In a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, two former Oxford ethicists argue that killing a newborn babe is no different from aborting a fetus, because the infant isn’t really a person yet:
[The authors] argued: “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.”
Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.
“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”
As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.
The authors therefore concluded 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”.
They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that “only the 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing.
Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.
“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.”
However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.
They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.
Hey, if the infant isn’t a person because they can’t attribute value to their own existence and feel loss if that existence is deprived, why stop there? How about the elderly suffering from senile dementia or Alzheimer’s? Surely they’ve lost the capability of attributing value to their existence, so they’re not people by these standards, right? Might as well let their relatives (or the State) snuff them when they become an “unbearable burden.” And what about severely disabled adults, too? I mean, gee, we’d save society all that money in Medicaid support for group homes. After all, they’re not really people.
Call me “old-fashioned” and “unenlightened,” ignorant of sophisticated ethics, but I have this crazy belief that the right to live is a natural right preexisting Human laws and ethics. It is only to be taken away under the most restricted circumstances, such as in a “just war” or by law after a fair trial as the only way to enact justice after a horrible crime.
Not simply because you might regard the baby as a “burden.”
And what kind of sociopathic lack of empathy does it imply to go through such intellectual gymnastics to arrive at the conclusion that the infant is no longer a person? When does it become a person? When it first smiles? Its first steps? Its first words, when it finally has a chance to say “please don’t kill me?”
“Ethics.” Yeah, these really are some ethics, aren’t they? They’re the fascist ethics of a state that denies the inherent worth of the individual and, when that individual becomes a “burden,” can decide he or she is no longer “really a person” and can thus be disposed of at will.
I’m with Walter Russell Mead: while I firmly believe as a federalist that the abortion question in America should be decided on a state-by-state basis until a consensus is reached, if this idea ever gains currency in the US, sign me up for a right-to-life amendment to the US Constitution.
RELATED: This isn’t the first time the ugly idea of “post-natal abortion” has arisen. Read about the Groningen Protocol, which was a recent proposal to allow doctors in the Netherlands to “terminate” the life of a severely disabled child up to the age of 12, with the final decision resting with the doctors, not the parents. And killing your non-person infant after birth is really just one step past aborting fetuses on the basis of gender. Both Hot Air and Power Line were outraged at the JME article. I’m surprised it didn’t get more coverage in the blogosphere.
PS: The linked Telegraph article mentioned that the authors of the JME piece had received death threats for their article. This is as wrong and as vile as their argument itself, as well as being criminal. It is an affront to free speech and academic liberty. The way to fight evil ideas is with counter-argument, not with intimidation and threats of physical harm.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)