenthood selling baby parts is to deny the personhood of the fetus.

      • Adelai Rickman

        “To your first point, I think the claim that parental duty never goes so far as to demand a sacrifice of autonomy is problematic. But I’m sure we would agree that there is a limit to how much sacrifice parental duty can demand. I generally don’t push back against the violinist on the grounds of parental obligations because while I think it is a very real problem in the analogy, many pregnant mothers don’t see themselves as “parents,” and I generally don’t think haggling over that definition is the most productive way to spend time in an argument. This is something of a weird case because it’s one where the defender of abortion has conceded that she is a parent.”

        Agreed.

        “To your second point, we essentially agree, I basically said as much in the next paragraph. If the fetus is a non-person, I don’t think it’s morally problematic to sell it and study it (though there could be some conditions, like a great amount of unnecessary suffering that could complicate things). I think the only way to justify Planned Parenthood selling baby parts is to deny the personhood of the fetus.”

        I don’t think that’s *only* way to make a case for the donation of fetal tissue, but I do reject the idea of fetal personhood.

      • Bair

        Timothy, how about a thought experiment that involves the intimate violation of bodily autonomy?

        The kid in the balloon house isn’t an undue burden. That kid, in a few months, won’t be shredding the old man’s genitals.

  • Guest

    From observation, I think very few pro-choice people support abortion on a straight bodily-rights basis (at least regarding the more nuanced “right to refuse” argument). Their argument is usually along the lines of “I don’t think the unborn is a person, but if we pretend it is for the sake of the argument then here’s why abortion should still be legal”. Judith Thomson says this in her essay, and David Boonin spends half his book trying to argue that the unborn are not persons. If pro-choice people thought the unborn were persons, they wouldn’t go berserk over the idea of artificial uteri being a plausible alternative to abortion. They would also be unconditionally opposed to post-viability abortion (ie no exceptions for rape, incest, mother’s mental health, etc). People who genuinely think the unborn are persons but support abortion on the bodily rights basis always seem to either end up pro-life, or end up in federal prison (yes, there’s a story there).

  • Crystal

    “You are tacitly giving your stamp of approval to the murders by studying
    the murdered bodies. You need to find other brains to study.”

    I agree, but what about the polio vaccine, which has helped many people but did involve the use of aborted unborn persons, according to advocates for legal abortion? If they’re right, should we create a better one without using aborted unborn persons? Or should we just ditch the whole thing?