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The Case of the Growing Child

J. J. Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion"

Suppose that a woman and a rapidly growing child are in a house and that the house is so small and the child growing so rapidly that the woman will be crushed to death unless she can kill the child. I mean a very tiny house, and a rapidly growing child-you are already up against the wall of the house and in a few minutes you'll be crushed to death. The child on the other hand won't be crushed to death; if nothing is done to stop him from growing he'll be hurt, but in the end he'll simply burst open the house and walk out a free man." The house represents the womb, the rapidly growing baby represents the fetus, and the person trapped in the tiny house represents the mother. If the mother carries the baby to term, she'll die.

Now suppose the woman were to call out to a passerby (a third party not involved in the situation): "Please help me to destroy this child before I am crushed to death". Though it might be right for the passerby to say: "I can't help you because I can't choose between the two of you", it surely doesn't follow from this that the woman herself has to do nothing but must wait to be crushed to death.

Thomson posits the case of a mother trapped in a very small house with a rapidly growing child.[61] The child is growing at such a rate that it soon will crush the mother against the walls of the house.[62] Thomson presses the self-defense point in rhetoric that is instructive. Under these circumstances, she insists, "it cannot be concluded that [the woman] can do nothing, that you cannot attack it to save your life."[63]
There is a notable dissonance between this rhetoric and the emotions that typically accompany parenthood, even in cases where the child is unplanned. Thomson's suggestion of a "right to attack" the life-threatening child does not seem to capture the decision faced by the mother whose life is threatened by a problem pregnancy. Thomson's account connotes indignation about having been assaulted. This certainly resonates in the context of armed self-defense against a criminal attack. But is it accurate to say that women who choose abortion think of themselves as attacking the fetus? The scenario Thomson poses, seems more a "tragic choice"[64] between conflicting virtues than a violent contest where a victim resists and triumphs over a wrongful aggressor.
The dissonance grows as Thomson layers the analogy with the further indignation of the woman being crushed to death in her own home.[65] Knowing that the woman owns the house, she contends, compels a bystander to choose between the woman and the child.[66] It is not mere impartiality to say that we cannot choose between the two.[67](p.112)
We can't read off your rights from the rights of a third party. In the case of the gigantic and rapidly-growing child, growing so fast that unless you kill it, you will be crushed to death, it may be true that no outsider can choose between you and the child. But I have a lot of trouble with this example. It is so far-fetched that I am not at all sure I can trust my moral intuitions in thinking about it. Our moral reactions are most trustworthy in situations that have some basis in previous experience. The farther the thought experiment is from reality, the more doubt there is that we really know what we would think if we were confronted with the situation in real life. Most of us have had the experience of finding that our reactions to a situation when we actually confront it are quite different from what we might have expected them to be. This should teach us to be cautious in our use of philosophical thought-experiments. Thomson, it seems to me, has gone beyond the bounds of caution.

With a wordless twist of her genetic ability, she began to age herself up a few years, releasing the biomolecules into her bloodstream through the power of her mind and running them through her body, deeper and deeper until they reached a cellular level, into the streams of information encoded within the deoxyribonucleic acid that made up her core essence. Her clothes, no longer able to fit, tried to stretch grotesquely as the process ran its course. Her shoulders bent towards each other as her shirt tried to constrict them, before they broke free with an explosive rip that caused her budding breasts to push forward. Meanwhile her swelling buttocks caused the back of her jeans to basically explode away. She had left her ruined shoes a few steps behind.

slightlyspookygirl sent: *happens to be floating around the strange and mysterious town of Gravity Falls*
*happens to see the floating girl and walks over to her* Hello. Um, how are you doing that?
How old are you?
I am really 12 but I can change my age whenever I want.
Oh, Iím 13. wait, did you just say you could change your age?
Yes, whenever I want. Like I can be 15 and then 30.
Yeah, its pretty weird.
Do you ever use that power?
Well, only once in a while. Not too much. But when I do it's usually for getting into the movies or something.
They donít let 12 year olds into the movie theater?
Not by themselves. And it costs less if you are an old person.
Oh, well it seems stupid not to let 12 year olds alone in the movie theater.
Yeah, but thatís the law, and a citizen I must obey it.
Arenít you breaking it by turning into an adult?
No, because I still pay, and I donít change back until the movie is over and Iím out of the theater.
Eh, I guess so.

Ownie didn't know how long she had been there. She knew she had outgrown her clothes and new teeth had grown in her mouth. She knew where some of the edges of this place were, but not all of them. She had not gone into all of the dark spaces. She knew when and where bits of light would come in. Sometimes from the side, sometimes from above. She had learned what to eat and where to dig for water. She grew breasts like a woman who used to hold her. She had hair on her in new places. She would sometimes dream about sparkling things on fingers and wrists. She remembered the woman who held her had shiny colors hanging from her ears. In the dreams, the colors made her feel safe. Ownie pulled at some roots, dug gently around them. She ate what she wanted and then wrapped the rest around her wrist like she had seen and dreamed on others. She found a spot of light and looked at her wrist. She moved her fingers. She shook her own hand, then kissed it.

The ex-lab rat processed the woman's voice alongside Sharon's and it matched when he mentally aged the little girl's voice.
He did not find any harm to her body nor anything that would cause her to scream.
" quickly do you age Sharon?" he asked trying to process this all, figuring her fright was caused by her appearance.
His eyes widened slightly as he stood here stiffly not knowing what to do with Sharon..well the young woman embracing him. Relaxing slightly he put both arms around her hoping to comfort her. "You grew into a beautiful adult if that helps..."
Sharon smiled as she happily spun around, but then she paused. She looked at her ruined clothes. Both her new breasts and her hips had done terrible damage to the fabric. Her stockings were full of holes now, and even her shoulders were partially exposed where they had become too wide for her shirt to contain them. "Sharon find new clothes! Be back soon!"
Sharon bought what she wanted, carrying two bags before going over to him.
"Sharon was, as you know, 9 years old. This morning she woke up as a young woman," he stated as both arms crossed over his chest. "We figured you might help us in figuring out why this happened."

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