After-birth abortion

I’m a regular reader of Simcha Fisher. She can be found at her popular blog here. She posted a very good essay on the “habit of irony” the other day and briefly mentioned a recent article regarding after-birth abortion. I would like to take this opportunity to expand on what she says about that article and offer a more thorough look at the two authors findings (not that Simcha is incapable of that, but because a more thorough look at the article was not the point of her original post).

There is much to discuss about “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” (Giubilini A, Minerva F, J Med Ethics, 2012) . I agree with Simcha that “anytime we introduce distance between ourselves and our actions, we take the first steps toward Hell.” But the actual article could be used to support the position against post-birth abortion and, in fact, abortion in general. Since the article is currently only available to those who have access to PubMed or subscribe to The Journal of Medical Ethics, most people are relying on another person’s reportage or on a personal reading of the abstract alone. The authors state that “a serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion became known after birth. In such cases we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.”

It is interesting that the authors use the words “killing”, “human fetus” and “newborn human.” At the very beginning of the article they are acknowledging that what is being aborted, with no limit on estimated gestational age, is a human fetus. They then discuss two specific medical conditions, Treacher-Collins syndrome and Down syndrome, and how these two conditions are not always able to be diagnosed prior to birth. Abortions have been performed when these two conditions were diagnosed prenatally, and it is noted that some parents, if provided with accurate diagnosis prior to birth, would have chosen to abort their afflicted child. Some philosophers have proposed euthanasia for children who are faced with lives deemed by others to be not worth living and the authors note that medical professionals have been calling for guidelines in cases where it would seem that death would be in the best interest of the child. They mention the Groningen Protocol which would allow the active termination of the “life of infants with a hopeless prognosis who experience what parents and medical experts deem to be unbearable suffering.” In the next paragraph the authors note that “it is hard to find definitive arguments to the effect that life with certain pathologies is not worth living, even when those pathologies would constitute acceptable reasons for abortion,” going so far as to admit that “people affected by…severe disabilities are often reported to be happy.” Ultimately the thrust of their article becomes, in their words, “when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”

Much discussion ensues regarding the moral status of a fetus and a newborn with two specific claims being examined and arguments put forth to uphold the authors claim:

1. 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.

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

I’m not going to enter into too much discussion here because I do not subscribe to their viewpoint on the moral status of a person. I suspect that no faithful Catholic subscribes to their viewpoint either. I will note that they do state that “merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.” All three categories listed above are people the Catholic Church teaches us to hold as valuable.

Ultimately the authors conclude that the potential life of the unborn or newborn (who are both incapable of understanding their loss of potential future) is of less value that the life of actual persons (family or society) and as such, the desires of the actual persons should prevail. What is most important about this article is the conclusion:

“If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reason for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the fetus, 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.”
So, if we as a society can justify killing an unborn healthy child (by virtue of the mother’s mental health, or family economics) then we cannot claim that it is immoral to kill the healthy newborn because the newborn is no different than the fetus. In my opinion, their claim bolsters the argument that abortion is immoral.

What do you think? Have you read the article and, if so, do you agree with me? Is there something you think I may have missed? I look forward to your comments.

This entry was posted in abortion, Bioethics, Faith, moral status, Parenting, person, Prenatal Testing, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to After-birth abortion

  1. Jessica says:

    I agree that putting both an unborn child and a newborn infant on the same moral plane can highlight the inherent value of the unborn. Devaluing the life of a newborn is something that (I’m hoping) would feel intuitively wrong to many people, and pro-choice individuals may feel discomfited by the close association and perhaps rethink “when life begins” even if it’s just changing their stance on something like late-term abortion.

    The question remains unanswered: When DOES a kill-able baby become a protected person? At what age is “after birth abortion” considered murder instead? Would that, too, be open to debate depending on “quality of life” assessment?

  2. If a human being’s value is quantitative as they age, you would think we would treat our elderly as the most worthy of our respect and care. However, we see quite the opposite played out in society, don’t we? I don’t believe for a minute that people just think newborns are “less human.” I think people are just more willing to destroy newborns because they don’t wish to be selfless enough to care for them. The same can be same of the elderly and disabled.

    • I like your idea of quantitative value. I agree with you that ultimately the desire to chose abortion comes down to selfishness. I still struggle though with the idea of passive euthanasia versus allowing to die a natural death. I submit to the Church’s teachings on not withholding nutrition and hydration but i’m still struggling with it.

  3. phtasmagoria says:

    The term “after-birth abortion” is a misnomer in and of itself. To abort something means to do it during the process of, not after the fact. Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva are applying the use of euphemism to lessen the impact of the term infanticide, because that is what it is. Little do they know how illiterate it makes them sound.

    Where this all leads to will be interesting to follow.

    • I agree with you that the correct term is infanticide. To their credit, the authors refer to the procedure as “killing a newborn” “killing a fetus” and “killing a newborn human.” I think the term “after-birth abortion” is one chosen not to reduce the horror of the procedure but to further establish a link between the action occurring prior to and after birth.

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