Journal of Medical Ethics: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? Paper by Alberto Giubilini & Francesca Minerva

I’m not easily shocked and disturbed anymore; it’s true to say the more you observe the world, the more desensitised you become. Having said this, reading a new paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics arguing the case for ‘After-birth abortion’ has left me positively cold.

Here’s the Abstract:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

The introduction to the paper very swiftly engages with the premise that conditions which would have justified abortion – that only become known after birth – should be valid arguments for killing the newborn. Abnormalities that cannot be detected through prenatal screening are cited, and the fact that only 64% of Down’s syndrome cases were diagnosed through these tests.

The paper appears to lament the fact that some 1700 infants are born with Down’s syndrome each year in Europe and that “there is no choice for the parents but to keep the child”.

Then there is this admittance:

Although it is reasonable to predict that living with a very severe condition is against the best interest of the newborn, it is hard to find definitive arguments to the effect that life with certain pathologies is not worth living, even when those pathologies would constitute acceptable reasons for abortion. It might be maintained that ‘even allowing for the more optimistic assessments of the potential of Down’s syndrome children, this potential cannot be said to be equal to that of a normal child’. But, in fact, people with Down’s syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy.

To combat this problem the paper moves into the realm of the “unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole”. And again the argument is repeated:

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.

The paper admits that ‘after-birth abortion’ is an oxymoron, as the usual term would be murder ‘infanticide’, but this term is justified on the grounds that the “moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”. The authors prefer this term to ‘euthanasia’ as “the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice”. This is stated of course, because the raison d’etre for killing a newborn, will more often than not, be for the benefit of others, and their psychological suffering as a result of having the child. Whereas, of course, euthanasia is for the benefit of the one dying; or so the paper would allude.

The paper then has to move into the realm of the moral status of the newborn baby in order to justify its ends. This seems to revolve around the idea that a person must have future ‘aims’ that they seek to accomplish; therefore, a baby only has the potentiality to become a person.

They boldly state “all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons” and “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life”.

The paper seems to argue that moral status is only a subconscious value construct that folk ‘project’ onto another.

Although the paper ascribes ‘potentiality’ of person onto a foetus or newborn, it denies any harm is rendered if we destroy that potentiality. This is reasoned by the fact that the foetus or newborn is not in a condition of experiencing that harm. In order to suffer that harm, they would have to fulfil their potentiality in order to experience the loss.

If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were fetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.

The consequence of this line of thinking is that the interests of so-called ‘actual’ living people, override the interest of ‘merely potential’ people to become actual ones.

Actual living people’s well-being trumps all. ‘Non-persons’ have no moral rights to life.

We find ourselves in the situation whereby one existing  and accepted moral evil (abortion) is used to justify a further moral evil (After-birth abortion).

And isn’t this a prime example of what pro-lifers have feared all along; namely, once we opened our doors to the ‘culture of death’ where will it end?

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10 Responses to “Journal of Medical Ethics: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? Paper by Alberto Giubilini & Francesca Minerva”

  1. Wifey Says:

    Disgusted. Pure Evil. They do not have the right to the title Ethicists, as they are Eugenicists.

  2. Wifey Says:

    The consequence of all of this thinking is that the interests of ‘actual’ living people over-ride the interest of ‘merely potential’ people to become actual ones.

    Neonates and prenatal babies are not merely potential people, but people with potential!

  3. Tim Says:

    My sister-in-law was told that the baby she was carrying had Down’s Syndrome and the doctors urged her to have an abortion, which she refused to do. She wanted the baby regardless, and knew she would love it no matter what. She had the baby, who is now a healthy seven year old boy, and he didn’t have Down’s Syndrome at all. She told me that she worried at all the expectant mothers that are advised to have abortions and do so simply because they assume the doctors know best.

  4. TerryB Says:

    The parent(s) of a premature child will often go to any lengths to ensure its survival. The parent(s) of an ‘unwanted’ fetus will go to any lengths to ensure its demise. Therefore the definition of “a human being” depends on “being wanted” by another. I would expect that the push for euthenasia will move in the same direction.
    If there is an unwanted ‘being’ around then why not dispose of them will be the cry? Better and cheaper all round for society! It seems that the only sane reasoning is to be ‘pro-life’.
    Psalm 14 says it all.

    P.S. I have a rooted dislike to the word “fetus” it sounds as though it is something found under a stone! Far better to use the older word “foetus”!

  5. Nancy Wallace Says:

    I am deeply shocked at the suggestion that a newborn baby is not human, only potentially human and therefore has no automatic ‘right to life’.

  6. Amara Says:

    They have a life inside the womb..isn’t it that human? for me each and everyone of us don’t have the authorities to terminate life. No matter some people justify their actions made is still unhumane.

  7. Simian Says:

    An interesting if unsettling argument. To a Catholic the answer is this is morally wrong and a grave sin. As for me I’m genuinely not sure. I know that this is nothing new. Infanticide has been practiced throughout history, often without opporobrium. As such it is arguably a natural part of what it is to be human. I think I’m with the likes of Jeremy Bentham on this. It is not absolutely wrong in all cases. But I don’t think allowing abortion opens the floodgates for infanticide, and these issues should remain separate.

  8. Gordon Says:

    It goes against accepted the generally accepted position that a foetus capable of independent survival should not be aborted. This is why we have a limit on abortion.

    Interestingly Thomas Aquinas apparently believed that people get their souls at conception, but that conception ends after an extended period of forty or ninety days. He said this allegedly in his commentary on the sentences under question 3 part 5, but all of the online versions from catholic sources omit this section so I can’t say if this is true. If it is then he is probably following Aristotle.

  9. yossarian Says:

    For me, many fundemental rights, including the right to life, comes with ‘personhood’.

    When and where do we aquire personhood? For me, clearly, a collection of two cells doesn’t have it but a child with conciousness, hopes, ability to feel pain etc clearly does.

    So, is there a spectrum along which it is gradually gained over time or is there a moment when it happens? Catholics, I understand, say there’s a moment and that is right at the beginning, at conception. If there is however a process, rather than a moment, we have to define a moment at which it should be assumed that one has it. (Like for the right to vote or have sex, no-one really argues that someone gains something intrinsic on their 16th or 18th birthday they didnt have the day before. Rather we need a pragmatic albeit slightly arbitary cut-off point for law and policy). For some, the moment where ‘personhood’ should be assumed is birth. For others, 28 weeks for example. In terms of abortion, I agree such otherwise arbitrary dates need to follow a precautionary approach (false negatives are worse than false positives). The paper however is putting forwards a theoretical argument that such a threshold could logically be put later. The argument has validity in places but I think the paper is weak in others (for example in the adoption option and impact on the mother). Overall however, in ethics, I strongly support not neglecting the ‘yuck’, ‘this is obviously not how we want to live’ gut reaction (which for me is generated through evolutionary and societal origins and is as strong a motivator as the desire to eat or sexual attraction). I would therefore would always oppose such a move in policy terms (although I also – because of the same reasons – am confident that such a policy proposal, as opposed to theoretical exploration of arguments, would never be made).

    By the way, thanks for linking to the paper itself which much of the other coverage has not done.

  10. maureen Says:

    Prayer After Birth (Acknowledgements and Apologies to Louis MacNeice).

    I am now born: please hear me,
    Let not the debt collectors,
    Or the rights protectors,
    Or the seditious insurrectors come near me.

    I am now born, comfort me,
    Else I fear that the human-folk may:
    With clever lies debase me,
    With bad science un-race me,
    And with strong drugs erase me.

    I am now born: please bestow me,
    Among the dancing grass, babbling brooks,
    Swaying trees and singing rooks,
    Undiminished bright light of grace and truth,
    To restore me.

    I am now born, with lullabies lull me,
    With warm cuddles mull me,
    With deep love sustain me, and,
    With silence, not gainsay me.

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