Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

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Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Paranoid__Android » Sat Mar 02, 2019 9:46 pm UTC

It is a fairly hotly discussed topic that breastfeeding should not be recommended too enthusiastically to new mothers, as it could be seen as a violation of their bodily autonomy. Obviously that is fine so long as there is an alternative of bottled formula, but what if there wasn't... I present a thought experiment that, like all the best/worst ones, is quite unlikely, but certainly still possible-

A mother and 5-day-old infant are out for a drive in the outback. She has chosen not to breastfeed her child so far, and is really really against the idea (maybe it is very painful), but she is still producing milk. The mother is irresponsible and has forgotten her bottle-feeding formula behind. Her car unexpectedly has a breakdown and help will not find them for two days. Two days being short enough for her to survive, but not the newborn without milk.
In this situation, most mothers would of course chose to sacrifice their bodily autonomy and breastfeed their child, but a small number might not.

Does the mothers right to her bodily autonomy override her obligation to care for her child? Should she be 'forced' in the eyes of the law to breastfeed her child in this situation until help can find her? Even against her consent?

I personally think either way of answering this is problematic, and I've not really gotten to the bottom of it in my head, hence my post here. I know it's a bit of a silly concept, but I thought it was an interesting edge case.

Side note. I tried reading this paper, but got confused. Maybe you are cleverer than I and can find something useful in it.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby elasto » Sun Mar 03, 2019 12:18 am UTC

What an odd debate all around.

Whilest the benefits might get oversold, breast milk is evolved over hundreds of millions of years to contain all the nutrients a baby needs, most likely including nutrients we don't know about yet (eg. there was a time formula didn't contain any omega fatty acids).

But of course some mothers don't produce a large enough volume of milk, so it seems like common sense to me to first express into a bottle to make sure the baby is getting enough, and then top up with formula as required.

Being dogmatic in either direction (only breast or only formula) seems to invite problems unnecessarily - and, yes, a mother who refuses to breastfeed her child when no other liquid is available resulting in the child's death should be charged with murder. Letting a baby suckle engenders nothing like the health risks that carrying a baby to term does, which is the essence of the bodily autonomy argument. Otherwise you might as well argue that forcing anyone to do anything (pay their taxes, say) violates their bodily autonomy...

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby doogly » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:08 am UTC

What problem are you actually trying to solve here
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby gd1 » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:52 am UTC

At first, I thought this was about whether a female could use her own dairy to generate a semi-closed system. I can see now that it would have been in the wrong section.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby PAstrychef » Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:08 am UTC

doogly wrote:What problem are you actually trying to solve here

Maybe someone will post pictures of boobies!
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Paranoid__Android » Sun Mar 03, 2019 12:55 pm UTC

doogly wrote:What problem are you actually trying to solve here

The playoff between a persons right to bodily autonomy, and their obligation to their childs health.

elasto wrote:Being dogmatic in either direction (only breast or only formula) seems to invite problems unnecessarily - and, yes, a mother who refuses to breastfeed her child when no other liquid is available resulting in the child's death should be charged with murder.

But would that be murder for being negligent and not and bringing the necessary food with her, or murder for denying the child breastmilk.

Letting a baby suckle engenders nothing like the health risks that carrying a baby to term does, which is the essence of the bodily autonomy argument. Otherwise you might as well argue that forcing anyone to do anything (pay their taxes, say) violates their bodily autonomy...

Bodily autonomy has nothing to do with paying taxes. It is about a humans right to deny outside entities from interfering with their body, or acting on their body against their consent. Even if it a minor or trivial thing, it is still encroaching on a fundamental right.

See this quote from the article I linked in the OP.
section II wrote:Every human being's right to life carries with it, as an intrinsic part of it, rights of bodily integrity and autonomy – the right to have one's own body whole and intact and (on reaching an age of understanding) to take decisions about one's own body. 7
As David Feldman in his magnum opus, Civil Liberties and Human Rights in England and Wales, puts it the right to bodily integrity is “a right to be free from physical interference”
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 03, 2019 2:34 pm UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:The playoff between a persons right to bodily autonomy, and their obligation to their childs health.
How is this different between the playoff between any other right and obligation? What makes this particular one more interesting? Because having a child in the first place involves an obligation to take care of it, and this includes using one's body (in many ways) to do so.

No right is absolute, and no obligation is absolute. There are many examples. Why is this one so interesting to you?

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby elasto » Sun Mar 03, 2019 2:50 pm UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:Bodily autonomy has nothing to do with paying taxes.

Of course it does. If you don't pay your taxes you'll end up in jail, which is one of the stronger acts against someone's bodily autonomy there is.

It is about a humans right to deny outside entities from interfering with their body, or acting on their body against their consent. Even if it a minor or trivial thing, it is still encroaching on a fundamental right.

As ucim says, no right is absolute (the existence of prisons is testimony to that). All you have is the balancing of one entity's rights against another's.

And when it comes to a mother breastfeeding her child, the cost is so slight for her, and the benefit so enormous to her infant (in the instance it'd otherwise die), that it's quite clear where the moral responsibility lies.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby commodorejohn » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:21 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
Paranoid__Android wrote:The playoff between a persons right to bodily autonomy, and their obligation to their childs health.
How is this different between the playoff between any other right and obligation? What makes this particular one more interesting? Because having a child in the first place involves an obligation to take care of it, and this includes using one's body (in many ways) to do so.

It's something so self-evident I never would've imagined there was a debate around it. But then, that's humanity for you.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:29 pm UTC

commodorejohn wrote:It's something so self-evident
What is self evident? The answer (to the "moral dilemma")? Or the specialness of this particular moral choice? If the former, I agree. It's why, given that the question was asked, that I brought up the latter.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Paranoid__Android » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:18 pm UTC

The original reason I'm bringing this up is that I'm hoping to be a parent in the next year or so, and was looking at some of the surrounding issues. I know I kinda went astray, but here we are.
For the record, I do think that the mother should be obliged to feed her child, but I just can't prove it to myself. The reasoning is not self evident I think.

elasto wrote:
Paranoid__Android wrote:Bodily autonomy has nothing to do with paying taxes.

Of course it does. If you don't pay your taxes you'll end up in jail, which is one of the stronger acts against someone's bodily autonomy there is.

Technically, that's the right to liberty, not bodily autonomy. You give up that right when you choose to commit a crime. But yes, it is an example of rights being given up under specific circumstances.

ucim wrote:How is this different between the playoff between any other right and obligation? [...] Because having a child in the first place involves an obligation to take care of it, and this includes using one's body (in many ways) to do so.

Yes, a parent has a moral (and legal) obligation to use his or her time/energy/money/bodily strength/etc. to care for their child. These responsibilities involve eroding personal rights. That said, it seems that according to much of the articles online, bodily autonomy is not one of those rights given up during parenthood.

Here's another example that I thought of, but didn't originally bring up as it's not quite so straightforwards.
What about if a mother and child had a very rare blood type. The mother is a Jehovah's Witness who believes blood transfusions are wrong. If the child got into an accident and the mother was the only one who could save his life, should her right to religious freedom and bodily autonomy be forfeit given that she is the guardian of the child? She has a responsibility to care for her child, but has chosen to ignore that because she doesn't want to give up her religious freedom. What rights are given up by having a responsibility or obligation to another, and what rights are not?
Should the state, against the mothers consent, extract her blood as she's given up her right to bodily autonomy? I guess in this situation it's more likely that the parent would lose custody of the child, and the child would die, but that kinda spoils the thought experiment. Maybe if it happened also in the wilderness :roll:

Edit: I guess the point is that I CAN'T think of any other examples where a person has to give up specifically their bodily autonomy. Maybe you can and that would be helpful to me.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ucim » Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:35 pm UTC

Short answer (my opinion): If you are not ready to give up your bodily autonomy for the basic welfare of your own child, you should not be a parent.

Longer answer below:
Paranoid__Android wrote:ut I just can't prove it to myself
Life is not a mathematical exercise. Neither is morality. Such exercises can be useful in the same way the Tarot is useful - it encourages one to think outside of one's bubble. But there are no "proofs" there. Morality isn't a fundamental property of the universe. It's an expression of how we want to live, how we want to relate to others, and how we hope others will relate to us. It's an expression of what kind of world we'd like to live in.

Do you love your child? Well, since you don't (yet) have one, the answer is "N/A", but when you do have a child, an actual human being you helped to create and raise, and whose activities fundamentally shape your world, that answer will change. Hopefully to "yes".

Should you love your child? In the sense of a hope or expectation, I'd say yes. But love is a feeling that comes, not an activity that is willed. There is no "moral obligation" to have a feeling. There is, however, a moral obligation to follow through with your promise, and having a child is an implicit promise to do right by him or her. It should be drop-dead obvious whether or not this includes feeding your child.

Now aside from that, would you like to live in a society where, when somebody does (sufficient) wrong, society (presumably in the form of government) steps in to address the problem? Some wrongs to consider here are armed robbery, child abuse, espionage, fraud, gaslighting, jaywalking, reckless driving, neglect, and not eating your vegetables. Clearly some wrongs are worse than others, but the fundamental question is the same: Should society step in for a sufficient wrong? Or should society look aside when somebody is beaten on the street by a gang member? These all are examples of the very same moral question you ask - because society's stepping in would be a form of denial of (some of) the perp's basic rights.

When you put those together, you should come to a better understanding of how you feel about the specific example you give.

Paranoid__Android wrote:[In a different example] ... The mother is a Jehovah's Witness who believes blood transfusions are wrong.
(Spoilered for potential tangentiality)
Spoiler:
This brings up another issue which is not present in the original example. Should people have a right to impose their superstitions on others that are in their care? Should people have the right to ignore reality? And for those in favor of such religious freedom, what's the dividing line between a legitimate religion and a harmful wacky cult? While morals can come from religion, bad morals can come from religion just as easily as good ones. But religion and superstition dictate facts too: to wit - the afterlife.

Morals aren't objective facts, but following them leads to objective outcomes: the belief that gays are evil (a moral stance) leads to actual gay people being killed (an objective outcome), perhaps to save their souls, whose existence is a statement about objective reality (which could very well be false). In that sense, superstitions causing people to believe incorrect facts lead to bad morals. Should that be allowed in society? Is it even reasonably possible to prevent it?

One view is that a Jehovah's Witness who imposes their bad morals, which are derived from (what I believe to be) incorrect facts, onto a child by (for example) withholding a blood transfusion, has done a morally bad thing. They may not be aware of their moral failing, because by pursuing religion-based facts, they have abrogated their responsibility to understand how the world really works, and that abrogation of responsibility is the ultimate source of their waywardness.

But, there are many other sources of incorrect beliefs, some of which should be perfectly acceptable. We don't know everything, and some of what we think we know is wrong. Sincerely trying to do one's best, but being incorrect, is not a moral failing. Should religion be lumped into this bunch? I think the answer that a person gives may well depend on what they think of organized superstition.
What's in the spoiler is just another, albeit muddier, example of a moral dilemma. There are lots of moral dilemmas around. Hopefully this discussion gives you some insight as to how to handle them, and then, how to apply that to the one in question.

Moral questions are not provable. Therefore, proofs are not self-evident. But one way to decide which side of a question you are on is to ask yourself how you would feel to be on the other side of it. In this case, to be the starving child. Change the question so that you reasonably could be on the other side of it (i.e. You're a grownup on a camping trip with three others, you slip, break your leg, and lose your backpack. Do the other campers have any obligation to tend to your wounds, give you some of their food, and help get you to medical help, even if it means sacrifice on their part? Does it matter if the other campers are family or not? Does it matter if the trip were your idea or theirs?)

If somebody took one side (or the other), would you want that person in your life?

Edit: You seem to want to focus on bodily autonomy as the sacrifice in question. Why that?

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Paranoid__Android » Mon Mar 04, 2019 12:10 am UTC

ucim wrote:Short answer (my opinion): If you are not ready to give up your bodily autonomy for the basic welfare of your own child, you should not be a parent.

I agree 100%.

Thank you for your post ucim. I think I was getting my head in a muddle between social responsibilities, moral obligations, and legal considerations. All close in practise, but still distinct. And maybe looking at moral dilemmas such as these with a bit too rigid a view.

The reason I think bodily autonomy was worth talking about is because it is a very substantial right getting eroded. My right to own my possessions is easily superseded by other peoples rights (taxes, child-support, etc). My right to life is not so easily superseded thankfully. Neither is my right to bodily autonomy. There are almost no other examples that I could think of where bodily autonomy would be superseded in practice, which is why I think it was worth talking about, and why I think the legal ramifications would not be 100% certain. Related to your point on the campers, that is how you get occurrences like this, which are clearly immoral, but still somehow legal.
It is obvious that choosing to deny a child food on account of bodily autonomy is immoral, which is what I always thought inside, but maybe got confused by the other issues at play.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby commodorejohn » Mon Mar 04, 2019 1:00 am UTC

ucim wrote:
commodorejohn wrote:It's something so self-evident
What is self evident? The answer (to the "moral dilemma")? Or the specialness of this particular moral choice? If the former, I agree. It's why, given that the question was asked, that I brought up the latter.

The former.

ucim wrote:Life is not a mathematical exercise. Neither is morality.

And yes, this. Well-said.

Paranoid__Android, I don't want to pry, but since you've made it clear that this isn't just a general question, but directly relevant to your own real-world choices, are you the prospective mother, or the prospective father? Either way, while it may be useful to look at the question in the general sense, it may also be considerably over-complicating things; the question of whether you (or your SO, as applicable) are willing to do something is always going to be simpler to find the answer to than the question of whether J. Random Humanoid should be obligated to do it. (And, conversely, nobody should feel like they're obligated not to do something they want to do just because they might not feel like other people should be obligated to do so.) If the party in question is yourself, then you pretty much already have the answer, or at least the means to determine it, while if it's your SO, you know who it is that you need to ask, and if you don't already have a good idea of how they'd feel about it, you at least should have an understanding of how to support them while they consider their own thoughts and feelings on the matter.

(P.S. plus, as has been noted, becoming a parent at all means surrendering a whole lot of autonomy simply as part of the deal. Just wait until the sleep deprivation really sets in!)
Last edited by commodorejohn on Mon Mar 04, 2019 1:26 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ucim » Mon Mar 04, 2019 1:08 am UTC

I'm glad you found it helpful.
Paranoid__Android wrote:The reason I think bodily autonomy was worth talking about is because it is a very substantial right getting eroded.
Like all other rights, bodily autonomy is not monolithic - it comes in degrees. There's a difference between being forced to give a kidney, and being forced to get your hands dirty. And it should be noted that being forced to not do things to your body counts equally as a violation of bodily autonomy, yet we reasonably accept restrictions on where and when we can take a leak.

As to the link you posted (which describes clearly psychopathic reprehensible behavior and attitudes), and changing the question a bit, how much danger should one be required to put themselves in in order to rescue somebody? Suppose for example, there were alligators in the lake, there was a strong current, there were no cellphones or other help at hand, and you weren't a very good swimmer. If the world would rightly call you a hero for the attempt, should that be the level of risk and assistance we, as a society, should require?

Now, this is a bit beyond being expected to breastfeed (if you can - not everyone can). But morality is messy, and by its very nature there is no One True Answer.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby elasto » Mon Mar 04, 2019 2:21 am UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:
elasto wrote:If you don't pay your taxes you'll end up in jail, which is one of the stronger acts against someone's bodily autonomy there is.

Technically, that's the right to liberty, not bodily autonomy. You give up that right when you choose to commit a crime. But yes, it is an example of rights being given up under specific circumstances.

I think the distinction is pretty moot. Once in jail you'll lose many forms of bodily autonomy: You will frequently be denied control of your limbs; You may be forced to take medication against your will; Others will decide when and what you eat, and if you choose not to eat you may be force-fed; If you wish to kill yourself the state will do everything in its power to keep you alive, but it may also, decidedly against your wishes, decide to kill you in horrific ways.

No, there are very few rights that are absolute, and the right of a mother to refuse to feed her child certainly isn't one of those.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:57 am UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:A mother and 5-day-old infant are out for a drive in the outback. She has chosen not to breastfeed her child so far, and is really really against the idea (maybe it is very painful), but she is still producing milk. The mother is irresponsible and has forgotten her bottle-feeding formula behind. Her car unexpectedly has a breakdown and help will not find them for two days. Two days being short enough for her to survive, but not the newborn without milk.
In this situation, most mothers would of course chose to sacrifice their bodily autonomy and breastfeed their child, but a small number might not.


I basically agree with ucim that the morality of this scenario is fairly straightforward.

In terms of the specifics of the scenario itself, from a practical point of view, I think the correct thing to do in this scenario would actually be not to breastfeed (it would be extremely difficult for the baby to latch correctly at this point because if the mother was still producing milk but not feeding, she would be too engorged for it to work very well), but to express breastmilk into one of the baby's bottles and feed it from the bottle. I'm not sure whether this would matter as far as the bodily autonomy argument is concerned or not.

Newborns are a bit more resilient than you give them credit for though. Just feeding it water from a bottle would actually probably be enough to keep it alive for two days without any major complications unless there were some other significant health concerns already there... the main dangers here are exposure and dehydration, not starvation. There's also the issue that in this situation where the mother was adamantly opposed to breastfeeding, it's likely that she would have received some medication to dry up the milk as it is quite painful to just not feed at all for an extended period when the body thinks that's what it's supposed to be doing.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ObsessoMom » Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:43 pm UTC

TL;DR: The mother's mental health may complicate things, and make it more difficult to stand in judgment over what she is ethically obliged to do.

Spoiler:
In my own experience

(never allowed to hold or even touch my grotesquely swollen, Apgar Score of 1 newborn before she was whisked away to another hospital's neonatal intensive care unit; was dealing with my own episiotomy injuries, hemorrhoids, exhaustion, breast engorgement, and feet swollen about the size of my head; severe postpartum depression making it difficult for me to find the energy to express more than a few tablespoons of breast milk every few hours, using a medieval torture device called a breast pump that gave me blisters on my nipples that hurt much worse than giving birth had--and, mind you, I'd used no drugs for that except local for the episiotomy; my milk had almost dried up by Day Three because I wasn't expressing enough; by the time the doctors let me try to breastfeed her directly, on Day Four, she was used to feeding from a bottle and couldn't figure out how to latch on, so that was super frustrating for both of us, plus my husband who didn't think I was trying hard enough),

it's a little more more complicated than "Kid needs nourishment, mother obliged to provide it."

We did manage to figure it out, and I breastfed my daughter for two years after that. Still had to force myself to do it for the first three months or so, because I felt absolutely zero maternal love or oxytocin-fueled bonding to motivate me to take good care of her. What kept me going through the motions as best I could was a line from a Beach Boys song:

I may not always love you
but sure as there are stars above you
you'll never need to doubt it
I'll make you so sure about it

Basically, I was out of my flippin' mind. Apparently functional, but still out of my flippin' mind. Might I have run off into the desert with her, placing us both in a harmful situation? Maybe. I can picture scenarios in which something like that might seem reasonable to a depressed new mother.

I don't think people who are out of their flippin' minds are morally bound to what the outsiders judging them think they are morally bound to do.

Similar: before my own experience, I would read stories of Shaken Baby Syndrome and think, "Wow, how could anyone harm their own newborn, under any circumstances? What monsters those parents are." After I'd gone through my own personal hell, I was astonished that Shaken Baby Syndrome doesn't appear in the newspaper more often. Those parents who snap aren't monsters. They're all too human.


But expressing milk into a container without a breast pump? Um, that's not happening. I tried, and I had grown up milking goats by hand. Human teats are different. They fountained and oozed and dripped by themselves a lot, but never when I was trying to squeeze them into something so that the milk could be captured.

Just FYI. Or TMI, perhaps.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Zohar » Mon Mar 04, 2019 4:14 pm UTC

Where have you heard that "breastfeeding should not be recommended too enthusiastically to new mothers, as it could be seen as a violation of their bodily autonomy"? That is not at all the story I've heard. Also parents sacrifice their "bodily autonomy" all the times for their children - by not staying in bed all day, by getting up at night, by carrying their children around.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby SecondTalon » Mon Mar 04, 2019 4:58 pm UTC

Zohar wrote:Where have you heard that "breastfeeding should not be recommended too enthusiastically to new mothers, as it could be seen as a violation of their bodily autonomy"? That is not at all the story I've heard. Also parents sacrifice their "bodily autonomy" all the times for their children - by not staying in bed all day, by getting up at night, by carrying their children around.


I'm assuming from Strawman Press, the most trusted news source of your half-paranoid conservative Uncle "Jeb" the rest of your family doesn't really talk about anymore, the context being "Here's what them Liberal Mor-rans are really saying" type news story.

But that's just an off-the-cuff assumption on my part. Due to.. y'know.. seeing that sort of thing in the wild. And having several Jebs in my family.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Thesh » Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:05 pm UTC

I'm guessing someone said you shouldn't shame women into breastfeeding, and then it played the controversy telephone game. Of course, shame should be reserved for things that are actually harmful, regardless.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby SDK » Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:50 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:I'm assuming from Strawman Press...

I have a coworker who tends to assume that if there's a liberal belief out there, I believe it too. I learn more about what liberals "really" believe from him than from any other source. He's got a new story every week to hold up, asking how it's possible that I believe something so silly as that! Point of fact, he asked me about this exact subject (breastfeeding vs. right to bodily autonomy) a few weeks ago. I'm not really sure why he's so surprised every damn time when it turns out I don't believe exactly what he's describing.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Zohar » Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:55 pm UTC

Like you shouldn't shame people who don't breastfeed because it can be hard/impossible for them to do so and they shouldn't feel shame and think they're killing their baby. I have literally never heard anyone mention bodily autonomy with relation to breastfeeding other than in this thread and with regards to the right to breastfeed in public.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby speising » Mon Mar 04, 2019 7:05 pm UTC

moreover, the article linked under the caption "hotly discussed" is just about research whether breastfeeding is actually better than formula. nothing to do with bodily autonomy at all.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby cphite » Mon Mar 04, 2019 7:55 pm UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:It is a fairly hotly discussed topic that breastfeeding should not be recommended too enthusiastically to new mothers, as it could be seen as a violation of their bodily autonomy. Obviously that is fine so long as there is an alternative of bottled formula, but what if there wasn't... I present a thought experiment that, like all the best/worst ones, is quite unlikely, but certainly still possible-


Judging by the article, the hotly discussed issue is whether pushing breastfeeding can result in children actually being malnourished in cases where breastfeeding isn't the best option.

A mother and 5-day-old infant are out for a drive in the outback. She has chosen not to breastfeed her child so far, and is really really against the idea (maybe it is very painful), but she is still producing milk. The mother is irresponsible and has forgotten her bottle-feeding formula behind. Her car unexpectedly has a breakdown and help will not find them for two days. Two days being short enough for her to survive, but not the newborn without milk.
In this situation, most mothers would of course chose to sacrifice their bodily autonomy and breastfeed their child, but a small number might not.


I would argue that a parent has a moral obligation to feed and take care of their child. That being said, while it's certainly no ideal, a five day old infant is capable of surviving for two days without being fed. Hydration is actually of much greater concern - plain water would suffice for that. Next on the list would be exposure; keep them from being overly hot or cold.

Does the mothers right to her bodily autonomy override her obligation to care for her child? Should she be 'forced' in the eyes of the law to breastfeed her child in this situation until help can find her? Even against her consent?


No, because she might not be capable of breastfeeding. Or, as someone else pointed out, if she hasn't been breastfeeding it may prove very difficult. In either case, she and her child would be better served by finding a source of safe-as-possible water, adequate shade in the summer, or adequate heat in the winter.

Granted, if she can and does breastfeed, that's probably the best case for the scenario you describe; but even then, her first priorities should be water and shelter. Whether or not she breastfeeds becomes irrelevant if she falls unconscious from dehydration or heatstroke.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby elasto » Mon Mar 04, 2019 11:57 pm UTC

cphite wrote:That being said, while it's certainly no ideal, a five day old infant is capable of surviving for two days without being fed. Hydration is actually of much greater concern - plain water would suffice for that. Next on the list would be exposure; keep them from being overly hot or cold.

Paranoid__Android wrote:Does the mothers right to her bodily autonomy override her obligation to care for her child? Should she be 'forced' in the eyes of the law to breastfeed her child in this situation until help can find her? Even against her consent?


No, because she might not be capable of breastfeeding. Or, as someone else pointed out, if she hasn't been breastfeeding it may prove very difficult ... Whether or not she breastfeeds becomes irrelevant if she falls unconscious from dehydration or heatstroke.

Speaking on Paranoid__Android's behalf, you're taking the scenario a bit too literally.

When philosophers pose madcap scenarios like "should one halt a speeding trolley about to kill five men by pushing one fat man into its path?", objections along the lines of "there's no way a fat man could significantly slow the progress of a speeding trolley..." etc. are unhelpful. No matter how unrealistic, the setup there just is: "if you don't shove the fat man the five will definitely die and if you do only he will die - what should one do?"

Likewise, the setup here just is: "the mother could give milk which would definitely keep the baby alive, and if she doesn't it will definitely die - what should she do?"

And the answer to my mind is simple: The degree of bodily autonomy given up is so slight (especially compared to the bodily autonomy given up bringing the baby to term) that the baby's ongoing right to life prevails - both in terms of the law and in terms of simple morality.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Zohar » Tue Mar 05, 2019 3:15 pm UTC

elasto wrote:When philosophers pose madcap scenarios like "should one halt a speeding trolley about to kill five men by pushing one fat man into its path?", objections along the lines of "there's no way a fat man could significantly slow the progress of a speeding trolley..." etc. are unhelpful. No matter how unrealistic, the setup there just is: "if you don't shove the fat man the five will definitely die and if you do only he will die - what should one do?"

Except the real world doesn't work like that. There are almost no simple situations. And if you try to discuss this situation on its own without asking questions about, for example, systemic issues that brought this scenario about, you're asking incredibly simplistic and boring philosophy questions.
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ucim » Tue Mar 05, 2019 3:58 pm UTC

elasto wrote:Speaking on Paranoid__Android's behalf, you're taking the scenario a bit too literally.
Speaking on Paranoid__Android's behalf, well, no.

First, the specific scenario was proposed because she(?) was considering becoming a parent, and breastfeeding was a specific real thing she was interested in. And second, given it's a real thing, idealizing perpetuates harmful myths about it that actually come into play here (that it's always easy and inevitable). So, in this case, the actualities are important, even if they are secondary.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby elasto » Tue Mar 05, 2019 5:32 pm UTC

Zohar wrote:And if you try to discuss this situation on its own without asking questions about, for example, systemic issues that brought this scenario about, you're asking incredibly simplistic and boring philosophy questions.

Well, to be frank, you could make the same charge of a lot of philosophy questions but that would be to miss the point: You pose an unrealistically simplistic and boring question with an 'obvious' answer, only to discover a very similar unrealistically simplistic and boring question has the opposite answer, and you try to wrap your head around why the difference.

All that is missed if you just reply 'well, actually, the baby can go hungry for ages and it'll still be fine', just as it's unhelpful to reply to trolley problems with 'well, we should just improve the emergency brakes'.

ucim wrote:Speaking on Paranoid__Android's behalf, well, no.

First, the specific scenario was proposed because she(?) was considering becoming a parent, and breastfeeding was a specific real thing she was interested in.

Are you getting that from another post? I don't see any reference to that here.

And second, given it's a real thing, idealizing perpetuates harmful myths about it that actually come into play here (that it's always easy and inevitable). So, in this case, the actualities are important, even if they are secondary.

Ok, I guess, but when someone titles something as 'a thought experiment', to my mind that pretty much signposts that one should take the assumptions as read, no matter how unrealistic.

The first sentence is: 'It is a fairly hotly discussed topic that breastfeeding should not be recommended too enthusiastically to new mothers, as it could be seen as a violation of their bodily autonomy' and it seemed to me that that was specifically what Paranoid__Android wanted to discuss rather than 'how long infants could live on just water for'...

And my answer to that is, yes, it probably does violate their bodily autonomy but when two rights come into conflict one of them has to give.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby ucim » Tue Mar 05, 2019 5:40 pm UTC

elasto wrote:Are you getting that from another post? I don't see any reference to that here.
Yes, from the OP's own response here.
elasto wrote:...rather than 'how long infants could live on just water for'...
Yes. The water thing is a red herring. But the "breastfeeding is easy" assumption is less so. My point was that moral condemnation may not be as obviously warranted, and that's an important part of a moral discussion.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby elasto » Tue Mar 05, 2019 6:06 pm UTC

ucim wrote:Yes, from the OP's own response here.

Apologies, I went back and reread the thread and just saw that too.

But they did clarify by saying "For the record, I do think that the mother should be obliged to feed her child, but I just can't prove it to myself. The reasoning is not self evident I think."

I still think they are trying to boil it down to a philosophical abstraction along the lines of 'why is it ok to pull a lever to divert a train to kill one instead of five, but it's not ok to kill one person to obtain their organs to save five..?'

I concur that the reality of breastfeeding is complicated: My own wife couldn't produce enough milk to feed our first and was never guilted by the midwife over it, and that's how it should be.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby cphite » Tue Mar 05, 2019 6:22 pm UTC

elasto wrote:
cphite wrote:No, because she might not be capable of breastfeeding. Or, as someone else pointed out, if she hasn't been breastfeeding it may prove very difficult ... Whether or not she breastfeeds becomes irrelevant if she falls unconscious from dehydration or heatstroke.


Speaking on Paranoid__Android's behalf, you're taking the scenario a bit too literally.


The OP made it a point to say the scenario was "quite unlikely, but certainly still possible" - which seemed to indicate that they wanted a more realistic discussion, and was not looking for a strict sort of "trolley problem" discussion. And along those lines, the premise that breastfeeding was the only option to save the child is false; breastfeeding is not the only option, and is in fact not even of primary concern.

But if you prefer overly simplistic... if a mother put her child into a situation where breastfeeding was the *only* way for the child to live; and she refused to breastfeed *only* out of personal preference, resulting in the death of the child; then in my opinion her decision would be morally wrong, and legally wrong.

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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Zohar » Tue Mar 05, 2019 6:28 pm UTC

elasto wrote:
Zohar wrote:And if you try to discuss this situation on its own without asking questions about, for example, systemic issues that brought this scenario about, you're asking incredibly simplistic and boring philosophy questions.

Well, to be frank, you could make the same charge of a lot of philosophy questions but that would be to miss the point: You pose an unrealistically simplistic and boring question with an 'obvious' answer, only to discover a very similar unrealistically simplistic and boring question has the opposite answer, and you try to wrap your head around why the difference.

All that is missed if you just reply 'well, actually, the baby can go hungry for ages and it'll still be fine', just as it's unhelpful to reply to trolley problems with 'well, we should just improve the emergency brakes'.

I disagree - you need to think back to the reason behind these types of questions. You ask the trolley problem in theory to examine in what situations it's reasonable or unreasonable to sacrifice the good of the few for the benefit of many. And by using such a simple case, you're ignoring a ton of nuance to real life situations, such as - do we really need to sacrifice anyone? Do we have enough resources to support people without anyone being in pain or losing their life? Do we have enough resources to create formula to provide to all newborns so that mothers won't have to make these decisions? In both cases the answer is usually yes, and then the more interesting question, and the one that promotes more social change, isn't "Who should be screwed" but "How do we as a society allocate resources fairly, and why isn't it happening right now?"
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Re: Breastfeeding and bodily autonomy thought experiment

Postby Paranoid__Android » Wed Mar 06, 2019 9:42 pm UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:
doogly wrote:What problem are you actually trying to solve here

The playoff between a persons right to bodily autonomy, and their obligation to their childs health.

This was the essence of what I was trying to get at. I wanted to make the scenario plausible because otherwise I feel like I would have gotten lambasted for postulating completely impossible scenarios. Yes I'm sure a newborn might be able to survive for a couple of days with just water, and yes some mothers can't produce milk at all, but that wasn't the point of what I was trying to talk about. Yes Zohar, I know that all of life is infinitely more complicated than can be conveyed in a thought experiment, but they are a useful tool for exploring a difficult topic.

SDK wrote:
SecondTalon wrote:I'm assuming from Strawman Press...

I have a coworker who tends to assume that if there's a liberal belief out there, I believe it too. I learn more about what liberals "really" believe from him than from any other source. He's got a new story every week to hold up, asking how it's possible that I believe something so silly as that! Point of fact, he asked me about this exact subject (breastfeeding vs. right to bodily autonomy) a few weeks ago. I'm not really sure why he's so surprised every damn time when it turns out I don't believe exactly what he's describing.

I don't like who I'm being lumped in with. Regarding breastfeeding and bodily autonomy being a "hotly discussed", well, I sure found a lot of articles talking about it as I was poking about. Sure, I've never actually spoken to a real person who complained about it. Maybe it's all in the head of overzealous journalists.

commodorejohn wrote: Either way, while it may be useful to look at the question in the general sense, it may also be considerably over-complicating things; the question of whether you (or your SO, as applicable) are willing to do something is always going to be simpler to find the answer to than the question of whether J. Random Humanoid should be obligated to do it.
I have no doubt in my mind about what I would be willing to do, pretty much anything. I was getting confused between what I was obligated to do by the laws of society given that two substantial rights were competing, and what was morally right. ucim's post helped me clear up my head muddle.

ObsessoMom wrote:TL;DR: The mother's mental health may complicate things, and make it more difficult to stand in judgment over what she is ethically obliged to do.
[...]
I don't think people who are out of their flippin' minds are morally bound to what the outsiders judging them think they are morally bound to do.
[...]
Similar: before my own experience, I would read stories of Shaken Baby Syndrome and think, "Wow, how could anyone harm their own newborn, under any circumstances? What monsters those parents are." After I'd gone through my own personal hell, I was astonished that Shaken Baby Syndrome doesn't appear in the newspaper more often. Those parents who snap aren't monsters. They're all too human.

Mildly nervous about the whole thing now, thanks for sharing :shock:. I agree that people who make poor choices in harsh situations are all too human. It doesn't make it right what they've done, but it would be wrong to look at any situation like that without a degree of empathy for the person behind the decision.
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