Abortion arguments and the kidney theft legend

Bear with me here.

Back in the 60s and 70s, when moral arguments about abortion were still about something more than tribal identity, one of the standard hypotheticals was the Violinist Argument: a worl-famous violinist, who has brought joy to millions and done no harm, finds himself (by no personal fault) suddenly without the use of a kidney, a liver or some other vital organ. He could recover, but needs to be hooked up to another person’s circulatory system for 6 months or so in order to survive. Someone with just the irght blood and tissue type. So, the question went, is it OK for a particularly zealous music lover, having learned of your fortuitous match, to jump out from behind a tree, knock you down and hook up your veins? Conversely, is it OK, once you wake up and find yourself entangled in tubing with a violinist staring at you with his artistic, deeply soulful eyes, to pull the IVs out and condemn him to death?  Remember that this will only last 6 months or so, and you’ll only face a certain amount of discomfort, and the risks of getting a septic IV connection are minimal.

The points of analogy are obvious, as are some of the points where the analogy breaks down. Mostly they have to do with consent and “culpability”. (And some with the character of the risks involved.)

So I was reading about the whole contraceptive-coverage fake controversy and it came to me that the kidney-theft UL is really a much better analogy, especially since the violinist version has pretty much been overtaken by advance in medical science. So, to review: Guy on vacation or business trip, lured to a hotel room by apparently-willing member of the appropriate gender, wakes up neatly incised, short one kidney that is no doubt going to a desperately needy recipient. Temporarily acute body modification that might have serious longterm consequences, check. In the cause of a deserving recipient, check. Motivated by lust, check. Consented to the lustful part, didn’t consent to the body modification, although “obviously” should have seen it coming, check. Would it be OK to go tearing through town to the nearest hospital and demand your kidney back?

The devil is in the details, and the body modification is loaded differently, oh, yeah, and the protagonist in one case is a man while the protagonist in the other is a woman. And yet the urge to differentiate these two hypotheticals seems so visceral.

I had wondered whether the popularity of the kidney-theft legend might even be a sort of sign of anxiety about legalized abortion (because other than slasher movies, there aren’t that many ways for illicit sex to go so horribly wrong for men’s bodies — well, yeah , HIV, but that has its own set of urban legends), but it turns out from snopes that the original germ of the story was probably the testimony of a guy who sold a kidney to an organ broker and had regrets. Um.



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