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After-birth Abortion: Can Killing a Baby Be Justified?

Posted on the 01 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
After-birth abortion: Can killing a baby be justified?

An anti-abortion protestor. Photocredit: Steve Rhodes

Is it ever right to kill someone? Well, according to two academics at Melbourne University, Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubillini, doctors should be able to kill newborn babies if they’re disabled or if the mother thinks she can’t afford it.  The article, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, was called “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”. The pair have since received death threats. The moral and ethical arguments centre, firstly, around academic freedom; secondly, around the issue of abortion. Far right-wingers and Catholics are outraged, as indeed are most people.

What does the article say? That an unborn child hasn’t yet developed the goals, hopes and dreams of a person, and so, whilst still obviously human, isn’t yet a person, and so doesn’t have a moral right to life. The interests of the parents and siblings, who do have a role in society, should come first. If, for instance, a child is born disabled, then it places a burden on the family and society.

Can the article itself be justified? Minerva said, quoted on The Daily Mail, that her argument has been taken out of context: “I wish I could explain to people it is not a policy and I’m not suggesting that and I’m not encouraging that.” The Journal of Medical Ethics’ editor, Julian Savulescu, said  ”I’m not defending practicing infanticide. I’m defending academic and intellectual freedom.” He added that the argument had been made before by many bioethicists and philosophers, including  Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris.

It’s morally wrong. Gill Duval of the ProLife Alliance said, quoted on The Daily Mailthat “Everybody talks about what women want but women wouldn’t want this.” Lord Alton, the chairman of the All-Parliamentary Pro-Life group, said, quoted on The Catholic Herald, that “choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion-formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to uphold the sanctity of human life for this impoverished and inhumane defence of child destruction.”

And we’re right to feel disgusted. Andrew Brown on The Guardian said that such an article was bound to create a sene of moral disgust. Some utilitarian philosophers have indeed argued that there’s no moral difference between a baby about to be born and the baby when it’s just been born. Anti-abortionists often argue that abortion is infanticide; pro-choicers reject this, arguing that an embryo isn’t a human being, but, crucially, a newborn is. Guibilini and Minerva’s reasoning means that sex-selective killings, for instance, might be allowed, as it might be terribly “inconvenient” for a family to have a girl. Savulescu is utterly wrong – if discussing killing babies is reasonable, then “liberalism really would be the monster that American conservatives pretend it is.” Sure, academics should be allowed to “entertain monstrous ideas.” But we’re still allowed to be appalled by them.

It’s so absurd it’s almost pro-life. This paper, said Will Heaven in The Daily Telegraph, might actually lead to support for the pro-life movement. The ethicists’ arguments are actually logically sound. There’s no reason to stop carrying out abortions at birth – if you accept their ideas about personhood. The current time limit on abortions is “nothing more than a line drawn in the sand.” It’s a “moral fudge”, since we can’t decide when a human being becomes a human being. The only logical way to deal with this academic argument is “to be altogether anti-abortion.”

Don’t forget about real people. Matthew Archbold on The New Catholic Register said that an “ethicists [sic] job is like a magician’s. The main job of both is to distract you from the obvious. The magician uses sleight of hand to pretend to make people disappear. But when ethicists do it, people disappear for real.”

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