On the abortion


When the life begins

Bikkhu Sujato


The sanctity of the life is the heart of our brings back to consciousness moral. But `the life' has diffuse edges. It is not easy subject defining accurately where the life, in the moral sense more than in the biological one, begins and finishes. For the Buddhism this one stumping is normal, since we are customary to see the world in terms of interrelated processes more than like independent organizations. Nevertheless, our necessity of clarity in the decision on questions delicate morals is not smaller. In this test I will analyze some subjects of the debate on the beginning of the life and the ethics of the abortion. I will suggest approach provides a Buddhist us with useful instruments move away that us of the moral extremism and they concentrate in a compassionate answer to the real problems. For the sake of the brevity, I will limit my discussion the ethics of the abortion. Nevertheless, we must recognize that many other procedures, like the fertilization in-vitro, the cloning, the genetic engeneering and the technology with cells mother, also imply the destruction of embryos…

The ethical discussion of the abortion has generally been, I create, dominated by two extremist positions. These are identified by eslógans of `the life' and `the election'. In the Buddhist thought these are called `eternalismo' and `aniquilacionismo'. The word `eternalismo' talks about the belief that eternally the individuality (1) exists. The term `aniquilacionismo' usually talks about to the belief that the individuality will perish, at the time of dying. In this test I will focus in some influential currents of thought in the Christianity and the scientific materialism, like outstanding contemporary examples of these two ends.


The eternal soul and the sanctity of the life

The Christians typically think that each human owns `soul'. This is a spiritual organization, a spark of God, which distinguishes the humans of all the other beings, and grants to the humans a unique ethical value. He is because the humans own a soul that the deliberate death of a human being, usually call “murder”, is a terrible crime. This soul enters the embryo at the time of the conception. As of that moment, the embryo is in the moral sense a human being of right plenary session, deserving the same moral consideration that you and I. To kill such being is to assassinate.

Labeling to the abortion as `murder' is an extremely touching strategy, and it has lead to disagreeable scenes where the women who wished to abort have been harassed and attacked. The use of the label derives from the simple definition from `murder' like `the intentional death from a human being'. If an embryo is a human being, then to kill it must be murder. However, the concept of `murder' so is not reduced and dry. Many cases of “intentional murder of a human being” exist to whom we did not call `murder'. When a soldier kills to another one in the days of war, only we called `to kill', not to assassinate. When a State kills a criminal, we called `execution'. When a person kills itself we called `suicide'. Therefore, labeling to the abortion as `murder' is absolutist and simplistic. It makes arise the question from if the abortion is the intentional murder of a human being in the excellent sense. The affirmation of which the abortion is murder rests in a Metaphysical theory, and as so he is inherently undemonstrable. The acceptance of this theory is employee of the faith in dogmas developings as they are defined in particular within a religious community, and does not have relevance outside that community.


The sprouting of the Conscience

As all we know, the recent years have seen the majority of the societies advance quickly outside eternalistas points of view like the Christianity, towards the perspective of the scientific materialism. This has become the new Orthodoxy. While the eternalistas derive our moral value from the possession from a soul, the materialists typically relate the moral value to the conscience. We deserve ethical consideration because we are conscious beings. So the then question becomes in, when arises the conscience?

The materialists think that the fundamental substance that conforms the world is the matter. In the suitable conditions, the matter can evolve towards complex organisms to which we called `life'. At a certain level of complexity the conscience emerges. The conscience in this way is considered like a epifenómeno of the matter. Many materialists think that this conscience arises in the embryo in the third or fourth month of pregnancy. As our moral value drift of this conscience, thinks that during the three first months the embryo is simply a piece of meat that does not deserve a moral consideration.

This process can be compared with the image in the screen of a television. The individual parts of the television set contain some part not even the image. On the contrary, the image appears in the total when the parts of the apparatus are put all meetings. This is a metaphor convincing, but mistaken. In the case of a television set, the parts make separately and then soon they are joined. But in the case of an alive being our different parts are desplegan from the contained genetic information in the DNA. Each cell includes all the genetic information for the body. Then it would seem more natural to speak of a gradual unfolding of the inherent potential of the conscience. In addition, in the case of a television set the causality is of a single direction. The television is cause of the image but the image is not the cause of the television. Again the analogy fails, since in all the ordinary states of conscience the body and the mind coexist in a complex bidirectional relation. The effectiveness of the analogy leans in the underlying assumption of which a linear causality exists, of a single sense, from the brain towards the mind. But that same one is the question that we are asking.

When we asked why the materialists think that the conscience is an emergent property of the matter, we can see that this conclusion is followed of the assumptions of the own scientific methodology. The scientific ones generally only accept the evidences if they can be `objectively' demonstrated and verified. But `cannot here have such thing as an objective test', since the acceptance or the rejection of a test is being mental acts, and the mental events are necessarily subjective (5). Actually, we establish `intersubjective consensus'; that is to say, when sufficient observable evidence through the five senses exists to convince a certain scientific community. The scientific method is therefore incapable, at the present time, to investigate directly to the mind. Everything what can do is to examine the observable phenomena externally, such as the conduct and the activity cerebral, and then to infer correlations with the kingdom of the mental thing. So it is not a surprise to find the theory scientific that the conscience also begins in the kingdom of the physicist to see the conscience emerging from there. This theory is built-in the own bases of the scientific method and therefore it cannot be tried by that same method. One is not an empirically provable conclusion, and for that reason she is not scientist. One is a Metaphysical speculation, an unwarranted inference derived from the assumption that the scientific method is the means unique and sufficient to discover the truth.


Avoiding the ends

These two paradigms to come near to the question of estatus moral of the embryo are extreme. The eternalistas maintain that the abortion is murder, most odious of the crimes, whereas the aniquilacionistas maintain that some does not entail moral consequence. We can see that each one of the two ends offer a simple one, clear frame of reference, to understand the ethics of the abortion. This is the reason for which they remain like powerful and attractive ideas. Also we can see that those conclusions are against-intuitive. Many of us we considered that an embryo deserves some moral consideration, although vacillated when comparing the abortion with the murder. This it is an example of how the absolutist philosophical positions generate extremism moral. Actually, typically we were satisfied to a complicated commitment between both. This is not true `average way' but a political resource moved by the social necessity. Unfortunately, the debate normally is taken towards the plane of the convictions morals and the scientific evidence without directing to us towards the underlying Metaphysical assumptions. Too much often we were obstinate to put under ours more appraised and deep beliefs, are religious or scientists, to an exhaustive investigation.

What can offer the Buddhism to us in this sense? Since the Buddhism is an historical religion, we would have to begin to ask to us that they must say the early registries of the lessons of the Buddha. This is a way to base our discussion on deeper layers of our brings back to consciousness moral, not allowing same being us dragged by the tides of the contemporary opinion. Of course, we must be arranged to put under the traditional understanding the scrutiny and the light of the modern evidences.

Canon Pali (2) contains several passages that deal with the process about conception in the matrix and the coming the conscience. The Maha Tanhasankhaya Sutta establishes that the conception is employee of the joint arrival of three things: the together mother and the father, who the mother is fertile, and who the being to appear again is ready. The term “joint arrival” means “same place, same moment”. Thus, this passage implies that the conscience appears in the time of the conception. The Maha Nidana Sutta is still more clearly. It establishes that if the conscience does not enter the belly of the mother, the mentality and the physical form cannot `coagulate' within the matrix. In another passage, the conscience is said that the conception depends on `six elements', including a. All these affirmations happen in discussions on the key doctrine of the dependant sprouting, and thus they have a great authority. In the monastic Vinaya (3) also the appearance of the embryo compares with the sprouting of `the first mind, the first conscience' in the belly of the mother. Thus, all these contexts try to the conception like surrounding a combination of physical and mental factors, with the mental factors in the first place. This of course reflects the basic philosophy of the Buddhism of which the mind is the precursor of all the things.

Thus the texts establish that the conscience is present from the beginning of the life. A being who is conscious can feel pain, and, therefore he deserves moral consideration. It is not necessary nevertheless to say, that the capacity of an embryo just conceived to feel pain is very rudimentary, perhaps comparable to the one of anybody in a deep or low coma a deep anesthesia. According to the buddhism these are states of conscience, but too much darkened to be considered we compared when them with the splendor of the wide-awake conscience. The texts speak frequently of “growth, increase and maturation” of the conscience of just appeared again. According to the findings of science, the texts speak of the gradual development of the sensorial faculties of the embryo. But unlike the scientists, they do not assume that the conscience does not appear until the senses are developed. Thus, while the embryo certainly deserves moral consideration, his limited capacity to feel pain it means that to kill an embryo murder is something insufficient to call it `'.

There is a clear support to this position in the Vinaya. This one establishes that a monk or a nun never will have, during all their life, intentionally to kill a human being, `even until the point to cause an abortion'. Similar, they must not still have sexual interchange `to the depth of a sesame seed'. They do not have to rob `not even as much as a grass string'. They do not have to vindicate the spiritual profits `nor to even say “I delight in an empty dwelling”'. Therefore the abortion clearly is considered like the intentional death of a human being, although it is the less serious act of this type.

Thus the Buddhist texts related to the abortion provide a classic model for `average way', which accepts some of the proposals of the extreme points of view but avoiding its absolutist and simplistic conclusions at the same time. Along with the eternalistas we think that an embryo, from the moment of the conception, is equipped with a nonphysical property that grants the right to him to a moral consideration. Nevertheless, we did not accept that this principle is a spiritual organization, a spark of the glory of God; nor we accepted that this one supposed `soul' is a unique distinguishing characteristic of humanity. We think that it is a conditional flow of conscience, always money changer and evolving when happening of life while still alive. Along with the aniquilacionistas we think that the weight of the moral consideration due to an embryo is not static, but increases gradually with the development of the mind of the embryo towards the complete conscience. Nevertheless, we did not accept that he can be demonstrated that the beginning of the conscience takes place only after three or four months. This is an ethically arbitrary date, which simply marks the present limits of the scientific knowledge but it does not say anything to us on estatus moral of the embryo.


Why to believe in the Renaissance?

It is enough in the textual and theoretical side. These considerations, of course, are only of direct relevance for the Buddhist community. Some empirical form exists to verify these ideas. According to the Buddhism two means - to traverse of the direct observation of the process of Renaissance exist, and by means of the understanding by inference of the conditional evolution of the conscience in the time. The direct observation is the psychic power to collect passed lives, or but to perceive where the beings appear again. It seems that these abilities, of which is said that normally they are fruit of the deep meditation, can happen in some people of spontaneous way. The smaller children of seven years often seem to be able to pick up details of their life past and death. Obvious these abilities generally are not accepted by the scientific community. But some for the scientific tests to such affirmations would seem not to have theoretical obstacle. For example, to a number different from people whom they professed such faculties them could be made questions, and the answers could with one another be confronted. Or the historical data could be extracted and be confronted with the well-known registries. There has already been a series of positive experiments in those lines, although I do not know if they have some direct relation with the question on the beginning of the conscience. In any case, if precise and provable information through such psychic powers can be obtained, it seems reasonable to grant certain degree to them of credibility.

According to the Buddhism, the second way to confirm the Renaissance is by means of the understanding of the conditional origin of the conscience. Repeatedly we contemplated arising and to happen of the conscience at the present moment. We see how egoistic desires give rise to the mental proliferation, and how letting them go it leads to La Paz. We extend this principle to the past and the future, and inferred that our conscience in this life arose due to our obstinacy in the past, and that while we do not let them go completely, we will continue generating conscience in the future. This class of understanding does not say anything on the specific details of passed lives, so it cannot be verified by any simple empirical means. But we can be asked if the dependant sprouting offers a significant and useful frame to deal with the different types from psychological problems that we faced today. If the answer is that yes, then we must again grant to this certain education credibility degree.

For the Buddhists, nevertheless, such tests remain like secondary. The majority of the Buddhists creates in the Renaissance because it is an intrinsic chapter in the weave of his world. They accept the vision of the world of the Buddhism because they think that she is beneficial for they themselves and its society. The lessons form an all coherent and rational one. So when they see the confirmed more basic ethical lessons in his own lives, they are arranged to take the most abstract postulates with confidence. They do not think more about the empirical tests of such principles that you or that I would think about empirically proving the Theory of relativity. We accept the Theory of relativity - later of everything we understand insofar as it - due to our faith in science. These days there are many people anywhere in the world, Buddhist and nonBuddhist, who create in the Renaissance. It is possible that its number to size increases in which the buddhism is recognized to offer a way significant and satisfactory to live and to die.


The social dimension

The main preoccupation of this test has been to investigate the philosophical base for a Buddhist ethics of the abortion. Perhaps nevertheless, it can be pardoned to venture to me outside my sphere of competition as far as to offer some thoughts considering the social dimension of this one ethics. He is apparent that in many countries the abortion technically illegal although has been made official and generalized of way nonofficial (4). We must understand that the Buddhists do not accept generally that if something is bad it must be declared necessarily illegal. Such subjects must be considered in their social context. To do to the illegal abortion makes criminals to women who often have happened through a traumatic experience. And it leaves the market with doors abiertas to the doctors without scruples.

It would suggest one more a more human approach would make legal to the abortion and other technologies similar, but supervised very close by. We must make sure that we, and our children and daughters, we are provided of all the information, guides and support that we need to do to us able to make such decisions on the life and the death of responsible way. To the children an explicit one is due to give them and completes education in the school on biological matters, sexual, ethical, and nuns who are excellent. When a woman looks for to have an abortion, she and the father must be provided with detailed information and personal consultant's office before making a final decision. Our society must accept that to approach the question on the abortion it implies not only to make judgments morals and the benefit of medical services, but also the education in contraceptive methods and the responsible relations. We must offer to the women an alternative to them with sense through an adapted support to the boy and with social services.

An implication of the gradualista approach to this question is that the moral gravity and the kámmicas consequences to carry out an abortion will increase every day as the pregnancy continues. Therefore it is imperative that we read, we discuss and we think on the matters before a wished pregnancy cannot happen. This with luck will help us to responsibly act more when considering these subjects with one more a clearer mind, and to make one more a reasoned and mature decision, without illegal delays.

Those that think that the abortion is not more than a surgical procedure even must recognize that at emotional level the abortion is quite different from other surgical procedures. Many women feel that a boy has arrived at them, that a special being has chosen his body to become a new life, and who they have pushed it. If the mother decides to have an abortion, must have one narrow supervision and support to her emotional health after the operation. In order to help to heal any emotional wound we can encourage to the mother to apologize by the being whom it chose to be its son, to spread the kind love, and to carry out some positive and sanadores acts of generosity and aid to the others.

I would like much to see a study on the effects of the abortion in the emotional landscapes of the woman, and a comparison between women who decided to have an abortion and women who had pregnancies nonwished but they decided to bring a boy. How they feel later? Five years later? Ten years later? How many mothers would say when his son had grown, who would have wished to have an abortion?


Living the wisdom, choosing the compassion

Thus in this test, I have tried to outline a scheme of a Buddhist approach to the abortion. I have examined some of the prevailing arguments and concluded that the polarization of positions between `Life' and `Election' can go back to philosophically incompatible paradigms, such as the eternalista point of view of the Christians and the aniquilacionismo of the materialistic scientists. The Buddhism offers an average way in which it hoards the sanctity of the life in the belly of the mother from the time of the conception, although it recognizes a gradual growth in the moral gravity of the act to kill. In the practical side, we have to use the even virtues of compassion and wisdom, being provided taken care of and support to the mothers and the children, and to assure that the parents are provided of the information and advice that need to carry out a mature decision. I would like to finish with a verse of the Mangala Sutta:


To serve to the mother and the father
To take care of to the wife and the children
Ways to work without conflicts
This one is the highest blessing.




Notes of the translation

(1) of English “self”, often translated also by “I”. The word in Pali language is atman, and it talks about to maintain the common idea that something or somebody it exists like an independent individuality, is in one same one or the whole reality. Here also usually it enters therefore the belief the last existence of a soul or a God. When these are considered like last foundations of the reality, philosophy observes the Buddhist like means that maintain them the idea of a visible or invisible individuality, and therefore consider an error and an illusion. In the same way, it is made impossible that it can perish what finally does not exist of independent way, and thus the aniquilacionismo considers another error. This one subtle position is key foundation in the Buddhist philosophy on the reality.

(2) Canon Pali is the first written compilation of the Buddhist lessons. First transmitted orally by means of memorization, and later paulatinamiente puttings and compiled in writing in its present form in century I before ours it was. They also conform 3 parts called “baskets”, that group the explanations of Buddha (Suttas), the monastic code of life (Vinaya) and a philosophical and psychological treaty (Abhidhamma) where detail details and terms. It is considered to the Suttas as first source of authority and are preferred reading.

(3) the Vinaya groups more than 200 strict norms for the life of monks and nuns. The lay ones on the other hand observe five rules. To see: Fundamental aspects of the buddhism

(4) for a possible comparative interest, the situation in some countries of Buddhist majority is the one that follows: in Thailandia the abortion under the violation assumptions is admitted legally, threatens to the life of the mother or its physical health (Act of promulgation of the Penal Code, B.E. 2499, 1956, ESAs. 301-305). In Cambodia the request of abortion of the woman is allowed during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, for which the beginning of the pregnancy calculates as of the last menstrual period that normally is two weeks before the conception, although to give consistency to the law it has extended in two weeks (Real Kram 12/11/1997, art 8,28). In Japan the abortion widely is tolerated legal and socially, of which much Literature exists on the matter. The Japanese buddhism offers in addition the special case to a ritual ceremony called mizuko kuyo, historically created by women and that serves as consolation and emotional repair for which therefore they ask for (Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan. William R. LaFleur).

(5) this paragraph can be a little confused and it is recommended to read the original version of the English. According to it understands the one that translates, talks about that the materialists recognize the existence of the conscience when there is activity in the matter. This would be an inference and a subjective mental act, since there are no empirical tests that or only that is the conscience, but the postulates of the scientific method like substitutes of a test are being assumed. The scientific method is a system for the application of the knowledge but not an explanation on the nature of the same, and thus the monk indicates east problem philosophical of the nature of the knowledge.


* Bhikkhu Sujato is Australian theravada monk. It received the arrangement in 1994 and he is abbot of the Santi Forest Monastery in Australia and secretary of the Australian Sangha Association.

* Tr. of green-clouds.com
Original in English: http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha328.htm



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