Murder, The Right to Life, and Abortion

The following is a philosophy article by Scott Hughes. Posted June 15th, 2009.

I recently received an email from someone about the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed late-term abortions who was shot to death at his Church during worship services presumably by Scott Philip Roeder.

The author of the email wrote, "If you do not denounce this murder and act of domestic terrorism then the only conclusion one can come to is you support these acts. There is no middle ground."

Like almost everyone I of course denounce the murder of Tiller. And to say even more I adamantly denounce all offensive violence and murder, including the death penalty. Insofar as he is indeed the perpetrator, I hope Roeder will be convicted of murder and incarcerated, and I believe it is very clear that Roeder committed murder under US law, which a court can and will decide.

However, I think to say there is no middle ground is incorrect. Even when I firmly denounce an action such as murder, I recognize that in addition to possibly supporting the action someone could hold a more moderate position and neither firmly support nor firmly denounce an action.

This makes me realize how many complex and controversial issues tie into this infamous murder and people's judgments of it. For instance, consider vigilantism, murder, abortion, the death penalty, killing animals, etc.

Because of their obvious ability to easily lead to passionate disagreement and violence, I think we need to approach these issues as philosophically as possible. We have so many different issues intertwined with each other, upon which we can disagree. So even if we bring one or two of our own beliefs or assumptions into question, we still may not be open-minded enough with each other to discuss these issues civilly and not fanatically.

We need to ask ourselves all sorts of questions. What is murder? Do we oppose murder always? If not always, when do we want it to be illegal to murder something or someone? When do we want it to be illegal to kill something or someone? What about animals, human embryos, human fetuses, brainless creatures? What about killing one innocent person to save the life of another innocent person? What about when a person lets another person die when the first person could have saved the second? Do we support forcing another person to help another person? Do we want an embryo or fetus to have the right to use a woman's body against her will if the embryo or fetus needs to use her body to live? What about if the woman was made pregnant against her will? What about if a woman wants to abort a fetus late-term because carrying it to term will cause significant harm to her? What about if the baby was already born but needs a transplant from her to live? When if at all would we force a person to provide a transplant to anther person? What if providing a transplant poses significant danger or will cause significant harm?

Please use this thread in the forums to discuss this article, comment on the issues it addresses, and try to answer the questions it asks.

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