Foot’s calculated article entitled, ‘Killing and Letting Die’ is one which provides arguments through hypothetical situation’s, discrediting opinions and beliefs of other modern philosophers. Its main cause is to locate moral differentiation between the active taking of life versus allowing death to occur by means of not producing assistance. Afterwards Foot applies these beliefs onto the sub-topic of abortion, highlighting flawed examples of pro-abortion arguments she then counters these with her own strong outlooks.
In this critical report I intend to analyse the relevance and application of Foot’s arguments highlighting both strengths and weaknesses in Foot’s judgements. Foot opens by expressing that in specific circumstances, for instance our negligence to end third world starvation as opposed to the giving of poisoned food to these starving individuals, our moral agency has a role. This is a sound argument, we have sufficient resources to end starvation with little if any detriment to ourselves yet we fail to provide.
This failure is just as morally wrong as providing poisoned food. This is not to say Foot believes killing and allowing to die are the same. It is merely her belief in this particular circumstance that they are not morally dissimilar. Proceeding this is a hypothetical proposal of two circumstances: One, in which 6 individuals are reliant on the intake of a certain rare drug. One individual requires the full quota of this specific medification in order to live, thus the other five would not receive the drug and would consequentially die.
It is therefore clear to Foot that the five should receive the drug and regrettably allow this individual to die. The other, where five persons require organs and to save their life one patient is killed to obtain these for the five in need. The clear moral distinction between these two is the role played by moral agency. We play our part as an ‘agent’ in the death of a person whereas in the other we cannot be held responsible for the eventual outcome- being his death.
It is our active involvement in the case of ‘the killing for spare parts’ which is denounced as morally wrong by Foot, whereas in the case of providing the medicine at a lower quantity to the five patients rather than all the medicine to the one patient; we are not an agent in the death as the resources were insufficient to keep the individual alive. Thus Foot concludes a morally justified stance is adopted. This point is further continued in Foot’s ‘Rescue I’ and ‘Rescue II’ cases she offers.
Rescue I involves a rescue team hurrying to save five persons from drowning before the receive news of one person threatened by some other happening, they choose to continue to save the five and regretfully allow him to die. This is then contrasted with the hypothetical situation of Rescue 2. Rescue 2, the rescue team are on their way to save the five from drowning when blocking their road is an individual trapped on their route. To continue and save the five the team would have to drive over the individual resulting in certain death.
Foot progresses this point by stating, “We cannot originate a fatal sequence, although we can allow one to run its course. ” It is therefore apparent Foot is establishing her stance as against the idea killing and allowing to die are morally divergent. This stance though can be countered with an example proposed by James Rachels which is recognised by Foot. In the first case, a child is intentionally held underwater in the bath until they drown. And in the second an individual see’s the child slip and fall underwater, whilst the child drowns they do nothing.
Foot accepts that both are morally wrong however she provides weak and incoherent reasoning for her contradiction. Resorting to an argument involving ‘levels of badness’, as if an untoward deed can be rated on a scale. It is ludicrous to suggest any act of malicious or evil intent can be inferior to another simply because of the outcome. Also Foot suggests that because the two cases differ in their acts, the result cannot be known to be the same. Foot’s established beliefs are then applied to the sub-topic of abortion, and if there are any situations it is morally justifiable to abort a foetus.
Foot introduces an argument voiced by Thomson in favour of abortion. Thomson’s belief is that abortion is always morally justifiable as no human being has the right to use of another’s body, therefore the foetus’ rights are waived and the mother’s rights to remove the foetus as a hindrance take precedence. Foot recites Thomson’s flawed example of an dangerously ill individual being hooked to the body of another person without consent in order to survive being similar to that of a pregnant woman.
She continues to say if the unconsenting person detaches himself he is not a murderer as the ill person is proving an inconvenience to them. Foot breaks down this argument by showing there is an intrinsic difference between instigating a fatality and not providing the means to continue life. Foot finds that the language used to describe failing to provide the means to survive does not serve purposes of this argument.
Foot indicates the word ‘kill’ is unimportant and it is infact the outcome of death is not instigated by an agent it is otherwise allowed to take place. This is relative to the act of abortion as Foot suggests the foetus is dependant on its mother in the same way children depend on their parent’s for food and shelter. Thus Foot hints that the previous suggestions by Thomson are horrendously faulty, by denouncing her comment that a mother’s rights override a foetus’ rights as it hinders her life.
Surely this is saying that if an alive child is proving a encumbrance to it’s parents lives it is morally justifiable that they terminate its life. Foot correctly highlights that the arguments hinges upon the audiences perception of a foetus’ moral status. Be it as a human being or otherwise. Foot proclaims that if the foetus should be considered a human being then Thomson’s argument is as similar to ‘the killing of the man for spare parts’. Concluding that the foetus’ status remains at the core of justifying the opposition or support of abortion as an act.