Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

After Birth Abortion: A Response to the Essay by Alberto Guibilini and Francesca Minerva

I read an essay today in the Journal of Medical Ethics trying to discuss the morals of killing new born babies under the term After-Birth Abortion.

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. However, this consideration entails a much stronger idea than the one according to which severely handicapped children should be euthanised. 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.

There are two reasons which, taken together, justify this claim:

The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.

It is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense.

We are going to justify these two points in the following two sections.

It's a tough read, and you have to step back from it to see the real, fundamental flaws in it.

On a first reading, the essay does a terrible number on abortion, euthanasia, and various research into stem cells and embryos, and undoubtedly, this essay will be quoted to support people who have stances against those things. Alberto Guibilini and Francesca Minerva do a terrible job of arguing their point cleanly, or clearly, and fail to present if they are positioning their idea on a legal, ethical, or medical basis. For example, when they make the point that, "medical professionals have recognised the need for guidelines about cases in which death seems to be in the best interest of the child. In The Netherlands, for instance, the Groningen Protocol (2002) allows to actively terminate the life of ‘infants with a hopeless prognosis who experience what parents and medical experts deem to be unbearable suffering’" they're on an interesting, solid ground, but they soon deviate into elements of economics and mental fitness that at the base of it, become an argument for Eugenics.

Their argument ultimately becomes that if you don't meet what society claims is a healthy child, either through mental or physical disability, then the parent ought to be able to terminate the life of their newly born child because, in these first hours or days of life, the child has not yet formed a personality or a set of goals. The essay makes a point of saying that people with down syndrome have, through research, been found to be happy by and large--but, there is also the truth that those with down syndrome are prone to disease and do cost a lot of money. But, with the argument presented by the authors, there is the hint, the suggestion that these people are not fit to be in society, that they are an unnecessary burden, a weight that a healthy and strong society does not need. When the pair begin arguing that mothers who don't feel they can economically or emotionally provide for a healthy child, much less a mentally ill one, they begin to skid off into a whole series of questions that they don't begin to raise or answer, on just who or what decides what is economically viable and emotionally stable to do so. Nor do they even begin to address self responsibility and societal responsibility.

That's the problem with this essay. Don't let the angry baby killing thing lead you in the wrong direction. The essay is not well argued, it's not well thought out, and it's doing an active disservice to pro-choice. Which, given that it is an essay about the ethics of killing a newborn child and names it 'after birth abortion' could very well be its purpose.

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