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Defending the Indefensible: Journal Editor Celebrates Publishing Pro-Infanticide Essay

by | Mar 1, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Prof. Julian Savulescu

In his righteously indignant defense of his decision to publish a pro-infanticide manifesto, the editor of the “Journal of Medical Ethics,” Prof. Julian Savulescu, yesterday unwittingly helped publicize recommendations that routinely emerge in the bioethics community and outrageous assaults on the vulnerable in places like the Netherlands known only to a small segment of the population. (See

Savulescu is familiar with Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubilini, authors of “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”  (“After-birth abortion” is their euphemism for infanticide.) According to the Telegraph newspaper,

“Minerva was a research associate at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics until last June, when she moved to the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Melbourne University. Giubilini, a former visiting student at Cambridge University, gave a talk in January at the Oxford Martin School – where Prof Savulescu is also a director – titled ‘What is the problem with euthanasia?’”

Giubilini and Minerva argue that’s what sauce for the goose (the unborn child) is sauce for the gander (the newborn). Whatever reasons that abortion is allowed for must by necessity apply to newborns.

How does that work?

“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life.’” And by person the authors take that “to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.” Thus, “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.”

The remaining links in their deadly chain of logic are (1) it is “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”; and therefore (2) “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

The latter is an important step down the slippery slope because at least some others who slide over from abortion to infanticide pretend as if they are only talking about babies born with severe disabilities.

Savulescu is apoplectic in his defense of Giubilini and Minerva and in his over-the-top criticism of those who challenged his decision to publish the article. And it goes with saying that anyone who directly or indirectly suggests violence IS to be condemned. This is convenient for Savulescu that some respondents went way overboard. That allowed him to not only wave the flag of academic freedom, but contrast the ‘well-reasoned” arguments in his journal against the babblings of the yahoos who don’t get it.

Noteworthy, however, in the opening two paragraphs that appear on the Journal of Medical Ethics  blog is that Savulescu highlights three important but largely unknown truths.

“The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

“The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands.”

That is, (1) almost nothing new here. The usual suspects—Singer, Tooley, Harris—have already plowed these intellectual grounds. Good to know that the “best minds” are already prepositioning the culture to bury what remains of the sanctity of life ethic.

In addition, (2) since infanticide has already been justified, what’s “novel” is that it’s justified in light of “maternal and family interests.” [In fact, that is not new, or novel, although broader implications are drawn.] So having read the infant out of the ranks of the protectable human family, they add

“On the other hand, not only [personal] aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion.”

Furthermore, (3) don’t you dopes know that infanticide is not just practiced in textbooks and medical journal articles. It’s already taking place in the Netherlands! Haven’t you heard about the “Groningen Protocol” whose objective was to normalize infanticide?

Published in 2005, “the Groningen Protocol isn’t designed to end the secret that is not a secret [that babies born with disabilities are killed],” wrote Wesley Smith at the time. “It is intended to legitimize eugenic infanticide and move it from a crime tolerated by the, oh, so tolerant Dutch, to outright legality. In other words, the last vestige of protection left in the Netherlands against infanticide — that is, the technical illegality of killing babies in the Netherlands — is to be stripped away, including the protection against the killing of disabled infants not dependent on intensive care for survival.”

And just as Giubilini and Minerva take it for granted that if abortion is legal, so ought infanticide to be legal, so, too, have the ever-tolerant Dutch moved from justifying for euthanasia for one category of people to “mainstreaming” euthanasia for many, many vulnerable people. As Smith wrote last year,

“Since 1973, when euthanasia was quasi decriminalized, Dutch doctors have gone from euthanizing the terminally ill who ask for it, to the chronically ill who ask for it, to people with disabilities who ask for it, to the mentally anguished who ask for it–and all legal because the ‘guidelines’ proved so elastic they had not snap back at all.  And now, they want to target vulnerable and marginalized elderly people.

“Even that isn’t enough. If patients don’t qualify legally for euthanasia, the KNMG [The Dutch Medical Association] says it is perfectly fine for doctors to provide their patients with how-to-commit-suicide information–known as ‘auto euthanasia.’ And while we are on the subject, we mustn’t forget the technically illegal euthanasia killings–infanticide and ‘termination without request or consent’–which generally go unpunished, and indeed, in the case of infanticide, is openly and respectfully discussed in medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, with the publication of the ‘Groningen Protocol.’”

In the face of the unfeeling callousness on display in “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” there is this consolation. The evil genius of the anti-life ethos is to hide so that it might thrive in the darkness.

Every time it shows its face, the light of truth shines down to reveal its ugliness.

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Categories: Infanticide