As an avid animal rights and abortion activist, you may have been asked by a conservative, in a dishonest attempt to score rhetorical points against you, how those two positions can be consistent. “How can you with one hand fight to have the moral status of animals recognized and protected, yet not fight with the other to have the moral status of human fetuses recognized and protected?” they ask.
In their book-length response to this silly rhetorical trick, Sherry Colb and Michael Dorf argue that because sentience (i.e., subjective experience) is what grounds moral worth, animals have moral worth whereas pre-sentient human fetuses do not. Colb and Dorf do acknowledge that late-term abortions in which the human fetus has achieved the moral status of an animal in virtue of becoming sentient may be morally problematic, but suggest that such abortions are morally permissible for other reasons. The details need not detain us here. Their main point is that aborting pre-sentient human fetuses is morally permissible, whereas exploiting sentient animals for food is not.
An unnoticed virtue of Colb and Dorf’s view is that it actually gives us pro-abortion animal lovers a way to see how we can eat meat in good conscience. It is very simple: artificially inseminate, say, a cow, then crush its fetus’s skull before it becomes sentient so we can harvest its meat!
Now you might be thinking: that’s not very much meat. But surely a pre-sentient bovine fetus, however small, would provide at least as much meat as a basket of chicken wings. Besides, why not pump it full of growth hormones to get it as thick and muscular as possible before termination? Heck, we could even experiment with flavoring the amniotic fluid as marination.
Granted, there might be exploitation concerns about using cows as our meat incubators. But I don’t really see the problem, as long as they are treated in an ethical manner. After all, cows are so thoroughly domesticated that they need us to survive. The humane thing to do is to answer for our past sins of subjugation by shouldering the burden of their welfare. Why not, at the same time, make the relationship mutually beneficial? We give them spacious green pastures and warm beds, they give us morally pure pre-flavored succulent meat. It’s a win-win scenario.
Still, one might be concerned with the lack of consent inherent to the process of artificially inseminating a cow. But here too there is a nearby solution: why not have humans volunteer their own uteri for such purposes? Surely the technology exists for us to transplant embryonic stem cells of a cow into a human womb for them to successfully mature long enough to harvest their meat. If the lack of consent in obtaining embryonic stem cells of a cow is still an issue, we can always simply give humans the option of freely volunteering their own. They would, of course, be paid handsomely for their services.
It is true that then the meat we’d be harvesting would be from pre-sentient human fetuses. But if you have a moral problem with cannibalism, you’re probably just a bigot. So it seems that finally, thanks to Colb and Dorf, we pro-abortion animal lovers have a modest proposal for how to have our fetus and eat it too.
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