Remember in elementary school when our teachers read dystopian fiction to us, and we thought killing newborns and elders because they were inconvenient to society was pure fantasy, a cool but far-fetched social statement? Many of us wouldn’t even be out of college when this very scenario would be seriously proposed in The Journal of Medical Ethics.
All right, it’s been proposed before, as JME editor Julian Savulescu was quick to point out in defense of Melbourne students Albert Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, as if this made their stance any less hateful or ridiculous (eugenics has also been proposed before). However, “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, which argues that “after-birth abortion” (the legal execution of unwanted newborns, such as in cases of disability or disfigurement undetectable in the womb, or just plain inconvenience to the mother) should be acceptable in all cases where abortion would be, has been causing quite a stir on the Web. I went from wanting to cry at what kind of world we live in to hope that the article was a biting satire intended to make us think critically about where we ethically draw the line and why. Minerva’s blog posts saying people had taken their paper out of context had me genuinely curious to read what was starting to sound like an unfairly maligned, insightful social statement.
Sadly, though, both the angry mob and the satire theorists are giving these students way too much credit. My plan was to debate with the paper, but as anyone who actually agrees that killing newborns is morally progressive is not worth seriously debating with, I’d rather just treat you to some choice excerpts from their article and the dark-snark that absolutely writes itself. I’m less concerned than I would normally be about crossing the line, as this paper crosses all the lines quite capably on its own. (All quotes are taken from Giubilini and Minerva’s article on JME.com, first published Feb. 23.)
(In defense of killing babies whose disabilities or “defects” were not detected in the womb) “One example is the case of Treacher-Collins syndrome (TCS), a condition that affects 1 in 10,000 births, causing facial deformity and related physiological failures . . . Usually those affected by TCS are not mentally impaired and they are therefore fully aware of their condition, of being different from other people and of all the problems their pathology entails.”
In other words, they are fully capable of understanding that you just implied they are literally too ugly to live and would be right to hate their lives? For a minute there I thought you might actually try for some sensitivity with such a potentially offensive topic.
“Once these children (with Down’s syndrome) are born, there is no choice for the parents but to keep the child, which sometimes is exactly what they would not have done if the disease had been diagnosed before birth.”
You mean they might have a child who does not conform to their obviously narrow expectations of what constitutes the perfect child, presumably after making a conscious and informed decision to conceive one? Better not tell them their other child isn’t going to be the skinny, blonde, straight-A cheerleader they were hoping for.
(Addressing the argument that people with Down’s syndrome can be perfectly happy and fulfilled) “Nonetheless, 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.”
When Minerva and Giubilini did book reports on The Giver as children, did they wax poetic about Lois Lowry’s revolutionary vision for a golden age of humanity? I’m definitely not trying to undermine what families of disabled individuals go through; genetically, my own children are likely, if not certain, to be differently abled, and I’ll admit I’m terrified. But technically, aren’t we all “burdens” on our families and the state at some point? How on earth can anyone argue that negates the worth of our lives?
“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.”
Thank you for enlightening us with the ultimate definition of what constitutes a human being, as discovered by you! Silly philosophers and theologians with their wasted time; what makes us human has been the fact that we have “aims!” It’s so simple! I knew that guy who lives in his parents’ basement eating Cheetos and playing World of Warcraft all day wasn’t really a person!
(Further explaining their concept of what constitutes doing harm to someone, i.e., frustrating their aims) “A person might be ‘harmed’ when someone steals from her the winning lottery ticket even if she will never find out that her ticket was the winning one.”
Rarely do we get to use the word “irony” properly, and even more rarely has it been so beautifully gift-wrapped for us. Astounding. Bravo. Are they sure they’re not militant pro-lifers?
“However, whereas you can benefit someone by bringing her into existence (if her life is worth living), it makes no sense to say that someone is harmed by being prevented from becoming an actual person. The reason is that, by virtue of our definition of the concept of ‘harm’ . . . it is necessary that someone is in the condition of experiencing that harm.”
If I were any less impressed by this “argument,” it would be Justin Bieber’s . . . songwriting ability. To decipher: they expect their extremely narrow definition of “harm” to actually get them off the hook for this.
“So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed had our parents decided to kill us when we were fetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist . . . And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”
It’s fine if you’re clinically incapable of thinking abstractly or, you know, at all, but I wouldn’t exactly write and publish a whole paper bragging about it.
“. . . we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption.”
They’re advocating her right to have the child executed for the crime of existing (which, if they made a conscious decision to conceive, was actually the parents’ “crime”), and now they’re worried about how giving it up for adoption will affect her psychologically? Their justification for this is that, if the child is adopted, she will have hope of it someday coming back to her, whereas if the child is dead, there is no chance of that emotional problem. Couldn’t make this up if I tried, people.
Well, somehow I get the feeling it’s necessary to clarify before wrapping this up that it’s not my intention to offend pro-choicers or pro-lifers (grossly oversimplified terms that I cringe to even use, by the way), because, unlike this paper, both sides of the abortion debate can be grounded in both logic and empathy. I would hope that this paper offends both sides of the fence quite equally.