Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

Ethics at the Beginning of Life
A phenomenological critique

James Mumford
Oxford University Press
ISBN 9780199673964

Book CoverIn this closely argued work, James Mumford writes that the prevalent ethical discourse on the beginning of life fails to take into account the reality of human emergence. There is much too much emphasis on human viability, for instance.  Abortion is deemed acceptable if the foetus is incapable of living outside the mother's womb.  But it is noted that viability does not emerge until long after birth. We are dependent beings and self-sufficiency is ultimately a mirage. It follows from this that the principle of autonomy can never be an absolute one.

So far, so good. And yet, the author buys into aspects of the argument put forward by Judith Jarvis Thomson in her famous defence of abortion. He does not wish to defend the "absolutist position" against abortion:

" If homicidal self-defence is ever justified, then it is in the case when the mother has an abortion in order to save her life."

It is a pity that the author uses terms such as "homicidal self-defence" rather than having recourse to double-effect reasoning. However, he does note that Thomson moves from arguments based on self-defence to arguments based on self-ownership.

So, while one cannot agree with all of the views expressed in this work, it is clear that the author is attempting to show that human life ought to be respected from its very beginnings.