"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."
Matthew 2:16-18 (referring to the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod the Great ordered the slaying of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem after the birth of Christ)
A few days ago I read an article that made me literally sick to my stomach--and genuinely frightened for the future of mankind. In the early 21st century, Western "civilization" seems to be reaching levels of depravity not seen since the hideous Nazi regime of the 1930s and 40s. I didn't live in Germany back then, but I've read enough about it to understand something of the moral wasteland that produced such demented monsters as Adolf Hitler and Dr. Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz--and that it's in the process of happening again today, on a global scale.
The very title of the article, published February 23 in the Journal of Medical Ethics, makes the blood run cold: After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live? The authors, medical "ethicists" Alberto Giubilini of Monash University in Melbourne, Austrailia and Dr. Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne, take the position that in circumstances in which the abortion of a fetus would be legal, what is termed "after-birth abortion" should also be permissible, even where the newborn is perfectly healthy. In other words, whenever it's all right to kill a fetus, it should be all right to kill a newborn baby. Consider this chilling explanation in the authors' own words:
A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.The authors reason that the moral status of a newborn is equivalent to that of a fetus--on which abortions in the traditional sense are performed--rather than that of an older child, because neither a fetus or a newborn can be considered a "person" in any “morally relevant sense." This is why they believe the practice they advocate is better described as "after-birth abortion" than as "infanticide."
Such an issue arises, for example, when an abnormality has not been detected during pregnancy or occurs during delivery. Perinatal asphyxia, for instance, may cause severe brain damage and result in severe mental and/or physical impairments comparable with those for which a woman could request an abortion.
[. . .]
[While] people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy . . . [n]onetheless, 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. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.
Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. . . . If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet.
To Giubilini and Minerva, not all human beings--which apparently they acknowledge fetuses and newborns to be, at least in a genetic sense--can be considered "persons" entitled to rights. They explain as follows:
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.To the authors of this paper, an individual's own ability to understand the value of a different situation--which depends on some level of consciousness and mental development on his or her part--determines personhood. They reject any argument that as “potential persons” fetuses and newborns have a right to reach that potential, stating that such a right is “over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because . . . merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.” The overriding interests of "real people" likewise should control the choice of adoption, the authors suggest, stating that if the mother were to “suffer psychological distress” from giving up her child to someone else, then "after-birth abortion" should be considered an acceptable alternative. Giubilini and Minerva therefore conclude 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."
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.
Responding to widespread criticism and outrage over its publication of the article, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics stated that
[T]he novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favor of infanticide . . . but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands . . . The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible.What the editor finds disturbing is "[n]ot that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement."
It seems that the authors of this paper, as well as the editor of the journal in which it was published, have unwittingly done the pro-life movement an inestimable service. This cold, dispassionate argument for the legalization of infanticide lays bare the sterile, inhumane reasoning that leads directly from a justification for the indiscriminate termination of prenatal life to the brazen murder of newborn babies--and perhaps to the utilitarian killing of older children or even adults who, for various reasons, are incapable of forming personal "aims" or of appreciating the difference between their current life situation and any other, including death. This is the alarm that pro-life advocates have been sounding for years, and they now have this paper to show as Exhibit A in support of their position. Moreover, the journal editor's indignation at the understandable outrage prompted by a naked argument for infanticide clearly shows how twisted are his and the authors' priorities, and how morally bankrupt are those who would frankly advance such an idea.
At the core of Giubilini and Minerva's argument for infanticide, as well as that for justifications of abortion "on demand," is a concept of the universe in which there is no God by whose creation, law, and love human life is endowed with value. For adherents to this view, being genetically "human" and having the "potential" for a full and independent existence cannot be accepted as the source of value entitling one to a right to life, as that might impinge on another's freedom to terminate a pregnancy. So, a higher level of humanity--"personhood"--must be posited as the crucial point at which one gains sufficient dignity to enjoy any right to continue living (does this not echo the "human/subhuman" dichotomy upon which Nazis and slave owners rested their theories of racial superiority?) Giubilini and Minerva define personhood in this sense as the "self-consciousness" that enables an individual to appreciate life (or to distinguish it from oblivion) and to formulate and pursue personal "aims" or goals. Any other source of value, they suggest, is merely an irrational and impermissible "projection" of others' subjective values onto that individual. This is an entirely "me-centric" measurement of humanity, as it is devoid of any thought that a higher (that is, Divinely-established) set of values, transcending the individual, society, or even mankind generally, might apply. If the individual-- the first level of "me"--is incapable of self-consciousness and self-actualization, the theory goes, it has no moral significance and may be casually destroyed at the whim of its parent or the community that would otherwise be responsible for it--the next and highest level of "me." Again, in this view, life has no value beyond its usefulness to itself or to the community. This is true for both fetuses and newborns, as neither has developed the level of consciousness and independent will that constitutes "personhood."
This paper makes crystal clear that abortion and infanticide are barely-separated steps along one continuum of soul-less, anti-human utilitarianism. And its views actually threaten millions of lives today--indeed, in the Netherlands and Belgium, the killing of terminally ill and disabled newborns, as well as euthanasia generally (the next step along the continuum) are already practiced. If the views of Giubilini and Minerva gain traction in the American medical ethics community, such horrors could well become the norm here, and soon.
The moral shortcomings and terrible implications of this paper are almost beyond counting, but here a few of the most important:
First, the authors do not address the question of the age at which an infant should be considered a "person," nor do they suggest any way to reliably determine when a particular newborn has reached this magic moment. Are we to trust the subjective judgment of those who feel "burdened" by the child, or of those who work for them, and have a vested interest in being rid of it?
Second, not only disabled or terminally ill newborns, but also perfectly healthy babies who haven't yet developed to the point of "personhood," would come within the class of those who can be killed with impunity. In fact, the authors' definition of "personhood" would render expendable anyone, young or old, who never developed or has lost meaningful self-awareness and self-direction, including many of profoundly retarded and Down's Syndrome children, the severely brain-damaged, late-stage Alzheimer's sufferers, and persistently comatose patients. To Giubilini and Minerva they are not people and have no value or right to live, and should therefore be disposed of so as not to burden others.
Third, and especially in connection with the point just discussed above, one commentator asks:
[I]f babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life,” then why is it only their parents who are entitled to kill them? Shouldn't they be fair game for anyone? In particular, as the authors note, the state has a legitimate interest in the cost of dealing with disabilities. So does the state have a right to mandate an “after-birth abortion?” If not, why not?If the state can promote or compel infanticide and homicide of the insensate, directly or indirectly through incentives or regulation, the practice can be used for population control, eugenics, scientific experimentation, or to ration and manage the expenses of health care and public welfare, among other government purposes--just as in Nazi Germany a few decades ago; just as in communist China today. Is this the kind of society that any feeling human being would want to live in?
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sums up the matter eloquently:
This article in the Journal of Medical Ethics is a clear signal of just how much ground has been lost to the Culture of Death. A culture that grows accustomed to death in the womb will soon contemplate killing in the nursery. The very fact that this article was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal is an indication of the peril we face.Let us pray that "after-birth abortion" never gains acceptance and becomes another, larger-scale Massacre of the Innocents.
The only sane response to this argument is the affirmation of the objective moral status of the human being at every point of development, from fertilization until natural death. Anything less than the affirmation of full humanity puts every single human being at risk of being designated as not “a person in the morally relevant sense.”