Recently, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article entitled “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” This article was written by two young academics from Europe who are currently working in Australia, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. This was quickly picked up by the media. The Telegraph article may be the most compelling. While the outrage seen in some of the public comments on news websites regarding this publication is certainly a reasonable initial reaction, it might be wise to spend a few minutes thinking about it before we rush to publicly threaten violence on the authors or suggest that we “after-birth abort them and see how they like it.” This may require taking a few minutes to actually read the article they wrote instead of just the controversial phrases that journalists pulled out to get you to visit their website. Fortunately, the full text of the article is available for free on the journal’s website. (JME Website)
After reading it and thinking about it for a few days, I would actually argue that the publishing of this article is a good thing. But first, the talk of violence toward the authors and “after-birth abortion” are both despicable and ignorant. However, let’s consider that a few people’s violent comments actually aren’t advocating anything that the authors haven’t already advocated in their own article. Just because the authors advocate it in a scholarly journal and may be more intelligent, doesn’t mean they’re not both ignorantly advocating violence.
It does seem that the authors are truly arguing for “after-birth abortion” because 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.” and because they are not a person as defined by them, “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.” I would challenge both of those statements.
I’m curious how the authors came to the conclusion that a newborn is incapable of attributing value to their own existence? Did they ask them? I would argue quite the contrary. Not only are new born babies capable of attributing value to their own existence, their own existence is actually the only thing they are capable of attributing value to. New born babies are the most selfish beings on the planet. They only think about themselves. If they’re hungry, they cry. If they’re uncomfortable, they cry. If you do something they don’t like, they cry. They don’t care what time it is. They don’t care if you’re asleep. They don’t care about you at all, only themselves.
Fortunately, loving parents indulge this selfishness for a time. They feed and clothe these bundles of unadulterated selfishness, and as they develop, begin to teach them that they are not the only person on the planet. Good parents take a new born bundle of selfishness and nurture them into a person who realizes that they are part of a society that does not revolve around them. Great parents teach them that they have a responsibility to care for others. At a minimum, this results in them becoming great parents themselves and thus our continued existence. However, the best parents go one step further, and instill a responsibility and desire to care for those who can’t care for themselves, to defend the disenfranchised, to protect the powerless. Personally, I’m glad that I was blessed with parents who instilled this value in me. I would actually argue that if the authors want to frame a definition of “person” based on a human being’s ability to assign value to life, it should actually be exactly the opposite of the definition they came up with. A person is an individual who is capable of attributing to the existence of others some basic value such that being deprived of their existence represents a loss to themselves and society.
Which brings us to the second part of their argument, that 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.” Before we get fired up about the second half of that statement, take a look at the first half of it. They are arguing that the moral relevance of an infant is the same as a fetus. Isn’t this exactly what opponents of abortion have been saying for the last four decades? In fact, what these authors are saying is diametrically opposed to everything abortion proponents have been saying since the 70’s. Up until 1973, unborn babies in the US had a right to life. Regardless of how the legal battle was won, the social victory occurred when advocates of abortion were able to convince the general population that it was “just a fetus.” It wasn’t really a baby until it was born. They won by convincing society that fetuses and infants were different. Now, forty years later, these authors are arguing the exact opposite, that infants “lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life” because they’re “equivalent to… a fetus”? Which one is it? These authors are merely displaying the lack of consistency in the argument for abortion, and exposing that the true motivations for abortion in most cases is purely selfish.
While we’re here, what about the second half of that statement? “…both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” What are those properties? Based on the article, it seems that the those “properties” could simply be simply stated as anyone who is deemed to require more from society than they are capable of contributing does not deserve a right to life. If a baby will require more effort on the part of parents, siblings and society than they collectively are willing to put forth, then we shouldn’t allow it to live? This argument is pure selfishness, and it is the most repugnant part of this entire publication. It should illicit anger in the heart of any compassionate person. However, there is no reason to threaten or even suggest violence toward the authors. In proper discourse, the selfishness and lack of consistency of their argument will be proven to be… infantile.
After all, the authors are young researchers just trying to get themselves published. They’re not in a position to affect policy. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they irresponsibly wrote something provocative because it would get published. At first, I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the editor of the journal as well. After all, there are plenty of other articles published in his journal, such as: “How to avoid unfair discrimination against disabled patients in healthcare resource allocation” by Seth Sinclair and “A fair share for the orphans: ethical guidelines for a fair distribution of resources within the bounds of the 10-year-old European Orphan Drug Regulation” by Wim Pinxten et al. In reality though, the content of the journal isn’t the primary metric we should base our opinion of the editor on. He didn’t write any of it. However, he did write an open letter on his website about the response to this publication and defending his decision to publish it, entitled “Liberals Are Disgusting”: In Defence of the Publication of “After-Birth Abortion” He would have been better off keeping his mouth shut as he is clearly a better editor than author. This open letter is extremely arrogant and even more illogical than the publication in question. As he is a mature man in an authoritative position for a journal focusing on ethics, I believe it’s reasonable to expect more discernment and wisdom from him than is evident in his response, but that’s another topic for another day.