A Phenomenological Perspective on the Moral Significance of Birth
Emmanuel Levinas, who emphasizes our absolute responsibility to the Other as revealed through the visceral face-to-face encounter, Simone de Beauvoir who argues that to be responsible for oneself one must also be responsible for others, and Luce Irigaray, who focuses on the tactile intensity and exclusivity of the maternal-fetal intra-uterine connection, together offer excellent resources for understanding how responsibility is intersubjectively embodied. Building on their respective accounts and the points of tension between them, I argue that the maternal activity of childbirth produces not only a newborn infant, but also generates a new responsibility to and for the other. Though this new responsibility to the newborn infant (as a separately existing entity) is produced through the labouring body of the birth mother, I argue that the obligations it entails necessarily extend beyond the birth mother to encompass others who must help to secure the well-being of this vulnerable new being-in-the-world.
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