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Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say


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#1 jazz_fan9

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 06:27 PM

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say
Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article's authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.

The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.

They 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”.

Both Minerva and Giubilini know Prof Savulescu through Oxford. Minerva was a research associate at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics until last June, when she moved to the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Melbourne University.

Giubilini, a former visiting student at Cambridge University, gave a talk in January at the Oxford Martin School – where Prof Savulescu is also a director – titled 'What is the problem with euthanasia?'

He too has gone on to Melbourne, although to the city’s Monash University. Prof Savulescu worked at both univerisities before moving to Oxford in 2002.

Defending the decision to publish in a British Medical Journal blog, Prof Savulescu, said that arguments in favour of killing newborns were “largely not new”.

What Minerva and Giubilini did was apply these arguments “in consideration of maternal and family interests”.

While accepting that many people would disagree with their arguments, he wrote: “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he added: “This “debate” has been an example of “witch ethics” - a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”

He said the journal would consider publishing an article positing that, if there was no moral difference between abortion and killing newborns, then abortion too should be illegal.

Dr Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St Mary's University College, said: "If a mother does smother her child with a blanket, we say 'it's doesn't matter, she can get another one,' is that what we want to happen?

"What these young colleagues are spelling out is what we would be the inevitable end point of a road that ethical philosophers in the States and Australia have all been treading for a long time and there is certainly nothing new."

Referring to the term "after-birth abortion", Dr Stammers added: "This is just verbal manipulation that is not philosophy. I might refer to abortion henceforth as antenatal infanticide."


By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent Telegraph



I wonder if this is more an investigation into witch ethics than it is an authentic paper on the matter. It raises some interesting questions, notably whether parallels may be drawn to euthanasia at a later stage. Also of note is that some of the biggest supporters are Anti-abortionists, although they use it to draw equal parallels to the abortion of foetuses.

#2 Growley

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 06:55 PM

I'm actually writing an essay on a similar subject right now. Ethically, it's pretty difficult to justify the way the law sees a child after birth compared to how they're seen before birth, when their capacities can be perceived as the same, and neither have the capacity which defines an adult human. Of course, this suggestion removes that problem altogether in the name of consistency, not that I agree with it.

#3 dredd1981

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 07:51 PM

To me it boils down to what is more cruel, euthanizing a disabled baby or allowing said baby to live its life with said disability.......

#4 Jeebs

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 08:19 PM

If cognitive thought has not yet been reached then there is no real difference. I don't know much but it's my understanding that new borns can't form memories or emotional attachments, other than for food and protection, I.e. crying = attention or food!

Touchy subject for some I would think! For me a childless 20 something, children are not something I even want to think about :)

#5 Shikari

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 08:36 PM

It's always going to be controversial. It's a good argument though, and a fair point to make. If these questions aren't asked how can they be answered?

Perhaps, instead of infanticide/Murder for and infant perhaps 'prevention of becoming a person' or similar? However, there is the issue of at which point does a 'potential person' become a 'person'? Do slower or faster developing babies have different ages at which they could be lawfully killed?

Can of worms, but a very interesting idea.

#6 crunchybits

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 09:19 PM

Interesting definition of person used there: “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.”

That's a fairly narrow semantic definition. From the age of 32 weeks a fetus can recognise the theme tune to Neighbours but my senile aunt can't. She can't attribute anything to anyone since she has advanced Alzheimers So in which case I can lawfully kill my auntie.

Hum - I think the moral standard of society is a little more advanced than that. A fetus at some point in it's development becomes a sentient being which is capable of having a memory. I think anything with a memory would be able to assign some basic value to it's ongoing existence.

Still it got them published ....

<The point at which a fetus starts to develop a memory and a concious state is subject to ongoing scientific research - some suggest 24 weeks gestation>

#7 GoneForgotten

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 09:58 PM

I find studies like this interesting, the thought process around ethics is an amazing minefield. As a (new) parent, I know that my little one smiles, giggles, plays and is happy and he's not even 6 months old. He doesn't recognise himself in the mirror and he may, or may not have a sense of 'self'. You can argue that once the child is seperate from it's mother in a physical sense it is it's own being and until birth (or medical seperation) the child and mother are one unit. In reality the baby needs caring for and we as a society do alot to care for people and things which is very much intertwined with our moral concsiouness, or inate sense of right and wrong.

If you engage in high risk behaviour whilst pregnant you aren't guilty of any specific offences. Get leathered every night, smoke 40 a day and you commit no offences. In one sense the definition as at birth is from one persepective entirely abitrary, although it seems logical. As crunchybits says, who defines the value of the life? By extension you're not a million miles away from euthanasia, who determines that the being can't appreciate its own life?

I'd say stick with birth, it makes logical sense if not moral sense and society has a duty to protect those where we can't possibly ascertain how much the entity values its own life.

#8 Growley

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 12:30 AM

Interesting definition of person used there: "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."

That's a fairly narrow semantic definition. From the age of 32 weeks a fetus can recognise the theme tune to Neighbours but my senile aunt can't. She can't attribute anything to anyone since she has advanced Alzheimers So in which case I can lawfully kill my auntie.

I get the feeling they'd remain consistent and agree with you. I legal philosophy, the 'person' is often distinguished from the 'human' by writers such as John Locke, who emphasises the ability of perception and reflection as qualifying traits, while John harris goes as far as to make the term 'person' species-neutral. Therefore including the possibility of any species becoming a 'person' if it shares the ability to value its own life and hold mental capacity of our standard etc. John Harris is one in particular whom states that people who lose their capacity also lose their personhood, and as such their euthanasia is justified.

Hum - I think the moral standard of society is a little more advanced than that. A fetus at some point in it's development becomes a sentient being which is capable of having a memory. I think anything with a memory would be able to assign some basic value to it's ongoing existence.

Still it got them published ....

<The point at which a fetus starts to develop a memory and a concious state is subject to ongoing scientific research - some suggest 24 weeks gestation>

The point is, there is no question that a baby, or even a young child, does not have the capacity of an adult, which is the standard by which the term 'person' is defined. It's a philosophical point, not a moral one.




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