An article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics argues that newborn children are not “actual persons” and therefore lack a “moral right to life”. The editor, Professor Julian Savulescu – who directs the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University – and authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue that parents should have the right to kill babies who happen to be disabled. They have since receive death threats. Professor Savulescu characterised those issuing the threats as “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.”
The article is entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, argues 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.” Rather than being “actual persons”, the authors argue, newborns are “potential persons”, and 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’. Writing in a blog, Prof. Savulescu, said that arguments in favor of killing newborns were “largely not new.”
“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.” They argue it is “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”. Hence, the author advocate “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.”
The authors contend that parents should have the right to have the baby killed if it is found to be disabled without their knowing before birth. They cited statistics showing that “only the 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing. Once they are born, the parents have “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.” No baby killings are more justifiable than others, for the authors, since their underlying point is that there is no difference to killing a baby after birth as is killing a baby before birth. However, they prefer to use a less morally-charged term - “after-birth abortion” - rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.
Professor Giubilini gave a talk last month at Oxford entitled 'What is the problem with euthanasia?' He is a faculty member at the University of Milan and is on the staff at the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Professor Minerva teaches at the University of Melbourne.
Dr. Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St Mary's University College, has been quoted in British media saying "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."