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ABORTION, ETHICS, AND BIOLOGY* JAN WINDi There are few issues that have been discussed in the Western world as long, widely, intensively, and emotionally as that ofinduced abortion. In a typical discussion those in favor introduce arguments like demographic advantages; the freedom of the mother to decide for herself; solving medical, housing, and financial problems; relieving individual or social emergencies; reducing unskilled (i.e., nonprofessional) surgery, etc. Those against it adduce that abortion is unethical, illegal, unchristian , inhuman, murder like, opposed to the Hippocratic oath, etc. The long duration and the emotionality of the discussions demonstrate clearly that both the adversaries and the advocates consider abortion an important issue threatening the well-being and the existence of themselves or of others like the unborn child, the woman concerned, their fellow countrymen, or even all mankind. Furthermore, the foregoing examples demonstrate the noncomparability of the factors underlying the various arguments. Obviously, solving the problem or at least smoothing the discussion requires, next to solving the usual semantic problems [1], quantification of these threats and a comparability of the arguments. A new approach is presented here, mainly based on evolutionary biology, which may meet these requirements. Evolutionary Biology There remain few objections against applying the principles ofbiological evolution (i.e., genetic variation and selection) to the behavior of man and his ancestors (see, e.g., [2]), and it would be interesting to see what would be the result of applying the principles to human abortion ?In this paper I consider abortion to indicate induced abortion. tInstitute of Human Genetics and Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Free University , Amsterdam 1011, Netherlands. I thank L. H. Day, H. Geertsema, G. Hardin, B. Hausman,J. van der Hoeven, D.Janzen, O. Meijer, E. Mayr,J. V. Neel, G. G. Simpson, N. Tinbergen and R. Wescott for their advice.© 1978 by The University of Chicago. 0031-5982/78/2104-0030$01.00 492 I Jan Wind · Abortion, Ethics, and Biology behavior, describing and analyzing it as strictly as a biologist would do in the case of any animal behavior. In general, it can be stated that in a given population there is most often a positive correlation between, on the one hand, the longevity ofa given behavior and the frequency ofits occurrence, and, on the other, its selective value. For such a universal, traditional behavior pattern can be assumed as not having a negative survival value: ifit had, the population and therefore the behavior would have dropped out. Hence, it has a positive selective value rather than a negative one. The exceptions are (i) when, most often due to a change of die environment (e.g., of the habitat, predators, or parasites), a previously positive selective pressure has become neutral or is in the process ofchanging into a negative one; (ii) when a negative selective pressure is compensated for by one or more positive selective pressures preventing a negative survival value from coming into operation. Often such long-lasting behavior even has a positive survival value. Now, human behavior is to a large extent directed by rules that determine whether a special human activity is "right" or not (i.e., ethical rules). These are largely established by what is sometimes called extragenetical or cultural evolution (strictly speaking, however, the latter is also genetically determined being die result ofgenes-environment interaction ). Discussions on ethics, establishing the central issue in discussions on abortion, are usually hampered by the subjective interpretation of ethical rules and their value. From various points ofview biological scientists have attempted to provide exact descriptions and definitions of ethical and moral values. But, as far as I know, all diese values are hitherto rendered at best in anthropological, phenomenological terms, not in quantitative terms [3-13]. In addition, nonbiologists, and especially theologians , usually assume that ethical principles cannot be derived from biological ones. They argue diat such a derivation is hampered by the "naturalistic fallacy," insisting that it is impossible to derive "ought" from "is" (sollen from s«n) (see, e.g., [14]). Obviously, the problem in this meta-ethical question is first a semantic one: How do we define "ethical"? Related to this is the second problem: From which axiomatic philosophy oflife is die question viewed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 492-504
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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