A medical journal article ruthlessly proposes — and its editor defends — rhetorically dressed-up infanticide.
Note: This column went up at Pajamas Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Sunday.
Almost three centuries ago, in A Modest Proposal, satirist Jonathan Swift suggested that poor children in Ireland should be fattened up for a year and sold as food. This would spare families years of expense, provide them some income, enhance the upper crust’s dining experiences, and improve the nation’s economy.
Given the long-lasting fame which came to Swift as a result of this work, I figured that Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, two Australian writers who somehow convinced the UK’s Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) that they are “ethicists,” were surely attempting a similar exercise in Juvenalian satire in their February 23 paper entitled “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?”
In that paper, excerpted here (the original has since gone behind a subscription wall), the pair told us that society faces a really big problem, namely that many pre-born babies who should have been killed in the womb escape because their physical condition wasn’t fully known ahead of time:
An examination of 18 European registries reveals that between 2005 and 2009 only 64% of Down’s syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing. This percentage indicates that, considering only the European areas under examination, about 1700 infants were born with Down’s syndrome without parents being aware of it before birth.
The fact that many of the parents of the other 36% might in otherwise stable circumstances have chosen to end the pre-born baby’s life if only they had known of the baby’s handicap is far from the only problem. Sometimes the mother’s life situation changes for the worse, and what was expected to be a bundle of joy has become a serious encumbrance.
That’s all bad enough, but there’s something even worse:
… to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden … 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.
One must admit that as satirists, the two Aussies really rock.
The pair then immodestly proposes that we make the exercise of killing already-living children palatable by changing the language:
… we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, 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. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.
… The alleged right of individuals (such as fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality, which someone defends, is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence.
Giubilini and Minerva are absolutely brilliant, aren’t they? Through their satire, they make incredibly powerful pro-life arguments. Over forty years of reason-based attempts at persuasion and breathtaking improvements in science and technology affirming the wonders of human life at all stages have failed to prevent the annual slaughter of a million-plus children in the U.S. from abortion on demand. But now, in points bluntly made and sharply executed, the two Aussies have found the key. After reading their work, nobody can possibly believe that children, once born, are not entitled to continue to live. Once readers are reminded of that obvious point, they’ll reach the inescapable conclusion that “pre-birth abortion” is every bit as evil as “after-birth abortion.”
… Uh, what’s that?
Giubilini and Minerva aren’t satirists? They really are “ethicists” — and they’re freaking serious? O … M … G.
Indeed, they are, pun intended, dead serious, as is JME’s editor Julian Savulescu. In a blog post five days later, jaded Julian not only defended the publication of the indefensible work, he virtually agreed with its authors’ immoral proposal:
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 defense of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.
… 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. 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.
Savulescu also bitterly attacked those who dared to express their outrage over the decision to publish the Australian pair’s conclusions in a “scholarly” journal. Oh sure, he cited death threats and racist comments, which everyone agrees are out of bounds and should be legally pursued when warranted. But it’s clear from his posting of the following comments he identified as “abusive threatening correspondence” in his introduction that the thin-skinned Savalescu despises being on the receiving end of any form of disagreement from the rest of us inferior beings:
“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.”
What Savulescu calls examples of abuse and threats, the rest of us would characterize as “strongly worded opinions.” There is little doubt that if they could, “ethicists” like Savalescu and many of his odious American counterparts would silence any and all dissent from their “ethical” discussions. Really, can gulags for objectors who won’t shut up be that far behind?
Abortion proponents in the late 1960s and early 1970s ridiculed those who warned against the “slippery slope” consequences of allowing abortion on demand. “It won’t lead anyone to seriously consider euthanasia and infanticide,” they said. Well, yes it did.
We’re even taking the first steps towards realizing Swift’s sardonically imagined world where its people consume its children — not in preparing what we eat (yet), but indeed in what we drink, again accompanied by astonishing arrogance:
In a decision delivered February 28, the Security and Exchange Commission ruled that PepsiCo’s use of aborted fetal remains in their research and development agreement with Senomyx to produce flavor enhancers falls under “ordinary business operations.”
… PepsiCo also requested … (that a related shareholders’) resolution be excluded because it “probed too deeply into matters of a complex nature upon which shareholders cannot make an informed judgment.”
Can anyone reasonably doubt presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s deep concern that if we continue down our current path — one which, if Obamacare is ever implemented, will lead inexorably to a point where “every man, woman and child in America … (will be) dependent upon the federal government for your life and your health” — we will “leave a very cold dangerous, frightening America to our children”?