Thursday, March 1, 2012

Oxford ‘Ethicists’: Infanticide is ‘After-Birth Abortion’

Stephen Adams, as the Medical Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, writes about an article found in the latest issue of the British Journal of Medical Ethics – “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”  The JME article (subscription only) was published by the journal’s editor, Professor Julian Savulescu, the director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and was written by two of his former associates at Oxford, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, now associated with universities in Australia.

The authors state that newborn babies are not “actual persons” and thus have no “moral right to life”.
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. . . . Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of someone ‘subject of a moral right to life’.
So, since an infant is not cognizant of its own existence within the context of others, it is then incapable of determining its own sense of relative value.  He or she can then be exterminated at the will of the parent(s) (though parents are not specified) with no compelling sense of loss.
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.
To their minds, this becomes particularly useful in the case of defectives, such as those with Down’s syndrome:
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.”
But let us not be constrained to limit this practice only to those whom we can conveniently discard:
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”.
This would add a viscid veneer of false legitimacy to the practice of aborting fetuses simply because, upon examination permitted now by technology and the drive for ‘family planning’, they turn out to have the defect of being female.  This practice is particularly widespread in some Asian countries, and a 2005 study found that some 90 million females were ‘missing’ from the expected populations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China (both PRC and ROC) and South Korea alone.  There is evidence that this practice continues covertly among these populations who reside in the West.

The authors are also careful to define their own terms.  They prefer ‘after-birth abortions’ to ‘infanticide’ in that it “[emphasizes] 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”, distinguishing in their warped view that infants are not children.

Leaving aside that startling comment for a moment, they also shun the term ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the person being killed is not necessarily involved in this decision, thus the interests of the parent(s) trumps the life of the infant, though they imply that the interests of the “society as a whole” would be included.

They are also careful to conflate and obscure moral distinctions between ‘mere humans’ where a right to life can be ascribed:
Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.
They thus willfully ignore an entirely different moral distinction between literally innocent beings and criminals guilty of crimes against humanity, condemned by the same judgment of “society” that they seek in order to allow the culling of infants from the collective herd.  Their philosophical source of these rights – rights to abortion, rights now to ‘after-birth abortion’, or even the ‘ascribed right to life’ quoted above – comes from the society and the state that “economically provides for [everyone’s] care”.

They have eliminated the “unalienable rights” that have been endowed upon mankind by its Creator (q.v., the Declaration of Independence), so they are left with the forlorn hope that the state will take care of them too, with the rights that it has ‘ascribed’ to the anointed (not everyone, not universal – the authors are careful to make that distinction).  After all, just examining the history of truly secular societies in the 20th century alone – here I’m speaking of Communism, Nazism, Fascism and the like – shows a death toll of some 750 million souls (if I can be allowed the use of that term).  The authors are desperately counting on the hope that they will be among those in charge.

I have made similar arguments in years past, while advocating for the Devil, in discussions about abortion.  Those who argue in favor of a liberal access to abortion ‘rights’ must then make a determination of a time limit for gestation (if for no other reason than the Supreme Court has inserted itself into the process).  For those who hold that a life that would not be ‘viable outside the womb’ should be considered a fetus as opposed to a child, I reply that that is a fallacy.  Any and all infants, born after being brought to full term, are likewise not ‘viable outside the womb’ unless they receive proper care by at least the mother – a child abandoned without care of any sort cannot be considered truly viable, and would perish in short order.

As one can imagine, the public response has been quick and overwhelmingly condemnatory.  So much so that the journal’s editor, Prof Savulescu, has posted a public reply to its critics, and takes to task the comments left on his web site and that of The Blaze which published a critique of the article.  He cites the large amount of “personally abusive correspondence” and condemns in particular – and rightly so – the comments that are racist and “threaten the lives and personal safety” of the authors.  But Savulescu goes on to quote some of the other comments that he finds “abusive and threatening” from both his site and that of The Blaze, e.g.:
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.
Liz Klimas of The Blaze published a response that included an appeal to being steamrolled:
The Blaze has full-time comment moderators who work as quickly as possible to remove comments that violate our comment policy or terms of use, which includes those that are considered “abusive, harassing, threatening or vulgar.”
The Blaze story did generate close to 1,000 comments in the first 24 hours and registered over 7,000 “likes” on Facebook.
Basically, The Blaze was overwhelmed by the response and it took some time to catch up in redacting the truly offensive comments that violated the web site’s comment policy.  But I have to admit to being somewhat perplexed about the comments cited above, the ones that Savulescu found so abusive.  He himself admits, with some degree of perceived pride, that the article presents a “novel contribution” to the topic that the authors “provocatively argue”, and he continues with:
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.
I will not be diverted into my description of the contributions of Messrs Singer, Tooley and Harris other than to note that they do indeed fall into the “provocative” category, but I am compelled to note with some degree of exasperation that when one publishes an opinion such as this on a topic that strikes at such a fundamental chord of humanity, one must expect a certain amount of blowback, death threats notwithstanding.  The comments cited above are nothing more than opinions and do nothing other than to exercise the pique of academics (and others of their ilk) who feel that they are free to dish out whatever ‘provocative’ ideas they wish yet remain immune from criticism, particularly harsh responses to their ‘novelties’ from the uninitiated hoi polloi.  The truly lame defense that they are among the “most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world” falls far short of a reasoned argument (falling instead into the fallacy of an appeal to authority).  After all, the court that tried Galileo was certainly eminent in philosophy and ethics, and as for Martin Luther, who could be more so than the Emperor and the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire?  (I won’t even start on the prestige of those scientists wrapped up in Climategate and the IPCC.)  Other than pondering the mortal fate of infants, this amounts to a secular version of finding the number of humanists who can dance on the head of a pin.

If you are going to be novel and provocative, and pride yourself on the courage of your convictions, then it is reasonable to expect that you will actually display some courage in the face of those whom you provoke.

And the topic is “not a new one”?  How can you defend the novelty of the idea and at the same time declare that it is an established topic?  If Savulescu takes that tack on a fundamental perception of bioethics – who has a right to life, and who in turn can ascribe that right – then it would be academically feasible to revisit some other old ideas of that sort, like what some bioethicists in Central Europe in the 1930s called the doctrine of Lebensunwertes Leben, or “lives not worth living”.  May God forbid that we hear some historical ghosts whispering “Hmm, Savulescu klingt wie ein Zigeuner-Namen.”  (No, I am not violating Godwin's Law -- this is a reference to actual Nazis.)

He says, “The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.”  If they are saying – again – that science or ethics is a matter of consensus among a mutual admiration society of self-selecting eminent authorities, then the public is right in rejecting that premise, for no matter how they want to describe it, it isn’t science, and it certainly isn’t ethical.

Update: John Hinderaker at Powerline has thoughts on the article too, and additional cogent thoughts at the conclusion.


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