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"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." Elizabeth Cady Stanton



Tuesday, 28 February 2012

How Atrocities Happen

Anyone who has wondered how slavery, the Holocaust, human sacrifice, or the killing of newborns in ancient Greece and Rome could have happened, look no further than this article from The Journal of Medical Ethics. I honestly thought it was a joke when I first heard about this article, so I went through my University Library to check if this was an honest-to-goodness published article that academic institutions have associated themselves with. And it turns out, it is.
Written by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, the article argues that newborns, like fetuses, are only "potential persons" and so cannot be harmed by the "prevention of their potentiality". Therefore, in situations where families feel that it is in their best interests to end the life of their child, they should not be prevented from doing so, because the rights of self-determination of "actual persons" are more compelling than the rights of "potential persons" to develop into "actual persons". At the end, the authors do not make claims to any thresholds at which "after-birth abortion" should not be permissible - in effect, they say it should be left up to the discretion of families and doctors.

Seriously scary stuff. I really encourage you to read through the entire article, it is absolutely imperative that we understand how these people think, because they honestly believe that they are doing good. And it really does prove that we aren't crazy when we claim that abortion, besides being an atrocity all on its own, leads to the slippery slope of denying more and more humans their right to live (the central idea in the pro-choice movement). People who lived through past human rights abuses learned this the hard way, and yet how easily we forget such lessons.

"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me."
-Martin Niemoller

I've included the paper in its entirety below, just in case you can't access the journal (hopefully this isn't a breach of copyright, if so just let me know and I'll take out the full article and leave in the particularly salient points, such as the fact that "after-birth abortion" can be a better solution than adoption ...):

2012/04/18 EDIT: So it turns out that this article is available for free to the public, and you can access it using the link above. If that doesn't work, the homepage of the journal provides the link for you, with responses from other academics (well worth the read imo, so do check it out). Apparently, even though the article is in the public domain, one still can't reprint the whole thing without permission, even though I'm not profiting from it and anyone can access the article through the link I provided. Anyway, just to be safe, I've taken out the entire article and replaced it with what I think are the most important quotes. All quotes are referenced directly from the paper, bold emphasis is my own.

Giubilini, A. & Minerva, F. After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? J Med Ethics. Doi: 10.1136/medethics-2011-100411. Published online Feb 2012. 

"A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. [...] Such an issue arises, for example, when an abnormality has not been detected during pregnancy or occurs during delivery. [...] An examination of 18 European registries reveals that between 2005 and 2009 only the 64% of Down's syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing. This percentage indicates that, considering only the European areas under examination, about 1700 infants were born with Down's syndrome without parents being aware of it before birth. Once these children 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."
"In The Netherlands [...] 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’. [...] But, in fact, people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy. 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. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible."

"In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, 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 [...] Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be."

"Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. [...] 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 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."

"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. [...] This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life."

"It might be claimed that someone is harmed because she is prevented from becoming a person capable of appreciating her own being alive [but] in order for a harm to occur, it is necessary that someone is in the condition of experiencing that harm. / If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. / A consequence of this position is that the interests of actual people over-ride the interest of merely potential people to become actual ones."

"Actual people's well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of. Sometimes this situation can be prevented through an abortion, but in some other cases this is not possible. In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions."

"Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone's right but possibly increase the happiness of people involved (adopters and adoptee)? [...] however weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones, because this latter interest amounts to zero. On this perspective, [...] we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption. [...] What we are suggesting is that, if interests of actual people should prevail, then after-birth abortion should be considered a permissible option for women who would be damaged by giving up their newborns for adoption."

"If 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."

"First, we do not put forward any claim about the moment at which after-birth abortion would no longer be permissible [...] In cases where the after-birth abortion were requested for non-medical reasons, we do not suggest any threshold ..."

"if [...] circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden on someone, then people should be given the chance of not being forced to do something they cannot afford."


  1. I appreciate your making this paper available so that those of us who are not subscribers would read the full text of it. Thanks!

  2. It's a disgusting article, but posting it the way you have is definitely a copyright violation. You don't own the work, it's not public domain and you can't publish it without permission. Consider linking to it or referencing it instead. Otherwise, get permission from the authors.