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?