Academics' defense of infanticide supported by pro-choice logic

Neonatal specialist Dr Carlo Bellieni Prof Robert George CNA US Catholic News 2 29 12 Dr. Carlo Bellieni and Prof. Robert George

Abortion supporters can see their own principles and logic reflected in a new article advocating the killing of newborn children, published by the Journal of Medical Ethics in February 2012.

“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,” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue in their paper entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”

Minerva and Giubilini are academic philosophers associated with institutions in Italy and Australia. Their defense of infanticide rests on the claims that “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons,” while adoption “is not always in the best interest of actual people.”

“The proposal of a so called 'after-birth abortion' is not a surprise,” Italian neonatologist and Pontifical Academy for Life member Dr. Carlo Bellieni told CNA on Feb. 29, offering his response to the article.

“It is only a quantitative extension of abortion, but not a qualitative change,” the pro-life physician said, noting that “at birth nothing substantial happens in the body or psyche of a baby” to distinguish it from what abortion advocates call a mere “fetus.”

Dr. Bellieni indicated that defenders of legal abortion have no grounds on which to give a “scandalized response” to the proposed killing of newborns, since “in both cases the life of a human being is terminated.”

In their article, Giubilini and Minerva also emphasized the continuity between traditional abortion, and the killing of newborns which they defend.

The authors say the practice should be called “after-birth abortion, rather than infanticide,” in order to “emphasize 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.”

According to Giubilini and Minerva, both an unborn fetus and a newborn child can be legitimately killed because “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 ‘subject of a moral right to life,’” they state in their article.

They define a “person” as “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.”

“This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

“It is true,” they acknowledge, “that a particular moral status can be attached to a non-person by virtue of the value an actual person, e.g., the mother, attributes to it.”

In such a situation, they explain, the moral status of the alleged non-persons would depend upon the “particular value” that someone else “projects on them” – and “such a projection is exactly what does not occur when a newborn becomes a burden to its family.”

They also argue against the idea that voluntary killing deprives a “potential person, like a fetus and a newborn,” of a right to develop into an “actual person, like you and us.” The fetus or newborn, they explain, cannot be either granted or denied rights they are incapable of possessing.

“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,’” Minerva and Giubilin respond.

“They would have harmed someone who does not exist … And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”

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After the article's appearance in the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics, various Catholic pro-life advocates pointed to the continuity between its arguments and those advanced by mainstream abortion supporters.

Princeton Professor Robert George is a colleague of the ethicist Peter Singer, who has made headlines for defending infanticide as morally acceptable and equivalent to abortion. In a Feb. 27 online post, George said the Journal of Medical Ethics article showed Singer's position moving to the mainstream.

“Who will raise their voices against this madness?” George asked.

“Plenty of conservatives will, of course,” he predicted. “Will liberal voices be raised? I hope so. Surely if respected philosophers were arguing for a right to kill members of a racial or ethnic minority group, as opposed to infant children, there would be denunciations from left and right alike.”

But George foresaw a dilemma for supporters of a “right” to abortion.

Giubilini and Minerva, like Singer and some other infanticide advocates, are “simply following out the logic of their commitment to ‘abortion rights.’ Or so it seems to them, and to me.”

Oklahoma University Law Professor Michael Scaperlanda concurred with Professor George and Dr. Bellieni. He told CNA on Feb. 29 that abortion supporters lacked any persuasive, well-grounded reason for rejecting infanticide.

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He agreed that Minerva and Giubilini “are following the 'pro-choice' logic in extending this to infanticide. It turns out that, post-conception, there really is no logical line when somebody is 'a person' or 'not a person.'”

Scaperlanda noted that the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who established the court's fetal “viability” criterion in the Roe v. Wade decision and defended it as a “logical and biological” demarcation, actually saw the distinction as arbitrary according to internal court documents.

Pro-life advocates, he said, should press abortion supporters on whether they are willing to accept the logical implications of their position, drawn out by Giubilini and Minerva.

“The logic of the argument's not going to necessarily win the people who don't want to see it,” he reflected. “But there are going to be some people in the population who say, 'Oh, wait – I don't want to support infanticide … This is causing my conscience to be pricked.'”

“What I would say to that person is: Think about it. You don't have to make a decision today, but where would you draw the line and why? Why do you draw it five minutes after birth, or one minute after birth – or at birth?”

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