Journal of Medical Ethics Paper: 'After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?'

February 29th, 2012 3:22 PM

One thing you can say about an odious paper published at the misnamed Journal of Medical Ethics on February 23 (abstract; full text) is that at least its authors, Australians Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, didn't fall back on abortion-supporting American politicians' obfuscating "choice" language in discussing what they advocate.

Here's what the pair support: "... we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human." Their answer is "Yes, they should," which means, based on state of current immoral law, that they advocate infanticide on demand. As offensive as their arguments supporting such a practice are, I also wish to note the arrogant "how dare you?" element of the reaction at the JME to the firestorm of outraged comments it has itself received and the criticisms posted elsewhere. But first, I have excerpted as much from the paper as I can stand without throwing up in disgust (Warning: Concepts presented will offend; bolds are mine; italics are in original):

... An examination of 18 European registries reveals that between 2005 and 2009 only the 64% of Down's syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing. This percentage indicates that, considering only the European areas under examination, about 1700 infants were born with Down's syndrome without parents being aware of it before birth.

... to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.

In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.

... The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.

... Although fetuses and newborns are not persons, they are potential persons because they can develop, thanks to their own biological mechanisms, those properties which will make them ‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’: that is, the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life.

... The alleged right of individuals (such as fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality, which someone defends, is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.

It's becoming all too clear that "ethicists" like Giubilini, Minerva, and other inexplicably influential people are careening down the slippery slope, on which those who warned against the consequences of allowing abortion on demand predicted society would head, at warp speed.

The UK-based JME is upset that so many people are upset, as seen in a related blog post by Julian Savulescu yesterday:

The Journal of Medical Ethics prepublished electronically an article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”

This article has elicited personally abusive correspondence to the authors, threatening their lives and personal safety. The Journal has received a string abusive emails for its decision to publish this article. This abuse is typically anonymous.

I am not sure about the legality of publishing abusive threatening anonymous correspondence, so I won’t repeat it here. But fortunately there is plenty on the web to choose from.

To be clear, there is no place for correspondence containing threats of physical harm or death, or for racist taunts, and those who send such threats and taunts should be dealt with appropriately by the law.

But look at a few of the examples Julian Savulescu, the post's author, found at The Blaze and singled out as "abusive and threatening":

“These people are evil. Pure evil. That they feel safe in putting their twisted thoughts into words reveals how far we have fallen as a society.”

“I don‘t believe I’ve ever heard anything as vile as what these “people” are advocating. Truly, truly scary.”

“The fact that the Journal of Medical Ethics published this outrageous and immoral piece of work is even scarier.”

These are mere opinions which don't threaten anyone, yet Savulescu identified them as particularly offensive. I shudder to think what this man would do to the First Amendment in the U.S. if he were ever in a position of influence (I'm sure he also finds that offensive). This isn't about being threatened or even offended; this is about someone who believes he and his publication are among our betters wanting to be immune from criticism.

Savulescu then defends the paper's publication, and deepens JME's moral hole (bolds are mine; HT Hot Air):

As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands.

Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.

The mere publication of such outrageous views implies the potential for societal acceptance; in fact, with his invocation of "well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises," Savulescu presumes that acceptance has already arrived, and by resuming the argument for the defense, essentially endorses the Australian pair's assertions and positions.

The U.S. House and Senate recognized the dangers of unacceptable ideas and behavior becoming seen as acceptable in 1999, when in a joint resolution they severely condemned the American Psychological Association (APA) for publishing an article where the authors in essence argued that pedophilia isn't really such a bad thing, and is sometimes even helpful to the underaged victim. One notable dissenter, who lacked the courage to vote "no" but instead voted "present" and chose to rip into his congressional colleagues as a technically unqualified pack of liars who had no right to criticize his professional colleagues in psychology a week later, was none other than Democratic former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (one-minute speech to Congress is here).

The JME's defense demonstrates its kinship with the idea of infanticide's legitimacy, which I believe is further than the APA ever went in defending what it published (and ultimately withdrew). It would appear that nothing short of a comprehensive professional boycott might have an impact on the JME, and it wouldn't surprise me that its government support is so significant that even that move wouldn't have an impact. Nonetheless (here comes another offensive statement, Mr. Savulescu), that there are dangerous moral monsters in our midst who must be marginalized could not be more clear.

This should at least to some degree be news in the U.S. establishment press, especially given the march towards state control of health care embodied in the misnamed "Affordable Care Act" aka "ObamaCare" passed in March 2010, where the Australian pair's ideas could eventually take hold. But it isn't. A Google News search on "infanticide ethics" (not in quotes, past seven days, sorted by date) returns 17 results, none of which are from establishment press outlets. A same-parameters search on "abortion ethics" returns 50 results. From what I can tell, none of the roughly 20 of them which relate to the JME paper are from a U.S. establishment press outlet.

Closer to home, folks like "Zeke the Bleak" Emanuel and Obama science czar John Holdren, who has advocated forced abortions and mass sterilization in the past, might find the work of Giubilini and Minerva appealing -- which is another reason why the JME paper should be news.

Cross-posted at