60 Second Summary: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?

Articles you need to know about, summarized in 60 seconds (or less).

The Article: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?

The Source: Journal of Medical Ethics

The Authors: Australian philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesa Minerva

The Gist: Since it is currently permissible to kill prenatal children because they are only potential persons and do not have full moral status, then we should be able to kill postnatal children for the same reason.

The Excerpt:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue 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.

The Bottom Line: As the authors note, an examination of 18 European registries found that between 2005 and 2009 only 64% of Down’s syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing, leaving about 1,700 infants to be born with the condition. Since the mothers would have likely killed the child in utero, why should we not permit them to kill the child after the birth?

Sadly, this is not a reductio ad absurdum intended to show the illogic of abortion but a serious philosophical argument made in defense of infanticide: “. . . we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.”

This article—which, it should be noted, was published in a respected journal—shows that once we discard the Christian principle of inherent dignity of humans, anything we decide to do to an infant becomes “ethically permissiable.”

YSK Rating: Necessary reading. While this argument isn’t new, it is gaining traction in academic bioethics.

  • Kedric Webster

    It is a clear mandate and opportunity for the church to rise up and protect the orphan and the widow and the “least of these.” The modern-day slave trade, abortion, prison reform, the needs of the southern hemisphere church are all the more necessary to address now than in previous centuries.

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  • matt

    Lord have mercy. I am a student at Duke Divinity School and have studied under Stanley Hauerwas who I think has some great insight on how things like this should be dealt with by the Church. He really sees the world of general “ethics” as headed in directions such as these in relationship to children, the elderly, and the disabled and regularly tells his students that if the Church can become known as the body of people that doesn’t kill children, the elderly and the disabled then we (clergy and theologians and lay people) will have done our job.

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

    On the plus side, their argument actually has the same basis as the anti-abortion one: that an infant and foetus have the same moral status. I wonder if most people will see the logic go the other way though – that if that’s the case, then we shouldn’t kill foetuses either. At the very least we can show people that, yes, scientifically, a foetus is a human being with the same moral status as an infant.

    I wrote a bit more of that here: http://www.thingsfindothinks.com/2012/02/the-logic-of-infanticide/

  • Ellen

    Francis Schaeffer was heartbreakingly correct. In 1970, as a high school classroom teacher, I was asked, “What is abortion?” When my students heard the answer, they were shocked and horrified. That was, of course, before Roe v. Wade and before they were de-sensitized.

  • JT

    Ellen, you should read Shaeffer’s son Frankie.

  • http://justaftersunrise.wordpress.com/ Stan McCullars

    And I’m suppose to believe that “right-wing extremists” are the extreme ones?!


  • http://justaftersunrise.wordpress.com/ Stan McCullars

    I can imagine “Christians” supporting such murders and complaining when others question their faith.

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  • Bruce

    That is essentially the real argument made by Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer.

    “In Chapter 4 we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”


    • http://justaftersunrise.wordpress.com/ Stan McCullars

      It sounds like Singer fails his own test. He displays a complete lack of rationality.

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  • Carl

    How can they use the word “ethics” to describe this article? Ethics implies some degree of conscience and compassion. Personhood happens when a human has genetic uniqueness, which happens at conception. After that point, she is a passenger in the body of a person who should have a conscience. Imagine the implications: In sex selection cases, a daughter has no personhood ever without sex change surgery, but her brother is a person at birth. I guess that my brother never achieved the accomplishments that denote personhood in his 27 years of Down syndrome. These “ethicists” would charge into the classroom of their saintly teacher and march all of the Downs kids to the electric chair. (Are the little Downs syndrome girls now double non persons, never to become potential persons? The terms are horrifying to mention.) It sounds like the holocaust in our day.

  • casey breeden

    There is much more coming….

  • Bob

    The authors of this article adopt an incredibly reductionistic philosophy of personhood. Apparently, if is not presently conscious of “aims”, it is alright to kill that person as they “wouldn’t know what they were missing”.

    What about people who are sleeping? Could you kill one of those because they aren’t currently aware of their life goals and thus what they would be missing? I can think of quite a few that could create an unbearable burden to me or society. After all, they’ll only be aware of their life goals in the “future” when they wake up, but as the authors have so eloquently argued, “future” persons don’t matter.

  • maureen

    Prayer After Birth (Acknowledgements and Apologies to Louis MacNeice).

    I am now born: please hear me,
    Let not the debt collectors,
    Or the rights protectors,
    Or the seditious insurrectors come near me.

    I am now born, comfort me,
    Else I fear that the human-folk may:
    With clever lies debase me,
    With bad science un-race me,
    And with strong drugs erase me.

    I am now born: please bestow me,
    Among the dancing grass, babbling brooks,
    Swaying trees and singing rooks,
    Undiminished bright light of grace and truth,
    To restore me.

    I am now born, with lullabies lull me,
    With warm cuddles mull me,
    With deep love sustain me, and,
    With silence, not gainsay me.

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