Bioethics, Ethics, Pro-Life

Abortion, the Violinist Analogy, and Body Parts

A Pro-Life Demonstration at the Supreme Court. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A Pro-Life Demonstration at the Supreme Court. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The “violinist analogy” is an argument for the permissiveness of abortion. It is based on granting that the unborn is a human person, but argues that it is still permissible to kill the unborn because it may be justified as “non-intentional killing.” The argument originated with Judith Jarvis Thomson, to the best of my knowledge. She put the analogy like so:

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. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you. (Thomson, cited below)

The argument seems to have much force. After all, who wouldn’t agree that you may be well within your rights to unplug yourself from this violinist. You aren’t obligated to him in any way.

There are a number of glaring difficulties with this argument (see this post for one argument against it), but the one I want to focus on now is tied to the recent controversy over the allegations of Planned Parenthood selling body parts. I’ve already pointed out one of the biggest problems is the question of “Whose body parts are they?” However, we may see that this controversy also undercuts the violinist analogy in a very brutal way.

Thomson has clearly massaged the analogy to make it seem fairly innocuous. After all, unplugging the violinist is fairly non-violent, right? You’re just having him removed from you so that you are no longer in the state of having to support him with your own body. But Thomson’s analogy needs to be amended. After all, Planned Parenthood itself acknowledges that they’re getting body parts from abortions and donating them. Thus, we might now fix Thomson’s argument for her to make it more accurate.

When the choice is made to “unplug” the violinist, it isn’t just unplugging him. Instead, those doing the unplugging are concerned with making sure that the violinist’s body parts come unplugged intact. They thus break his body apart in such a way as to preserve the heart, liver, brain, and other parts which might be used for science or saving the lives of other people. The violinist is not merely unplugged, but torn quite literally limb-from-limb in order to remove him.

Clearly, Thomson’s analogy has missed this point–a point Planned Parenthood itself acknowledges. For some reason, Thomson decided to smooth over these clinical facts in her “defense of abortion,” choosing instead to present it as something as simple and innocent as an “unplugging.” But the reality is that the analogy should point out that the choice involved is not merely to unplug the violinist but rather to have him effectively ripped from the one to whom he is hooked up in such a way that dismembers him.

There is good news, though: the parts of the violinist can now be used for research!


Thomson, J. “A Defense of Abortion”. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1:1 (Autumn 1971): 47–66. Citation and quote found on Wikipedia.


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Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


6 thoughts on “Abortion, the Violinist Analogy, and Body Parts

  1. And the woman in the analogy was one of two people who created the violinist…

    Posted by madblog | July 20, 2015, 8:45 AM
  2. The problem with the “Violinist” argument is that it commits a false analogy fallacy. To more accurately portray the situation, it is the mother of the unborn child who has “kidnapped the violinist”, since the true reason the “violinist” is in this predicament is because of the actions of the mother.

    The only way this argument by analogy could possibly work is if the pregnancy in question is due to rape. Otherwise, this argument is simply a failure of logic.

    Posted by Bran Whitcomb | July 22, 2015, 8:13 AM


  1. Pingback: Organs, Tissues, & Planned Parenthood « ElijiahT - July 21, 2015

  2. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 8/7/15 – Planned Parenthood Edition | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - August 7, 2015

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