February 21, 2022
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 says that you can now permissibly unplug yourself from the violinist even though this will cause his death: this is due to limits on the right to life, which does not include the right to use another person’s body, and so by unplugging the violinist you do not violate his right to life but merely deprive him of something—the use of your body—to which he has no right. “If you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due.”
For the same reason, Thomson says, abortion does not violate the fetus’s legitimate right to life, but merely deprives the fetus of something—the non-consensual use of the pregnant woman’s body and life-support functions—to which it has no right. Thus, by choosing to terminate her pregnancy, Thomson concludes that a pregnant woman does not normally violate the fetus’s right to life, but merely withdraws its use of her own body, which usually causes the fetus to die.