A pro-life person may think the latest wisdom from the Journal of Medical Ethics is a spoof demonstrating the logical absurdity of justifying abortion. But this reasoning is deadly serious. In “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” two professional ethicists explain there is no logical difference between aborting a pre-born baby and murdering a newborn. Except they don’t call it murder because they do not believe newborns are “actual people.”1
While we say fetuses (and embryos too, for that matter, but that discussion is for another day) and newborns should receive the same protection, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue fetuses and newborns are equally deserving of no protection. The authors admit both a fetus and a newborn are human, but they redefine person as someone able to appreciate his own existence. They therefore count “many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals”2 as persons but exclude a newborn because she has not reached a “level of mental development”3 that is “capable of appreciating her own being alive.”4 “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life,” they write, as only an “actual person” has a “right to life.”
Then they define harm as depriving a person of something they value. And since neither a fetus nor a newborn can value life, they assert there is no moral reason to prohibit abortion and therefore no reason to prohibit infanticide. In their words, “Since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions.”5
And what sort of reason could justify killing a baby? The authors write that even a healthy child can be a burden. Thus, “if economical, social or psychological 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.”6 What of adoption? Not a good option for many, the authors claim, because “the mother . . . might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption.”7 In short, they write, “However weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people.”
The authors do not claim killing a newborn is euthanasia. After all, “mercy-killing” is supposedly merciful to the individual being killed, whereas “after-birth abortion” may only be merciful to the parents or society. Whether infanticide is merciful to the infant or not is irrelevant. They emphasize the distinction by noting a Down’s syndrome child can enjoy a happy “acceptable life” but be “an unbearable burden on the family and on society.”8
Giubilini doesn’t ignore the topic of euthanasia; he just doesn’t deal with it here. In a recent talk at St. Cross College he reasoned, “There is no sound moral reason against euthanasia.”9
Human life is a continuum that begins with formation of the zygote at fertilization and continues uninterrupted until death.
Human life is a continuum that begins with formation of the zygote at fertilization and continues uninterrupted until death. We assign names to different phases of this continuum—blastocyst, embryo, fetus, newborn, toddler, teenager, you, your grandmother, etc.—but logically there is no distinction between the willful destruction of a human person at one phase or another. What these “experts” on ethics are saying is not new. Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix, said a child should not be considered “human” until three days after birth.10
Throughout history many cultures have practiced “exposure,” leaving an unwanted infant out in the elements to die. And lest we pat our civilized selves on the back too quickly, pro-choice people who justify partial-birth abortion—common practice in many places—should realize there really is no logical difference between a newborn baby just before its head enters the world outside its mother’s body and a moment later when it sees the light.
Similar reasoning—that we should “sympathize with the onerous demands of pregnancy and childbirth” and that as Princeton ethicist Peter Singer says “there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby”—was recently advanced by a Canadian judge to justify releasing a woman convicted of strangling her newborn baby and tossing him over a fence.11 Does the world need more professional voices building elaborate arguments to justify such barbaric behavior?
By distinguishing a person from a human being, these authors—like clever magicians—divert attention from the real issue. The National Catholic Register sums up their tactic well:
The second we allow ourselves to become the arbiters of who is human and who isn’t, this is the calamitous yet inevitable end. Once you say all human life is not sacred, the rest is just drawing random lines in the sand.
An ethicist’s job is like a magician’s. The main job of both is to distract you from the obvious. The magician uses sleight of hand to pretend to make people disappear. But when ethicists do it, people disappear for real.12
These ethicists argue “ethical” is that which puts even the weakest “needs” of society or “actual persons” ahead of those unable to understand they’re being deprived of life.
The real issue here is not “when does a human become a person with rights?” but rather “who makes the rules?” Who decides what is “ethical” or “right”? These ethicists argue “ethical” is that which puts even the weakest “needs” of society or “actual persons” ahead of those unable to understand they’re being deprived of life. Their standard is mere opinion, however.
Apart from a source of truth from someone greater than man, no person’s moral judgments are more valid than another’s. Only God who created mankind is justly in a position of moral authority over all mankind. God’s account of Creation recorded in the Bible is consistent with what we see in the physical world and validates His ownership of humanity and His right to set our standards.
God made man in His image. Therefore all human beings are of equal value in God’s sight whether or not they comprehend the value of their lives. The lives of the newborn and the unborn, the lives of human embryos in laboratories, the lives of the weak and the helpless—all have value because God made human beings in His image. God explained in Genesis 9:6 His reason for prohibiting murder was because He made man in His image. God commands us not to murder (Exodus 20:13) and to defend the “speechless . . . who are appointed to die” (Proverbs 31:8–9).
Most pro-choice and pro-abortion people wouldn’t consider murdering a newborn baby. They need to carefully consider the claims of these authors. We join with many others in being appalled at this logical justification of infanticide, but we hope many who support abortion will let their revulsion at infanticide awaken them to the logical reality of what they are supporting and see that the pre-born baby is also defenseless person made in the image of God, not a biological entity to be defined to death.
For more information about the public reaction to this article, see this article.
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