Two Australian academics have received death threats after arguing in the Journal of Medical Ethics that newborn babies should be put to death if the mother wishes. They say killing a healthy newborn is the same as aborting a fetus.
Alberto Guiblini and Francesca Minerva, doctors of philosophy in two major Australian universities, have received death threats for their article After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? which supports after-birth abortion as permissible in all cases where abortion would be carried out. This is irrespective of whether the newborn is disabled or healthy.
The authors maintain that abnormalities cannot always be detected in a fetus and women cannot choose to abort or not. "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".
Guiblini and Minerva go on to explain the terminology, "we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise 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".
In their argument, the academics maintain that a newborn, especially in the first few days or weeks of life, is incapable of forming any aims or expectations about its future, so it cannot be considered a person with a moral right to life. On the other hand, those who have these abilities, such as the parents or siblings of the baby, have the right to decide whether their lives will be adversely affected should the baby live. " Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion," they conclude.
This does not only apply to cases where the newborn is handicapped, according to the authors. "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".
The authors conclude, " criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn".
The fact that the Netherlands practices infanticide is used by the authors to support their argument. However, this applies only to terminally ill newborns. The Groningen Protocol, adopted in 2005, states "euthanasia is allowed when the child’s medical team and independent doctors agree the pain cannot be eased and there is no prospect for improvement, and when parents think it is best," according to The Brussels Journal.
In justifying their publication of the article, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Julian Savulescu wrote "Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, 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. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject".