One of the most compelling arguments from the Pro-Choice camp is that–yes–unborn children are alive…but no human has the right to become a parasite on its mother’s body.
This perspective is often explained with the analogy of the “Famous Violinist”, which I’ve copied in part here:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist… He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers discovered 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 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.”
Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you [allowed him to live]. A great kindness. But do you have to accede to it?
I have a problem with a couple of the details in this analogy.
Like the dependent person being a strange musician instead of your own flesh-and-blood. And I wonder why the central question is whether to “unplug the machine” rather than the more accurate question “should we interrupt the normal process of nature by using poison and scalpels on the violinist?”
But, mostly, I wonder why the author never finished the story?
She sets up the scene, but she doesn’t describe what that choice might look like. What if a kind organ-donor sacrificed her body for another person…while another exercised her right to “choose” autonomy?
Allow me to tell the story…
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious child.
Of course, you don’t know it’s a child, because you can’t see him. Only the doctors/nurses can allow you to peek, if they’re kind enough to hold up a mirror. (One does so, briefly, and you can see the profile of what you’re told is a boy. He is horrifically mangled and doesn’t look much like a person. But you notice a slight twitch in his hand.)
You think you’ve seen that nose before…
When the doctor comes around, he explains there has been a complicated accident. The trauma may have caused you to forget–but you were in the driver’s seat when a violent stranger intentionally rammed into your family’s car.
The helpless child behind you (though you may not recognize him) is your son. And now, thanks to the machines beeping between you, he’s being kept alive by your body.
The director of the hospital now tells you:
“Look, we’re sorry that Child Protective Services hooked you up without your consent. We never would have permitted it. But, still, it has been done and the boy is plugged into you. To unplug you would kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he can safely be unplugged from you.”
And suddenly, the reality of your situation begins to crush you.
I’m trapped here.
When I went to sleep, I was in control and making my own decisions. But now I’m strapped to a bed, with little memory and no sense of Motherhood. And I’m having the life sucked out of me by some kid I don’t think I know!
The fear continues to rise, but you’re snapped from your thoughts when the voice of another woman rings out:
“There’s going to be Hell to pay when I get a hold of my lawyer. Get these wires off me NOW!”
A nurse tries to calm the woman by gently reminding her of the situation. “Yes, but he’ll die if we do that, Ma’am.”
“I know what’s at stake here–I’ve done this before! And the bottom line is, no one has the right to use my body!”
Wait, done this before? You’re not sure what she means. So, when the nurse hurries down the hall, you decide to ask the angry woman for more information. (Her machine is hooked to a small body you can’t see–hidden behind a white sheet.)
“Yes, I’ve gotten stuck in this situation before.” she replies. “It happens all the time. Hundreds of times a day, actually! It’s ridiculous the way people assume women will be fine serving as live organ-donors, just any old time they’re needed… My sister unhooked one of her kids a few years ago. And my mom did it back in the 70’s. You and I will both feel better, once they get in here and cut this mess of cords!”
You’re stunned at first. And the woman’s frankness makes you a little uncomfortable. But you’re desperate to interact with someone who knows what you’re going through. So you ask the one thing that concerns you the most:
“Do you feel bad at all? Knowing the child will die when it’s unhooked?”
The woman pauses for a moment but doesn’t look offended.
She simply glances into your eyes for a second, before finding something more interesting on the other side of the room…
“Your boy isn’t going to remember any of this, Sweetie,” she says finally. “You’ve already suffered more than he will… It’s wrong to force a woman into this situation without her consent. Don’t you feel how wrong it is?”
You nod, halfheartedly, and wait for her to continue.
“I bet you feel the wrongness of being trapped here more than you feel enchantment for that bedmate of yours… Do you even know him–let alone love him? So, then, what kind of life will the two of you live after this is over, if you’re not a fully-committed and excited mother?”
You had been so worried about being stuck in the hospital, you hadn’t even had time to consider how you’d ever take home this stranger and raise him! Your entire nervous system is on high alert again. The nurse better get back soon, with something to ease your racing heart.
“It’s him or you, Darling. Simple as that. Just don’t make it too complicated.”
The nurse returns with a doctor, and they begin flipping switches on the other woman’s machine.
“…meanwhile, I dare anyone who’s never been forcefully imprisoned to judge me and my choices,” she declares as she crosses her arms.
Then the doctor pulls out his forceps and gets to work.
The nurse turns on some upbeat music, which almost covers the sound of snipping. But it does nothing to dampen the long, flat drone of the child’s heart monitor.
After a minute or two, another hospital staff member comes in to wheel the sheet-covered lump from the room. He’s careful not to let the woman see what remains under the sheet.
And, finally, the woman grabs her purse and allows the door to slam as she leaves.
When the medical personnel finishes cleaning and exits, they take all the noise with them.
The stillness that remains allows you to notice yet another, smaller-framed woman lying prone in the bed furthest from you. She is reading a book, but she looks across when she feels your stare…
…and you can see the sheet-covered lump over her shoulder.
“Excuse me?” you ask. “But are you trapped here, too?”
The woman smiles weakly before responding.
“Well, I never would have chosen this, if that’s what you’re asking. But I suppose I’m getting settled for the long-haul now.”
“So, you’re actually going to lie in that bed for three-quarters of a year?!” you ask in surprise.
“I just don’t know what kind of mother I’d be if I didn’t.”
You cringe at the word “mother,” knowing that’s what you’re supposed to be yet it’s not at all how you feel.
It baffles you how someone can accept forced medical care like this and pretend that it’s not unfair.
As you try to think of something else to say, the woman goes back to her book. But, after a few seconds, she speaks again, as if talking to herself…
“I don’t know the little person hooked up back there. But that doesn’t have to stop me from loving her.”
She pauses for a second and then looks at you for a reaction. But, when you only stare back, she continues.
“I’m afraid too many people think love is a feeling, when it’s really a word to describe how you act. It’s valuing others more highly than yourself. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether they appreciate it or not…
If love is treating others the way I want to be treated, then my choice is pretty obvious. I’d want someone to make the sacrifice for me.”
And with that, your eyes fill with tears.
Before you can stop yourself, you blurt, “But I don’t want to be here!”
…which causes your new friend to cry, too.
“I know! It’s terrifying! And, I’ll be honest, it seems to get more painful every day… No one should have to live with this much fear! Sometimes, when I think about how much longer I have before I’m finished, I think the whole thing might kill me…”
She pauses while both of you wipe your tears and collect your thoughts and listen to the clock on the wall. And suddenly, that gentle voice speaks again–with confidence despite shaking just a moment ago:
“But then, I’d rather die giving life to another than to live in a world without love.”
Even in all the confusion, you know that much is still true.
It’s better to sacrifice for the sake of another than to live in a world without love.