Who has the dignity of a Person?

But now let me ask you to imagine this. 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.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.”

An extract from Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion


The above is a slightly wordy and interesting scenario which Father Garcia shared on a person’s dignity.

To even start off the discussion, we need to first understand what is a human being vs a person. For example, according to the law, a juridical person is the characteristic of a non-living entity regarded by law to have the status of personhood. An example would be firms such as Microsoft which is a subject of rights and duties and is expected to make responsible decisions. From this, we thus see that a person may not be a human being.


Then we come to the question of whether all human beings are people. For example, is an embryo a person?

In order to answer the question above, we need to ponder deeper into what makes an embryo different from the adult it would eventually become?

In this theory of change, there are two categories. One being a substantial change whereby the identity changes. An example would be the burning of wood into ash – where the substance itself changes. The other change is an accidental change which encompasses the situation where an aspect changes but the object remains the same thing. So would a human change substantially or accidentally? If we look at a more drastic species like a butterfly or a frog. Would we consider the caterpillar or the tadpole to be a different animal once it changes to its adult form? It is obviously the same entity!

Now that we establish that an embryo is a person, we come to question – what about all the other potential eggs in a woman’s body? Would they all be considered people because they could potentially change to become an adult? We now study the idea of active vs passive potentiality.

– Passive potentiality: A sperm and an egg has the passive potentiality to become an embryo. This is because something has to happen to an egg for it to become an embryo. 

– Active potentiality: Embryos have the active potentiality to become adult individuals. This is because something needs to happen for them to stop developing into adults -> Death. 

In human history, people have continuously fought for basic human rights for minority groups and for women. It is quite amazing to remember that women in America, in one of the most developed countries, were only given the rights to vote or matriculate in Universities from 1920. However, even as recent as 2005, a lady by the name of Terri Schiavo was allowed to be starved to death in America due to her being in a persistent vegetative state. In this case, it was her husband who decided to remove the feeding tube. Wiki story of Terri Schiavo.

So, was it morally incumbent on you to accede to the situation as presented at the beginning?

With that, I leave you with a concluding slide 🙂 Have a blessed week ahead!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s