I am looking for the response of any denomination that is against abortion in the case of rape that has also responded to the scenario below or something similar to it.

"A Defense of Abortion" (Thomson):

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.

It is said later that:

Critics of Thomson's argument generally grant the permissibility of unplugging the violinist, but seek to block the inference that abortion is permissible by arguing that there are morally relevant differences between the violinist scenario and typical cases of abortion.

But it is unsourced. :(

To make my intentions clear, the above is an analogy for a female being raped and impregnated by a male. Some denominations claim that the female is obliged to carry the child to birth if medically practical because the child is innocent of his/her father's sins, has a right to life, etc etc etc.

(Assume ideal conditions such as medical complications not being present so the mother and child are healthy, the mother can give birth, the mother and the father are not close relatives, a proper hospital is available and can be afforded, an adoption agency is available etc etc etc)

So do those arguments apply to the violinist too? What are the "morally relevant differences" ? I understand that Thomson was defending abortion in non-rape cases, but let us consider only rape cases.

What's the difference? Why are women responsible for carrying a child, who she did not consent to carrying, to birth but people are not responsible for caring for a violinist who they were attached to without consent?

I am not saying women are not responsible, but if they are, it looks like everyone is responsible for the violinist.

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    Are you assuming that she could unplug from the violinist but would not be allowed to from the child? Maybe she also wouldn't be allowed to from the violinist.
    – mroll
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:59
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    This sounds like the Siamese twin problem in which one would survive if they are separated jlaw.com/Commentary/cojoinedtwins.html Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 23:09
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    Why in the world is it so obvious that the "you" in the thought experiment can unplug himself? My immediate reaction was to assume that "you" would be morally prohibited from doing anything that kills anyone else (at least directly, but we'd have to quibble over what "directly" means) Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 2:06
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    Echoing @Matt, my immediate (informed) instinct is that it would in fact be halachically prohibited to disconnect from the violinist if there is no threat to the healthy person in remaining connected. Incidentally, it would make no moral or halachic difference whether the ill person was a violinist, a janitor, or an unemployed person who provides no known utility to society.
    – Fred
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 6:30
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    @RedRackham The doctrine of double effect is not especially well-defined, and Jewish law cannot readily be framed in those terms. But in the trolley problem, for example, Judaism prohibits saving five people by killing one person. In the violinist case, once the status quo would allow him to live, disconnecting him would be an affirmative act of murder, and you may not disconnect him absent him posing a threat to your life. Judaism does not use utilitarian considerations to decide whose life is worth more.
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 8:55

2 Answers 2


Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488 - 1575)states in Shulchan Aruch, (The Code of Jewish Law) that if a physician is able to heal a patient and refrains from doing so, this is considered murder. Yoreh Deah, 336:1

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (The Rema 1520 - 1572), writes on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), that any act involving touching or moving a "gossess" (a term referring to a patient close to death) is prohibited because such an act may hasten his death. He continues by stating that if the act does hasten death it is considered murder. (Yoreh Deah, 339:1)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 - 1986), one of the greatest and mainstream authorities on Orthodox Jewish Law in recent times, based on the above Rema, comments: "...even if the patient is suffering, [if an action is done to hasten his death] it is the crime of murder, and it is absolutely forbidden and he is liable to the punishment for murder… [This is true] even if (the sick person)is one who is suffering greatly and [the physician] murders with merciful intent and even if it is requested [by the patient].” Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat II, 83:1

Orthodox Judaism certainly does not allow removal of life support in a person that will survive and be cured. (example, the violinist)

Judaism teaches that we must obey morality as a responsibility. Protecting the violinist's life, outweighs personal inconvenience. Even though the violinist or kidnappers, may have done the wrong thing, the fact remains that human life must be preserved. (However, the violinist may be liable to pay his benefactor a hefty sum for damages.)

In order to disconnect from the violinist, one would need to prove, from Torah sources, that their 9 months of inconvenience and loss, outweighs one human life. That's going to be pretty hard to do.

Even secular courts understand this. If I am driving a car, and someone jumps in front of my path in the road and makes silly gestures at me etc. Do I run him over because he has no right to be in my way? What if my defense was that I needed to hit him with my car, because if I swerved, I would damage my car and need a few thousand dollars of repairs?

BTW, Orthodox Judaism, does not forbid abortion in all cases. We do forbid abortion on demand, but may permit abortion for great need (like cases of saving the mother etc. This includes certain cases of rape according to some Orthodox Jewish opinions.) But that is not the focus of the OP. I am just pointing out that Thompson seems to assume as a given for the sake of her example, that a fetus does have the same right to life as a viable human after birth. Judaism does not agree with that across the board.

Maimonides (Rambam, 1135 - 1204) in his Code of Jewish Law, says that (based on the Talmud) if a baby is causing danger to the mother's life it should be aborted; however if its head has emerged, then the two lives are equal. Hilchos Rotzeach 1:9

The Torah supports the idea that killing a fetus is wrong (but it is not a murder punishable by death). See Exodus 21:22, where the Torah forces someone who caused a miscarriage, to pay for monetary damages.

However, Judaism does accept the sanctity of the life of a fetus. (and obviously a person) Therefore, we are responsible for the unborn life, and the violinist as well. The reason is that our focus on our responsibility to preserve life usually trumps the assumed fault of the living party. It is not about what is fair, rather, what is right.

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    +1 but a small quibble. If the violinist was complicit in the conspiracy, that may change things. You wrote that it doesn't matter what brought about the circumstance, but some situations may classify the violinist as a Rodef.
    – Yishai
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 14:01
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    @Yishai, I don't see anything in the scenario, as stated, indicating that the subject's health is endangered. That's required to get a rodef status, isn't it?
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 14:09
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    @Yishai, I still don't see any indication that any such danger is postulated in the scenario. "הבא במחתרת," in particular, adds a special assumption that anyone invading your house is presumably willing to endanger your life if confronted.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 15:46
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    We do forbid abortion on demand whose "we"? The Tzitz Eliezer? Rav Moshe? Rav Shelomo Zalman?
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 2:07
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    This includes certain cases of rape according to some Orthodox Jewish opinions Which opinions? It seems that the most crucial parts of this answer are left to vague unsourced assertions.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 2:09

To consolidate the comments above: at first glance, Jewish law would prohibit unplugging the violinist too -- assuming being plugged in is no threat to your life. So it's kind of a moot point.

We care about the situation at hand, not passing judgment on how it came about.

(There is certainly discussion about pregnancies that threaten the mother's mental health, and a product of rape could certainly be in that category. But that still depends entirely on the mother's situation.)

Jewish law may in fact be more lenient about an abortion than a plugged-in violinist as the latter was already "fully living", but that's a different discussion.

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    There is also the forty day period in which there is seemingly no issue in the first place.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 20:30
  • @HaLeiVi beyond the scope of this question.
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 1:16

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