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“Liberals Are Disgusting”: In Defence of the Publication of “After-Birth Abortion”

Editorial note: John Harris has responded to this post to clarify his position on infanticide. You can find the relevant post here.

The Journal of Medical Ethics prepublished electronically an article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”

This article has elicited personally abusive correspondence to the authors, threatening their lives and personal safety. The Journal has received a string abusive emails for its decision to publish this article. This abuse is typically anonymous.

I am not sure about the legality of publishing abusive threatening anonymous correspondence, so I won’t repeat it here. But fortunately there is plenty on the web to choose from. Here are some responses:

“These people are evil. Pure evil. That they feel safe in putting their twisted thoughts into words reveals how far we have fallen as a society.”

“Right now I think these two devils in human skin need to be delivered for immediate execution under their code of ‘after birth abortions’ they want to commit murder – that is all it is! MURDER!!!”

“I don‘t believe I’ve ever heard anything as vile as what these “people” are advocating. Truly, truly scary.”

“The fact that the Journal of Medical Ethics published this outrageous and immoral piece of work is even scarier”

(Comments selected from The Blaze, which features the article as a news item )

As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. 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.

Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.

Of course, many people will argue that on this basis abortion should be recriminalised. Those arguments can be well made and the Journal would publish a paper than made such a case coherently, originally and with application to issues of public or medical concern. The Journal does not specifically support substantive moral views, ideologies, theories, dogmas or moral outlooks, over others. It supports sound rational argument. Moreover, it supports freedom of ethical expression. The Journal welcomes reasoned coherent responses to After-Birth Abortion. Or indeed on any topic relevant to medical ethics.

What is disturbing is not the arguments in this paper nor its publication in an ethics journal. It is the hostile, abusive, threatening responses that it has elicited. More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.

On the Blaze which reported it:

“Liberals are disgusting. They have criminal minds. To think that a person must be considered “worthy” to live is criminal.”

“It seems to me if good people are not going to stand up to do away with people who believe in doing away with live babies, then it means no one is good, and it’s just easier for God to drop a couple asteroids on earth.”

“i can’t even comment on this atrocity. I know these people are murderers in their hearts. And God will treat them as such. They are completely spiritually dead.”

“I have to say that I would personally kill anyone doing a after-birth abortion if I had the chance. Is that clear enough?”

The comments include openly racist remarks:

“Alberto Giubilini looks like a muslim so I have to agree with him that all muslims should have been aborted. If abortion fails, no life at birth – just like he wants.” [Correction: Alberto Giubilini does not argue anywhere that all muslims should have been aborted. Indeed, he does not mention muslims at all.]

“Journal of Medical Ethics” — hahaha! You libs and your quack science. Ya think that’s impressive, Albutt & Franpoop? No ****! I can beat you in my sleep. Here goes:

“I take a ‘subject of a moral right to life’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to my own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to me.

“Here’s the “projected moral status” you comunisti italiani pigs would get: Bang, bang. Drop in toxic waste dump reserved for left-wing contaminants.”

This is hate speech. The kind of thing that incenses people to violence.

What the response to this article reveals, through the microscope of the web, is the deep disorder of the modern world. Not that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement.

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207 Comment on this post

  1. This article's conclusion that the criticism of this ethics study is "This is hate speech. The kind of thing that incenses people to violence." raises another, larger ethical issue. On what grounds are you staying that inciting violence is right or wrong? You say free speech is under attack, yet you in the same article attack others for using free speech because it "incenses people to violence". You are attacking the same thing you are supposedly defending; therefore your argument is meaningless.

    What is the ethical difference between supposed "incensing violence" through free speech and justifying the termination of an infant life through free speech, as theses ethicists have done? On what grounds can you tell me that one is better than the other? Can you prove to me that violence against adults is somehow wrong yet ending the life of a minutes old infant is acceptable? The ethical code you are supporting merely justifies whatever is convenient in the moment for the individual, and logically can only end in ethical anarchy. You can’t defend a worldview that has no foundation. Killing the innocent, whether young or old, is wrong because God designed our world and He defined what is evil.

    1. "Can you prove to me that violence against adults is somehow wrong yet ending the life of a minutes old infant is acceptable? "

      Well, presumably the authors of the paper would claim that adults are fully persons, and possess mental characteristics that newborns lack.

      I hope you don't eat animals, by the way. Many animals are more intelligent and self-aware than a newborn human.

      1. Matt Sharp, your argument is hilarious, are you saying that as long as we eat animals, so infants, as they are intellectuals inferior to some apes, can be killed as if kill an animal with a higher intellectual level is allowed so to kill a human being with less intellectual level must also be allowed.

        So why not allow eating babies as long as eating beef is allowed?
        Johnathan Swift proposed it as a solution to the Irish problem, it was meant satirically of course, but for you it will become a very well legitimated reality.

        And why make an IQ test of all human beings and kill all for their meat when they score a lower level?

        1. I'm saying that if you think it's not ok to harm human infants on the basis of their mental capacity, then it should not be ok to harm animals that have a similar mental capacity.

          " So why not allow eating babies as long as eating beef is allowed?
          Johnathan Swift proposed it as a solution to the Irish problem, it was meant satirically of course, but for you it will become a very well legitimated reality."

          I've not legitimated it: those who eat beef have legitimated it. I think we should not eat babies, and not eat beef (though there are certain exceptions when I think it would be ok to eat either/both).

          1. Sorry. I don't share the premise with you. For you, babies are not human beings. For me they are.

            You can hunger yourself to death your choice, and never wear shoes, they are made of animal skin. Good luck matt, among us at the university, the vegans are generally regarded as the most unsympathetic. Btw. Godwin's law again, Hitler was a nice vegetarian, like you.

          2. Btw. you wrote "if you think it’s not ok to harm human infants on the basis of their mental capacity". It is not my premise, nor a premise shared by the opponents of baby killing. We oppose infanticide because they are human beings, while a calf is a calf. Never heard of biology and species? Who told you that a human being one day old is not a human being?

          3. Teresa, please pay more attention to what I have actually written.

            "For you, babies are not human beings."

            I've not stated this. Babies are human beings. I just don't necessarily think they are human persons.

            "We oppose infanticide because they are human beings, while a calf is a calf. Never heard of biology and species?"

            Why is species membership at all relevant? Biology *is* relevant, on the basis that physiological traits are what allow an organism to feel and experience anything.

          4. Matt, "human beings" are not "human persons" you state it, really nonsense. Does the law says killing human persons is not allowed but killing human beings is. So of course you can declare someone a non-person, perhaps an enemy of the proletariat class, like in the USSR, and these class enemies were sent to GULAG without process and killed at will, because they were considered non-persons.

            The Nazis said Jews were not persons, so they were also given free to be killed. I must conclude that "libertarians" like you, Harris and all other like-minded crowd are not better than the Nazis.

            The moral law is: you should not kill a human being, a human being is a person. If you try to define person independently of "human being", you can manipulate the concept and define who is a person and who a non-person. And there we are again, at the Nazis "Untermensch" and "Herren-Rasse".

            I won't be surprised when one day liberal leftists define that all Christians and all anti-abortionists are non-persons and should be killed in the Gas chamber.

          5. "Does the law says killing human persons is not allowed but killing human beings is."

            Yes, where abortion is legal. In the UK, for example, a foetus is not recognised as a human person. But it is still a human being.

            "I must conclude that "libertarians" like you, Harris and all other like-minded crowd are not better than the Nazis. "

            Wow, you're really hysterical. I'm not a libertarian. Also, you do realise that libertarianism is pretty much the opposite of Nazism, right? And, you do realise I'm not in favour of killing babies?

          6. Matt and Teresa you seem to be speaking past yourselves.

            Matt maybe it would be good to understand why we cannot treat babies similar to animals of similar cognitive ability if personhood is the foundation of full moral consideration?

            Teresa ok you think a moral person/entity is a human being. Why? Just because we are the same species? What about brain dead human beings? They are living human beings. If being a human being is what matters should they be kept alive?

    2. What's fascinating here is that no one realizes they are being played. This article exists for one reason alone. That is to support the forced-motherhood movement. By creating a fake boogeyman that can be quoted around the Internet and press, this fake journal can create the fake idea that "scientists" are advancing a position that is easier to attack than the positions that people actually hold. It's a brilliant strategy, creating fake opponents you can then easily refute. Where is the article in "Practical Ethics" on fake ethics?

        1. Whether the *authors* (selected by the editor) are sincere and credible is largely irrelevant to the hypothesis. In fact, if you want to discredit a woman's right to choose, it is much more effective to find "real" but completely marginal extremist voices on the "other side" evoking ideas that will unify maximum opposition. The editor has already expressed his intention to follow-up with the "opposing" position, which is his own. Already the title, with its contradiction in terms, makes it clear the real agenda is not infanticide, but abortion. This is reinforced by the editor's choice of using the American political category of "liberal", immediately shifting the debate from philosophy to US politics.

          1. Ah, I see your point. Can you point me to evidence that Mr. Boyd opposes abortion, or are you just saying that he opposes infanticide? Opposition to infanticide is the dominant view among those who are pro-choice, you know. In fact, opposition from a pro-choice perspective would, if done well, accomplish the opposite goal to that you attribute to Mr. Boyd.

          2. THat’s a cute little conspiracy theory. Unfortunately that’s all it is. This isn’t a new idea that just recently got tossed out there. As the author of this article said, the legality of infanticide has been proposed by bio-ethicists for years. This is the logical conclusion to the idea that a human’s right to life is predicated on a subjective basis and who is worthy of life can be defined by other people.

      1. In that case, the pro-choice movement needs to buckle down and admit that the "choice" they want women to have is whether or not the growing child deserves to live. No more of these "forced motherhood" decoys! Just admit it: it's the mothers body and you believe she has a ultimate right to do with it whatever she wants, including kill another innocent human being. That's the argument and just live with it, instead of all these nonsense side arguments like "the fetus doesn't feel pain" or "it is not sentient" or "it is only a potential person". The "right" you want is the right of the mother to kill and the "choice" is the mother deciding the humanity – or lack thereof – of another human being. Stick with the basic facts of the argument and you won't get hung up by the logical conclusions of your arguments. Or will you…?

        1. Exactly. Unfortunately Liberal philosophers have gotten away with sloppy reasoning due the fact they win by default due to RvW and don't have to provide a consistent ethical account. Combine that with the situation that many Pro-Choicers can point to extreme conservative views on sex and contraception and think that since they are obviously wrong on those issues they are obviously wrong on this, it has allowed Pro-Choicers off the hook in regard to being consistent. Of course it doesnt help IMO that many Pro-Lifers are consistent either.

    1. Irene, your use of the verse "judge not" is being used put of its textual context and is being misapplied. The context (verses 1-5) clearly describes not holding others to a standard higher than yourself to.

      1. Nick, even if that is the correct interpretation, I think the point still stands. So for example, in this case, the authors have put forward an argument that, if accepted to others, would lead to infanticide in some cases. However, every day thousands of children die from easily preventable causes- malnutrition, disease etc. We could prevent this by accepting a lower standard of living but we, including I suspect many of the commentators in the blog, choose not to- allowing the death of many children. I think that would count as removing the speck from someone's eye, and leaving the beam in your own….

        But in fact, looking at other passages in the Bible, I think it holds us to a higher standard than you suggest. For example, when Jesus prevents the stoning of the adulteress by saying that only the person wihtout sin can cast the first stone, he doesn't say that it has to be someone who hasn;t committed adultery, or who has only committed crimes equivalent or worse than adultery, but any sin at all. I think the point is that God's judgment is the only judgment that counts and we cannot know it. Not that we should not decide what we believe is right and act accordingly, but that in relation to others we should not set oursleves up as the higher power of judgement because we cannot.

        That's not to say that I don't think Christian Ethics have a place in this kind of debate. However, the kind of statements that put Christians in the position of being God, judging others as evil I think is counter productive, stifles debate and is against the message of the Gospels. Nevertheless, there is plenty of scope for ethics based in religion. For example, if instead of looking at what is 'evil' in God's eyes we looked at what is good, or at God's love, we could approach debates such as this from a different perspective. There are families as the article describes who are overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for their children. Perhaps they would consider infanticide as the article suggests. If instead of sending death threats we looked at providing proper emotional, financial and practical support for such families and building a community where burdens are shared, these families would not be in such a desperate situation. That way, without judging others, we could seek to translate some of God's love through the medium of human love.

          1. Sorry Teresa, what was disgusting? Providing resources and support for families with disabled children?

        1. Irene, I found your comments very reasoned and objective. I too am a Christian, but I cringe equally at the sanctimonious excesses of both the far left and right. The anger from the right is usually against the left's unwillingness to hold people accountable for their own choices and behavior while at the same time condemning the right for their unwillingness to support open checkbook social services. Every society has developed standards they enforced primarily to ensure the survival of the group. Liberals are now trying to throw off those limitations while blaming the religious for all our ills. The argument that women should be allowed to murder their newborns if they are unwanted is just the latest feminatzi argument for sole control over a human life it takes two to create. Hopefully they will continue to lose that argument.

  2. I wish to give my support to both authors.

    Science requires a healthy environment for debate, and it is a terrible thing that scients still have to worry for their lives when they do their job.

    It is good she has both your as well as prof. Boyd's support. Without that sort of attention, her life would certainly be at real risk. It is also comforting to know that Uehiro Centre's care for their children.

    1. They aren't scientists Theo, they are moral philosophers, or more appropriately what "philosophers" -ie. what Plato and Socrates knew as sophists.

      Notice here that what they are arguing rejects any determinate definition of what a person is, since a baby one second is a baby a second later is a baby a second later… all the way up to an adult. Meaning they are not dealing in any properly coherent ideas, meaning what they are doing is sophistry.

      Either that or this thing is a giant academic troll joke.

      In either case they should not be supported.

      1. "They aren’t scientists Theo"
        I have books and articles here proving the opposite (…as if this really mattered for the case at hand.)

        This event will make future ethicists think twice before publishing original papers, and this is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable.

        No one should be harmed for speaking freely. Nor should them have their private lives disturbed for that reason. Disagreements must take place in the same level of the alleged offense: publish a paper in the same journal, or give me a link to one, then we can continue this conversation.

        Have you read the paper, at all?

        1. In other words, only academics are allowed to have an opinion and a voice? That's a deeply disturbing suggestion, for a number of reasons.

          1. Spot on Katie, the liberals haven't read Karl Popper's Open Society and its enemies, in which the dictatorship of an intellectual elite is the target of his critique. His thesis: this dictatorship of the intellectual elite is the core of a totalitarian regime. Remember that the Holocaust was also very well grounded by academics, think of Alfred Rosenberg and his ilk in the academical world at that time!

          2. No, nothing is stopping you from accessing the material and doing your own research, plus there are alternative avenues to publish than going through academic journals. By and large basic knowledge of the reasoning and philosophy in the debate is seriously lacking in the lay audience; this doesn't mean they cannot contribute but it does mean much of the debate by lay people is of such a low quality that they are just inflaming the debate with rhetoric.

  3. Huh. So it's OK to say we should kill unwanted babies, but it's not OK to say we should kill unwanted ethicists? Sounds like special pleading to me. (My position, in case it's obscured by the sarcasm, is that we should kill neither ethicists nor babies. But ethicists who argue that we should kill babies definitely tempt me to violate my standards.)

  4. Here's another way to put it. So far as I can tell, you're asserting YOUR right to say that we should be able to kill certain sorts of people. And you're simultaneously asserting that NOBODY ELSE has the right to say that. On what grounds do you make this assertion? If it's legitimate to make an argument that we should kill babies in defence of a mother's mental health, certainly it's legitimate to make the counter-argument that we should kill ethicists in defence of those babies' actual lives?

    I suspect that the real difference you see between the Giubilini/Minerva article, and the howls of outrage from around the Internet, is that Giubilini and Minerva are saying "we should kill babies" very nicely and politely and in bland academic jargon, while the plebeians around the Internet are howling "we should kill ethicists" in a very unprofessional, grammatically incorrect manner.

    As I said earlier, I'm not in favor of either position, but if you ARE gonna kill someone, you should at least have the decency to shout at them first. It makes what you're about to do very clear. If Giubilini and Minerva actually have any humanity left, it's only because they're not really clear on what they're advocating. The shouting before the blood would at least bring a certain clarity to their position.

    1. The argument for "after-birth abortion" or infanticide was made 70 years ago by another philospher. His name was Adolf Hitler, and his comments were made in his philosphical treatise "Mein Kampf." The two people, and those who agree with them are as bad as those that caused the death of over 50 million people from about 1936 to 1945. They call themselves ethicists, and if that's true then Heinrich Himmler and Josef Mengele were their forebears. I just can't believe that people in our "enlightened" world would even consider this abomination. Where would they be right now if their mothers decided to have this procedure? Ethicists need to use more than their anuses for thinking. We don't need people who argue these points. We need people that are selfless, and compassionate. I'm surprised that these two are Italians. Most Italians I know would've received a whipping for even mentioning this stuff. So guys, questa e' schifo, e siete dei mostri!!

      1. LMAO! I'm astounded that it took an entire 4 hours for some reactionary to invoke hitler. Go back to your Glenn Beck message boards.

        1. I very much agree. A comparison to Hitler is entirely inappropriate. Sure, these folks are arguing that millions of babies should be killed because they're not really human, but that's not actually like *Hitler* in any way. Right?

          1. Actually, I found historical research showing that Hitler killed babies / children arguing for "humanity".
            I got to know this throw a well researched German documentary film, it shows that the Holocaust has Eugenics and Believe in technical Progress as a background. SS was mainly an organisation of medicals. Concentration Camps were places for SS medicals to experiment on human beings.
            The Gas chamber was developed after experiments with killing unwanted German citizens: the mentally ill, the terminally ill, disabled children.
            The extract can be read on our blog

          2. Sorry for the mistyping, it should be "through" and the "Belief in Progress".

            There is a Czech film called The Cremator which was forbidden in the East Block by the Communists. It is a nice parable for our modern society: in name of humanity people feel free to kill. It can be watched here (with English subtitle):

          3. Exactly, the Nazi references are very fitting… it was double talk and lies that fueled the Nazi regimens ability to kill millions. Their justification for murdering Jews was the same.. they claimmed humans were somehow less than human.

        2. So Jen, would you care to explain how arguing that a large segment of our population is not truly human, and therefore can be killed for any reason, is so far removed from Nazi philosophy as to be absurd? I'd humbly request an argument a bit more stringent than "ZOMG CONSERVATIVES R DUM!!1!"

  5. I'm struck by the fact that the authors of the quoted comments are happy to countenance killing, so long as it's of people that disagree with them, rather than of infants. I've not read the piece in question (yet), but it looks like it's just an argument for the moral equivalence of unborn foetuses and newborn infants, so really this disagreement (aside from the troubling way it's been put) is just a classic case of one person's modus ponens being another's modus tollens…

    1. I think that the ethical case for killing ethicists is a bit more nuanced than, "I want to kill people who disagree with me." It's closer to, "These two people are presenting an argument for the killing of babies. If this argument becomes widely accepted, it's is likely to result in the additional deaths of thousands, perhaps millions, of newborn infants. If I were presented with the opportunity to kill Hitler in 1939, I should take it. Similarly, if I can prevent the death of those millions of babies by cutting this argument off at its root, I should take that opportunity."

      Again, I'm NOT saying that I'm pro-ethicisticide (sp?). For one thing, that's still a pretty weak argument, and for another, I'm grateful to these two for having stated the case against abortion far better than I've ever been able to. But folks are howling with outrage for very legitimate reasons, and I'm pretty relieved to see it. It means that Western society is perhaps not so far degenerate as I'd thought.

    2. Good god, people… at least read the article before commenting! It is readily available for your reading… but be warned… you might have to wipe the blood from your eyes in order to actually read the words!

      The article quite clearly presents an IF-THEN logical argument. IF it is OK (for an assortment of reasons, discussed in the article) to kill fetuses, THEN it should be OK to kill newborn babies because no substantive difference exists between newborns and fetuses – ie, the SAME reasons that make it OK to kill a fetus ALSO argue for the legitimacy of infanticide.

      From the abstract: "the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible IN ALL CASES WHERE ABORTION IS" [bold added]. Read that again: it does NOT say "after-birth abortion should be permissible"! This is a qualified statement and intentionally so. They then present the logical argument in support of the conclusion that "killing fetus is ok" necessarily implies "killing newborns is ok". They DO NOT argue whether or not the premise (killing a fetus is OK) is valid, only that the premise leads inexorably to the conclusion (killing newborns is ok).

      Notice the very clear IF-THEN wording of their conclusion:

      "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. " [bold added]

      I feel sorry for the journal editor, the authors and any other reasonable human being who thinks that an article should actually be READ before calling for the deaths of the authors. Clearly this journal is aimed at people who can actually read and understand and appreciate logical arguments. The editor was quite clear in his response. Why doesn't someone propose a logical, well-reasoned argument for why the "IF" statements in the conclusion above are NOT true and thus the conclusion doesn't follow? That would be how a rational person would respond to a logical argument… not with death threats.

      AND, btw… I am pro-life. This is just the inverse corollary to the argument that the pro-life movement has made all along. There is no intrinsic difference between the newborn baby and the fetus. The trip down the birth canal doesn't "magically" grant the child humanity where none existed before. That is simply ridiculous. The "choice" that pro-choicers want a woman to have is for her to be able to declare WHEN the child insider her is deserving of the label "person". I'd rather just see the pro-choice movement argue that the woman has Eminent Domain over her body and thus has an inherent right to kill the baby growing within her if she damn well wants to, whatever her reasons. At least that would be a more logical argument than the ones we usually hear, which naturally lead to the legitimacy of infanticide (as clearly described in this article).

      1. Kate you can see the worse of both sides here. Pro-lifers with their visceral reaction and attacking the messenger and Pro-Choicers in denial over the implications of their stance.

      2. Thank God that someone (Kate and SimonJm) understands the underlying point of the article…taking the pro-choice position to its logical conclusion. It's very discouraging that this many people either didn't read the entire article or lack the reading comprehension skills to understand the point of the article.

  6. Ken, human beings kill billions of animals each year, not to mention plants. They intentionally kill each other – innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not to mention hundreds of millions of fetuses, embryos and children, through reproductive decisions, war and through other human activities. Human beings are the most violent species on earth.
    Ethics is about reason, not hurling abuse or threats at each other. Francesca and Alberto have attempted to defend who we should kill and who we should not, on the basis of reasons. Every human (except perhaps Jainists who oppose all killing) have to have reasons for who they believe it is permissible to kill and who it is not permissible to kill. There is no agreed position on this.
    The difference between Francesca and Alberto is that they have attempted to engage this debate with reasons, unlike their opponents who call for their execution for addressing the issue.
    We are all complicit in killing. Who do you think we should kill and why?
    The distinctive feature of human beings is that they reason. Other animals don't.

    1. I mostly agree. Certainly reasoning is a critical part of what humans do. But we also love, and the only reason I'm not a complete pacifist is that loving also entails defending the things that we love. We stand up for the defenseless. We engage our instinct and intuition and our emotions, and ultimately, our bodies and our wills, in the pursuit of justice for the oppressed. And of course, most of the folks who are outraged aren't professional academics, and many of them couldn't construct a coherent argument to save their lives. That's not their fault: but they do have a strong intuition as to what's right, and we ignore that intuition at our peril.

      But let me put it this way. If I were to put together a well-reasoned, highly researched and thoughtful paper on why it's legitimate to kill ethicists who argue for the killing of babies, would you accept and publish it? Or how about a paper that argued for the legitimacy of killing infants who might grow up to be homosexuals (assuming a definitive genetic test)? Is the quality (or apparent quality) of the reasoning what's determinative? Or are some conclusions beyond the pale?

        1. No they won't, the gay lobby will give them the hell and Mr. Savelsecu would have to resign. Foucault is right: in most cases the power decides, not the truth. They got their paper on legalizing infanticide published, because infants have no power, but homosexuals, ethnic minorities, feminists etc. have now in the postmodern politics a strong lobby. Never dare to annoy them, or they will show you, be scared, very scared.

    2. Julian, this is not about ethics, nor the "logic" behind this arguement. It is about the MURDER of untold millions of unborn and newborn children. You would've loved Josef Mengele. You would've looked at his experimentation and lauded his efforts. You need to remember what ultimately happened to him, along with all of the other Nazi pigs that were shot or hung.

  7. I deplore the death threats leveled at the authors. While I strongly disagree with them, I am in favor of such views being advanced in scholarly literature. Why? Because they are self-parodying. I seriously hope that those of the pro-choice persuasion realize that expressly arguing that arguments for abortion also justify infanticide will not increase public support for infanticide, but rather will erode public support for abortion.

    However, you should not have published this particular article. Not because of what it argues, but because of how badly the point is argued. Honestly, I would expect better from undergraduates. Take this passage, for example:

    <i>It might be claimed that someone is harmed because she is prevented from becoming a person capable of appreciating her own being alive. Thus, for example, one might say that we would have been harmed if our mothers had chosen to have an abortion while they were pregnant with us7 or if they had killed us as soon as we were born. 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. <b>The reason is that, by virtue of our definition of the concept of ‘harm’ in the previous section, in order for a harm to occur, it is necessary that someone is in the condition of experiencing that harm.</b></i>

    The bolded portion is baldly question-begging. Had I written that in my Philosophy 101 course as a college freshman, I would have received a richly deserved F. There are numerous similar flaws, chief among them the use of loaded terms to do the heavy lifting, rather than using actual arguments. Sure, the conclusion follows from the premises, but that is because the heavy lifting is done through creative defining of terms. The definition of terms such as "harm" is clearly done with an eye toward justifying the conclusion, and definitions are not defended with any serious rigor. If ever in your philosophizing you reach the conclusion that killing an organism (any organism!) does not "harm" the organism, then it is time to just stop, because philosophy is not your thing.

    I did get a kick out of the choice of the term "after-birth abortion," though. It's more Onion-worthy than Orwell-worthy, and I really enjoy absurd humor.

    1. Unfortunately, the "bolded" portion was not in fact bolded. Not sure why the tags didn't work, and there does not seem to be an edit function. If the admin(s) could do me a solid and fix that, it would be much appreciated.

    2. Josephine Quintavalle

      Let me get this right. It's OK to argue for pick or mix killing of new-born babies but only as long as your ideas are advanced in scholarly journals? What Hitlerian humbug.

      1. I certainly do not agree with the authors. I am fine with publishing pieces like this largely because exposing such arguments to the light of day does more to spur rejection of the authors' views than acceptance of them.

        1. Michael, I kind of agree with you. In the event, this seems to be exactly what is happening, and so far, that's a Very Good Thing. What's scary to me is that either (a) it might not have turned out this way, or (b) reasoning like this might still get a foothold. To me, this shows the absurdity of the pro-abortion argument. But given how the editor can't quite seem to understand why folks are so outraged, it's clear to me that there remains a contingent in our society that is quite ready to take this argument in exactly the opposite direction: they see this as a natural extension of abortion rights. The one thing the authors of this paper do get right is their conviction that a six inch move through the birth canal changes precisely nothing about the moral status of the being in question. I wish we could draw a line in the sand much further back than those six inches, but I'll be damned if I let it go one inch further.

          1. He knows why people are outraged. And the authors are right that this is a natural extension of abortion rights. We have to face that fact as a society sooner or later.

    3. "If ever in your philosophizing you reach the conclusion that killing an organism (any organism!) does not "harm" the organism, then it is time to just stop, because philosophy is not your thing."

      Based on the bit that you quoted, the authors didn't claim that killing an organism does not "harm" the organism. They claimed that having an abortion does not harm 'someone'. By 'someone' they mean a person. So the authors claimed that having an abortion does not harm a person*. This is because in order to be harmed, a person has to exist. The authors clearly believe that a foetus is not yet a person. Therefore, as a person, it cannot be harmed. Presumably they would accept that the foetus has been harmed as an organism (unless their concept of harm specifically only refers to sentient organisms and their perceptions, in which case a foetus *may* not in fact be harmed, depending on its level of development)

      *Of course you can point out that having an abortion may harm the mother, or others who care for her or the growing foetus. But the argument is about the moral status of the foetus.

      1. That may be what the authors meant, but what they said is that, according to their definition of harm, "[I]n order for harm to occur, it is necessary for someone to be in a condition to experience that harm." In order for harm to occur, it must be experienced by a "someone." It follows that statement is only persons can be harmed. Perhaps your brain subconsciously auto-corrected the absurdity, but it definitely says what I said it says.

        1. Stupid lack of an edit function. I meant to type the following:

          What they said is that, according to their definition of harm, "[I]n order for harm to occur, it is necessary for someone to be in a condition to experience that harm." Not that in order for a person to be harmed harm must be experienced by a person (which would be a tautology), but that in order for harm to occur (at all), it must be experienced by a "someone."

          It follows from this that only persons can be harmed, according to their definition of harm. And, of course, it also follows that by their definition of "harm," no non-person organism can experience harm. Now if I were the author, I would conclude that my definition of harm was severely deficient. These authors instead concluded that babies are not harmed when they are killed, and thus killing babies is not wrong. It also has obvious implications for other non-human organisms. Maybe it was just sloppy rather than intentional, but either way I would call that a rather large failure at philosophizing.

        2. Based on the rest of the paper, it seems clear to me that they are talking about what it means to harm a person, not an organism. If you take the single sentence that you quote in isolation from the rest of the paper, then you are correct that it implies "only persons can be harmed".

          1. I disagree that I took the statement out of context. Look at the very next passage after the one I quoted in my first comment:

            "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. 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 (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred."

          2. Ok, I'm inclined to agree with you; at the least it is sloppy writing. It may be that the authors indeed think that no harm occurs unless it harms a person. I don't think they state anywhere whether they think inflicting pain counts as a harm (surely it should), which is clearly something that non-persons seem capable of experiencing.

    4. <q cite="Michael Freddoso">If ever in your philosophizing you reach the conclusion that killing an organism (any organism!) does not "harm" the organism, then it is time to just stop, because philosophy is not your thing.</q>

      Gold. Pure gold.

    5. "If ever in your philosophizing you reach the conclusion that killing an organism (any organism!) does not "harm" the organism, then it is time to just stop, because philosophy is not your thing."

      hmmm maybe you should tell that to David Boonin cause thats a stance he takes.

      1. A bit hyperbolic, I admit, but on a scale from zero to advocating the killing of infants, I don't think my error is very serious, especially considering it was a throw-away line in an internet comment. I don't have time to check, but I imagine he probably says that killing an organism does do harm, but that some organisms have no right not to be harmed. That is at least coherent. But if he is a no talent hack who makes a good living in academia (like the authors of the article under discussion), he would be far from the only one.

        At any rate, I have no reason to doubt that Mr. Boonin is very intelligent, and I do not assert that he is a no talent hack. But intelligence is no safeguard against being flagrantly wrong, especially in philosophy. After all, Descartes thought that non-human animals don't feel pain. The fact that he was incredibly smart does not make him less wrong (obviously wrong!) about that. He would have done well to give up his first premises upon deriving that conclusion. I put the belief that killing babies is morally acceptable in the same category.

        1. Michael I corresponded with Boonin and I if memory serves me that was indeed his point. If you take into consideration the background arguments esp relating to indentity and moral worth, then it isn't totally unreasonable to say that in some sense entities that don't care or wish to exist into the future aren't harmed in the way that a person -who wishes to exist into the future- does. One can also understand Singer's work in this regard. I still think taking a overview of related arguements that is a weak position but far from being unreasonable.
          PS I dont mind throwaway lines I use them all the time 🙂

          1. I think it's a pretty lousy argument, since even an adult, if killed in his sleep, will never be aware of what has been taken from him, because he is dead. He may have had goals before he went to sleep, but he will never know that his goals have been frustrated, so in what way can he be said to "experience" harm when he is killed (or to experience anything, for that matter)? According to the argument, if no one experiences harm, then no harm has occurred.

            That may not be a weakness of Singer's and Boolin's formulations of the argument, but it is a problem with this paper. I have read Singer, but not Boolin. I cannot remember how Singer deals with that problem, but I don't see any around it outside of drawing arbitrary distinctions. The fact is that like a sleeping person, an infant's lack of awareness is temporary. I don't see why the fact that the sleeping person had goals in the past as well as the future should be dispositive of anything, since neither the newborn nor the sleeping adult will experience anything upon being killed.

            Given the obvious and interminable disagreement over this and other questions relating to the argument of the paper, perhaps the biggest problem is deciding who gets to decide who is not worthy of the right to life.

          2. It has been some time since I read over Singer and Boonin but regarding Singer the main objection I could find was that the parents would object to killing the baby; which can easily be countered, well not all would object. I agree with you about sleeping persons with goals; the whole thing is rather weak when combined with their objections to infanticide. Pointing to a need to go back to the drawing board.

            I would say though that Pro-Life don't get off scot-free with a clear justification as to why we value human life so highly; and that it sets up obligations to save protect all lives not just ones in the womb. I agree with the objection by Pro-Choicer's that is pretty senseless to save a foetus but to then allow it to die from preventable causes because of some hysteria about socialism in the US. Pro-Choice aren't the only ones who need to clean their act up.

    6. Finally, someone else who raises the point that the article should not have been published due to its glaring lack of academic rigor!

      The number of unsubstantiated statements made within it, such as, 'Many parents would choose to abort if they knew, through genetic testing, that the baby was going to be affected by TCS,' (sorry, not exact quote as I no longer have the article open) is disturbing. Where did that ambiguous comment come from? Where are the figures or at least the reference to where we might find them? For academics to make such a statement without referencing is poor form, indeed!

      In any case, I find it difficult to determine why the authors bothered to select two genetic examples which, to my mind, only served in reducing the coherency of their argument. I found the article as difficult to read as one that I had written as an undergrad after a few too many beers at the campus pub.

      I'm surprised it passed peer review.

      Death threats? Insane. This article was clearly not designed to become law! We haven't even reached the point where doctors are allowed to assist willing adults to die, I can hardly see them knocking off babies.

      As distasteful as the subject matter is, I do understand the reason for rational debate. I'd certainly want to see it in better written arguments, however.

      And no, I do not agree with the idea of killing babies. I happen to be the parent of a child with a genetic condition that will significantly shorten his life and his disease has certainly caused our family many problems and put him through a lot of trauma. Despite that, he is a wonderful kid – happy, and I would not be without him!

  8. I agree with Nick's point – the author has double standards with regards to free speech.

    At what point does a human life become considered as such and worth protecting?

    Theo – you say "it's a terrible world where scientist's have to worry for their lives when doing their job?" Surely it's more accurate to say it's a terrible world where reasonable, educated human beings argue for the killing of innocent new-born children.

  9. Academic literature has also historically championed all sorts of disgusting racist, sexist, ableist crap (for lack of a better word). One would like to think we've moved beyond such despicable ways of thinking, but apparently not. The fact that you're shocked people would have visceral reactions to such inflammatory papers is both perplexing and amusing.

  10. It is wrong to advocate violence against these two men. However, it is also wrong to generalize moral abhorrence to the article/study as hate speech. These "ethicists" [if ever a greater misnomer existed, I am unaware of it] have authored a study that in a very real way legitimizes valuing gradations of "person-hood". Were this mindset to proliferate in the halls of academia and then into the wider world, it could be used to bring back slavery, genocide and any number of horrific devaluations of human life.

    It should provoke anger. I am no religious fanatic, religion is irrelevant to the subject at hand. We are talking about justifying a perspective on the value of life that would accord those with power the ability to casually slaughter those without free of guilt or consequence.

    That cannot be allowed in a civilized society. And you can be damned sure millions of people would fight to prevent such murder should it be adopted as a legal practice.

    1. Further, is it really hate speech to say that if you came upon someone who was murdering an infant, you would use deadly force to protect the infant?

  11. Shouldnt people be brought before a properly appointed board very so often and asked, Dear Sir or Madame would you be so kind enough to justify your existence.

    We know what the plan is.

  12. 1 Corinthians 1:27 "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

  13. So, just so I have this correct, your statement of

    "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.",

    posits that this paper was purely a theoretical and academic exercise, and is to be celebrated.

    Yet, the susequent threats you received are "personally abusive correspondence to the authors, threatening their lives and personal safety" and "This is hate speech. The kind of thing that incenses people to violence."

    If it helps to comfort you, just look at those threats as purely a theoretical and academic exercise – something to be celebrated.

    Sucks to be a neo Nazi supporter doesn't it?

  14. I look forward to future articles in this "journal" concerning "Before Death Abortive Ethics" and "Pre-Extinctive Life Cessation".

  15. Sad world we live in when people willingly embrace the practice of "infanticide". I mean, really sad world. Revolting doesn't even begin to describe how horrible these concepts are.

  16. Above, Julian makes this assine statement: "We are all complicit in killing. Who do you think we should kill and why?" Seriously, what is he talking about? Is he talking about killing infants or, I don't know, killing ants on a random stroll down a thoroughfare? I think its just an unintentional example of hilariously miscued moral equivalency.

  17. Julian's defense of this article reminds me of something I once heard a pastor say: "Thirty thousand kids are dying of starvation every day, and Christians here in America don't give a shit!" After a brief pause, he continued, "And do you know what's REALLY messed up? You're more upset that I said 'shit' than that thirty thousand kids are starving to death every day."

    That pastor was right of course, and in the same way, it seems pretty messed up that Julian is offended, not by the thought of millions of murdered babies, but by people not talking nicely about it.

    He really, really, really needs to watch the amazing Kenneth Branagh movie <a href="">Conspiracy</a&gt;. Yes, this is a <i>reductio ad Hitlerum</i> argument, but it sure as hell seems appropriate in this case.

  18. "What the response to this article reveals, through the microscope of the web, is the deep disorder of the modern world. Not that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement."

    The Internet isn't a microscope of social processes – it's a weirdly distorting, possibly hallucenogenic, lens. Rather than just *reflecting* "deep oppostion to liberal values and any kind of reasoned engagement" it helps *create* those properties, in at least a couple of ways. (1) It allows people anonymously to express their thoughts and feelings from the safe anonymity of their desks and keyboards, which means that the behavioural reserve that tends to kick in when people disagree face-to-face doesn't get triggered.** (2) The Internet is also a great way of empowering fringes – public opposition to MMR, climate change research, evolution, etc has been empowered by the Internet, where warped perceptions of evidence are able to grow like bacteria in a petrie dish. Things like the hostility to MMR lasted way longer than they would have without the Internet, since the anxious parents at the core of the movement wouldn't have had the same opportunity to reinforce each others' anxieties. Basically,the Internet is a great way for sane people to communicate unbelievably productively, as well as a great way for crazy people to communicate frighteningly effectively, distorting and undermining public debate and norms of common decency.

    **Anders posted this explaining that anonymity is really important since it helps people be "authentic", with supporting arguments from someone called Hinckley who said: "Persistent pseudonyms aren’t ways to hide who you are. They provide a way to be who you are. You can finally talk about what you really believe; your real politics, your real problems, your real sexuality, your real family, your real self" as if this were a good thing. Which it's not, since it just so happens that an alarming number of real people being totally "authentic" in exactly this sense are completely bonkers and filled with hate. Social processes that are absent on the net normally rein in these bits of rogue "authenticity", though just how authentic they are is an open question.*** Where someone refuses to stand behind their posts, are they that person's actual views? Or would they disown or revise them if exposed? If they'd revise/disown them, which is their "real" view? It isn't obvious to me that the private view is necessarily more real or representative or "authentic". I would argue that the "real" or "authentic" view is the most considered one you can elicit from the subject (that's how experimenters approach the problem in expert elicitation exercises, anyway), rather than the one they spew onto the Internet after 5 seconds' thought.

    ***David Mitchell wrote an interesting piece (in the Guardian that we should regard these sorts of trollery with the same insouciance with which we respond to grafitti. But the fact there's no one standing behind an opinion doesn't mean it can't be damaging. The victims of the hooded and anonymous Klan in the American south can have drawn only limited consolation from the fact that their persecutors were cowards.]

  19. First off, as many others have said, I find it (hilariously) hypocritical that you criticize those who "incite people to violence" and "commit hate speech", yet YOU are the one advocating for the killing of the most defenseless and innocent among us. I would argue that it is you who is committing hate speech, and you who is inciting violence – violence to the sum of the deliberate killing of unwanted newborns, in spite of the very obvious fact that these newborns no longer rely exclusively on their mother's for survival. Reading something like this is scary. It is scary to know that people who think this way are respected members of academia, a society which is supposed to be enlightened, and concerned primarily with thought and arriving at the proper answer. The twisted logic necessary to decide that the proper answer to a difficult situation is the murder of a newborn is demonstrated right before us – all one has to do is convince oneself that the target is not a "person" and all manner of atrocities, even murder, become acceptable, become so far as compassionate. This is truly disgusting, and it reflects in a very frightening way the same thoughts that caused any number of human rights abuses in our past. How quickly we forget the lessons learned through history!

    And indeed, arguments for abortion can also be applied to infanticide – this is precisely why abortion is also a grave human rights abuse.

    Finally, I have to say that I do NOT condone some of the words quoted in the above article – especially the statement against Muslims. Absolutely disgusting as well. But I am sorry, I do agree with those who have expressed their plan of action should they see someone attempting "after-birth" abortion on an infant – anything less that the utmost effort to save the baby would be absolutely abhorrent. The person committing the crime, for that is what it is, should be dealt with with the full force of the law.

    1. "It is scary to know that people who think this way are respected members of academia, a society which is supposed to be enlightened, and concerned primarily with thought and arriving at the proper answer"

      Must the proper answer be the one that you happen to agree with?

      1. The proper answer is the answer that does not discriminate against anyone in our society. The proper answer is one that does not insist that members of our human family are not worthy of our care. Strength should be used to protect the weak, not destroy the weak. I would think that most people can agree with that … after all, who here agrees with aggressive warfare? Who here agrees with slavery? Genocide? And yet, you think it is "reasonable" to come to a conclusion that a perfectly healthy, separate human being should be killed if the mother thinks that it would be too painful to give him or her away. Tell me how asserting that since a newborn has no sense of self and cannot know that it is being killed is in any way arriving to a "proper answer"? This assertion in itself is an EXTREME assumption, and one that is likely not true – there are numerous scientific studies that demonstrate that children learn while in the womb, before they ever become "newborns". It is also important to note that newborn is about an unscientific and inexact term as you can find – I was born 4 weeks before my due date, and it is also not uncommon to be born AFTER nine months – children who are "newborns" are effectively NOT at the same developmental level and this argument of "non-persons" becomes a sweeping generalization. Never mind that there is increasing evidence that fetuses recognize their parents voices, begin to learn languages, and that twins play with each other in the same way after birth as before birth. Never mind that it is quite obvious to ANYONE who has given birth that a newborn is PRIMARILY concerned with its own survival – anything the newborn finds remotely uncomfortable will send it into agonizing cries and complaints. In fact, fetuses have been demonstrated to struggle against abortionist's instruments – if a fetus can recognize that it is in pain and in danger then certainly a newborn can as well. Additionally, it has been demonstrating that the younger a baby is, the more acutely it feels pain. This article is not simply wrong because it is advocating for the killing of our human members (this in itself is more than enough of a reason to dismiss it and to accuse it of being hateful however), but because the facts these authors use to support their conclusion are NOT SUPPORTED BY SCIENCE, and the authors put no effort into being precise, into defining their terms, and in defending their assumptions. They argue for the entire paper that newborns are non-persons that can be killed at will, and then at the end state outright that they will make NO attempt to define when this practice should be allowed. This is lazy, they have spent an entire paper arguing for something controversial, and then cop out of attempting to answer one of the most compelling questions they raised.

        1. "The proper answer is the answer that does not discriminate against anyone in our society. The proper answer is one that does not insist that members of our human family are not worthy of our care."

          But this is begging the question. The debate is about what/who should be classed as 'someone', and what/who should be classed as a 'member of our human family'.

          What criteria do you think is required for a living being to be classed as a person, and thus legally protected as such? You claim that fetuses can feel pain. But so do animals. So should animals be legally protected as a person? Is feeling pain sufficient for personhood?

          1. True. But those questions are unanswerable unless answered in a manner that is largely arbitrary and subject more to the answerer's personal biased than to any objective criteria. Which is why the best conclusion is that we probably shouldn't kill infants, even if it is possible to present a plausible sounding argument that it's okay.

          2. Well, I agree that we probably shouldn't kill infants, at least not until we have seriously explored any 'plausible sounding argument' and attempted to refute it. Beyond that, I think the best thing we can hope for is consistency in moral reasoning. So if we come to the conclusion that it's not ok to kill infants, we need to be consistent with regards to animals that fulfil the same criteria as the infant.

          3. You do realize that my argument was not only based on the fact that infants can feel pain? That the statement regarding a "proper answer" was only a small section of what I am arguing?

            I find it particularly annoying that you keep addressing only certain parts of my posts.

            "But this is begging the question. The debate is about what/who should be classed as ‘someone’, and what/who should be classed as a ‘member of our human family’.

            What criteria do you think is required for a living being to be classed as a person, and thus legally protected as such?"

            You'll notice that I based my arguments on similar criteria that the authors did. On the ability to "self-determination", which the authors claim that infants do not have? And yet (as I have said before), fetuses (humans that are younger than infants!) have demonstrated that they have the ability to learn, that they have the ability to recognize when they are in danger, that they have the ability to fight for survival and to demonstrate that they WANT TO LIVE, that they have the ability to play, and it is quite obvious to anyone who has had multiple kids that newborns all have widely differing personalities, preferences, and comfort levels. Mothers often notice this while their children are still in the womb! So … Learning, playing, personality, and wanting to survive – these all demonstrate that ending a newborn's life actually does take away something from that newborn – they have the capacity to WANT to live and they begin LEARNING in the womb, long before they become "infants". And I reiterate, newborn/infant is not a scientific term – the ages and levels of development of newborns varies GREATLY from person to person … this article is generalizing, and it ignores real science

          4. Also, I do not "claim" anything. These are all things you can look up. Fetuses and newborns are put under anesthesia when they undergo surgery. They can feel pain. And they can do all the other things I mentioned as well (which btw, are far more compelling than the pain argument, I agree – since most animals and possibly even plants can also feel pain).

          5. Matt – Suppose we cannot refute it, at least not conclusively. Does that make the conclusion true? Could we not create an argument for the opposite view that also cannot be conclusively refuted? After all, there are no knock down, drag out arguments in philosophy, and especially in ethics.

            Consider, for instance, Xeno's argument that motion is not possible. For centuries, philosophers agreed that the argument was flawed, but all attempted refutations were unsatisfactory for one reason or another. Were the philosophers unjustified in regarding the argument as flawed, and the conclusion false, even though they could not refute it effectively (until the discovery of limits, and, according to some, even to this day)? Should we seriously entertain the proposition that all motion is an illusion? When is a conclusion sufficiently implausible on its face that it renders an apparently valid and sound argument highly suspect merely because it is the conclusion of that argument? Never? If ever, would not the proposition, "killing babies for mere convenience is morally acceptable" be a very strong candidate?

          6. Hi Matt the problem as I've seen it is that both sides are arbitrary in where they draw the line, as they both include stages of human development that have criteria that we share with other animals. If we think that speciesim is wrong that would seem to indictate to me that we can either be ethically consistent and become Jainists or ethically arbitrary and rely on arbitrary cultural choices. BTW I think the who ontological debate is seriously flawed and until that is cleared up this debate will go around in circles.

  20. Is there anything really new here? In one way or another this point hs been raised by conservative philosophers or lay peole. No individal with a sense of self has been harmed and it hasn't taken philosophy degrees to see that this can be applied to babies and some infants. Would be interesting as a side note to find out the backgrounds of the authors. Is the reaction due to their argument or the fact they cannot be dismissed out of hand because they aren't Catholic or hard core Christain conservatives?

  21. I really want to thank Julian and Prof Boyd for writing their posts, both here and on JME. Thanks a lot also to the other ones who showed their support, on this blog or privately. I would love to read rational arguments from the ones who disagree with me and Alberto, rather than insults, jokes or threats. But rational arguments cannot be provided by many, whereas abuses don't need to be carefully thought through.

    1. Francesca, I'm sure the detailed responses are coming. In the meantime, what you're running up against is not irrationality, but love: love for the defenseless, and love for justice. And anger is absolutely the correct and highly ethical response when someone you love is threatened. Yes, many of the responses have been rude and ill-mannered: but there's more true humanity and grace in the most belligerent and incoherent of those responses than in your entire paper.

      1. Well said Ken, rational arguments, can you argue with SS men? Or you should take immediate action? I choose the later. I am outraged by the inhuman thought included in the paper and I show my anger. If no man stand out to say "hey I find it not O.K." and no one is allowed, until you provide them with an argument and they will also decide which arguments are "rational", of course any arguments opposing them will be classified as bigoted and irrational, so we won't see any chance to escape the self-made logic of our infanticide promoters.

    2. Some of us have provided rational responses. Some have responded with the only tools available to them – confusion and outrage. Because some people may or may not have an academic's facility with expression should in NO WAY invalidate their shock and disgust at what you and your co-author have done.

      The fact that sheltered, pampered, elite-minded academics cannot comprehend the moral and ETHICAL revulsion other human beings are experiencing upon reading of your justification for infanticide says more about your [and by extension a % of academia's] disconnect with the rest of the human race – than it does about an individual poster's ability to express themselves with a PHD level of writing.

      This is not about an aversion to liberalism as some are spinning it. This is about the completely understandable fear generated from the realization that some tyrants, somewhere, have been handed the intellectual arguments to support any number of horrific policies based on assigning a means of measuring "person-hood".

      If you and the few who support you cannot see the possible consequences of your actions then perhaps your education completely failed in giving you such basic tools of comprehension.

      What the world is waiting for, is an apology.

    3. Anthony Drinkwater

      Hello Francesca,

      I don’t want to agree or disagree with you and Alberto, but I would like to to comment (rationally, I hope) on the quality of your argument.
      Sorry, but this is going to be perhaps a bit long for a reply to a blog, and not long enough to act as a Socratic tutorial – but here goes.

      There are (at least) two different types of philosophical proposition that we could make concerning infanticide. The first would be that there are some circumstances in which it could be justified. You explicitly seek to make a second, much stronger, claim : that infanticide is no different from abortion.

      You propose two arguments which, you state, taken together justify your claim :
      1 the newborn and the foetus share a common characteristic, viz, they are not persons and therefore cannot claim the right to life
      2 the fact that both are “potential persons” does not give them the right to life.

      I have only a small, and shrinking, brain so I prefer to concentrate on this part of your paper and discard those large parts which are irrelevant to your argument, or are purely rhetorical devices :
      The introduction is entirely irrelevant to the arguments: whether the detectability of Down’s syndrome is 1% or 99% has no bearing whatsoever on the moral right to infanticide
      The citing of the Groningen Protocol might have some ad hominem bearing if your paper was making the weak claim. But none in the case of your strong claim.
      Your “second terminological specification” might have some sense if there were a first one (?)
      A large part of the section “Abortion and After-birth abortion” anticipates in a rather sloppy way what your arguments will be – for example you write
      “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.” What you mean is that you WILL argue, not that you are doing so. By the way, where does the “therefore” come from ?
      The final part of the paper on possible adoption also has no bearing on your claim. The fact that alternative B is difficult in no way strengthens the case for A.

      Turning now to your argument :
      You start by stating that a foetus and a new-born both “lack the properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual”. When we look further, it appears that you cite only one property that justifies this attribution, which is that to be considered a person an individual needs to be “capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her”.
      This definition is, as far as I can see, never actually argued for, but merely restated several times, and it leads you to conclude that certain animals are persons, which is perhaps not intended as a RAA, but looks quite like one to me.
      Interestingly, if the argument could be made to work, it would prove too much – a stroke victim, for example, might be incapable of attributing to her own existence any basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her. Are we to conclude that she is no longer a person ?
      You might argue that she will, in recovery, regain this competence, but the same could also be said of the newborn, who will rapidly acquire it.

      I won’t go into detail, but look critically at the section “The foetus and the new-born are potential persons”. Is there anything argued here that is not dependent on your first argument ?

      Finally, when you state that you make no claim about the moment at which infanticide would no longer be permissible, you weaken even further your case. If there is, as you state, a criterion for personhood, then it should be easy to make a claim – infanticide becomes impermissible when this criterion can be shown to exist.

      Incidentally, if you would like to read a good philosophical discussion on rights and personhood, try chapter 4 of JP Griffin’s “On Human Rights”

  22. Numerous posts invoke the "Nazi Objection" that what Giubilini and Minerva advocate is what the Nazis did, that this it is 'Hitlerian' even to publish such arguments. The Nazis were racist fanatics who wanted to kill those felt were evil or the source of their troubles. They did not have good arguments, only their emotions. They used argument, if at all, in a post hoc justification. They did not seek to engage others in dialogue about their moral views, they sought to kill anyone who disagreed with them.

    We should seek of course resist such methods of supposed moral improvement. But the best defence against all that the Nazis stood for is to engage others in good argument. Mill recognised this. It is not to threaten to kill someone who espouses a view or a makes an argument based on premises which are widely shared. It is to refute their arguments.

    I am NOT seeking to justify infanticide in this blog. I am seeking to defend the right of those who wish to make these arguments to do so and to do it in a way that does not place their safety at risk. For those who oppose infanticide, they must ask themselves how abortion can be justified. What is the difference that grounds a difference in moral status between the fetus and the infant several weeks later. For those who also oppose abortion, they must be able to justify why contraception which destroys the early embryo is justified, and what the difference is between an embryo and a fetus that grounds a different moral status. Of course, there are many who oppose all forms of killing human life. But they must still justify why killing billions of animals can be justified. There are deep and difficult questions that are worthy of debate.

    This response to After-Birth Abortion reminds me of the response of Germans to Peter Singer's arguments on infanticide for disability in the 90s. Peter was physically abused, threatened and a major conference at which he was to speak had to be cancelled for safety reasons. For several years, it was not safe for Peter to speak to Germany. He was accused of being a Nazi. In fact he is Jewish and 2 of his parents, I believe, died in Nazi concentration camps.

    Peter was giving sound arguments. He met the fanaticism that was characteristic of the Nazis. Paradoxically, it was those who accused him of being a Nazi that shared more in common in the modus operandi with the Nazis.

    Nazi style fanaticism is indeed rife. It is present in the attitudes and actions of those who threaten, rather than argue. The best defence against Nazism is sound argument. This is what the JME attempts to promote.

    1. Words are beginning to fail me… The greatest spin of all.

      You have taken a rare moment of beauty – the fact that human beings still care enough about each other to be horrified at the suggestion of infanticide – and have twisted it to paint those expressing that very honest and empathic reaction as Nazis?

      I don't advocate violence but I would willingly stand in the way of a murderer in order to save a child. You should celebrate the fact that millions of people would. Rather than deriding them their inability to match an academic's facility with words.

      It has been many years since I attended University… I don't recall such blatant disregard for human life being paraded as "intellectual debate" when I studied.

      This is a deplorable waste of an education – if the best thoughts and considerations these authors can come up with is providing monsters the arguments necessary to carry out vile actions free of guilt or consequence.

    2. Invoking Singer to counter claims of Nazism is probably not the best idea (and being Jewish is irrelevant- one can be Jewish and still be okay with killing disabled people, Gypsies, homeless people, etc). While I'm not generally a fan of reductiou ad Hitlerum, to act as if we can never draw comparisons, even when they are clearly there, is disingenuous and dangerous. You can pretty it up with academic jargon all you like, but advocating for the killing of a specific segment of society is advocating for the killing of a specific segment of society, whether it's because they're Jews, Blacks, infants, or disabled.

      The best defense against Nazism is NOT sound arguments. Have you ever read Mein Kampf? Have you ever read any writings of prominent Nazi doctors? They had plenty of "sound arguments" for what they were doing, especially with regards to killing the disabled. So no, the best argument against Nazism is not sound arguments. It's love, compassion, and humanity. And as Randy says, the fact that people are still horrified at the suggestion of infanticide is something that should give us hope, not something that should be derided and mocked.

    3. I was unaware that WWII was won with sound arguments, rather than tens of millions of lives sacrificed. And while I do not approve of threats or violence in response to an academic paper, ridicule is highly appropriate. The argument is not "sound." It is, perhaps, valid. So was Descartes's argument that animals do not feel pain. One mark of wisdom, as opposed to sophistry, is recognizing when your premises have led to an untenable result. Rather than conclude that killing babies is just dandy, perhaps the wiser move would be to consider the possibility that one of one's initial assumptions is false.

    4. you wrote "they don't have good arguments". Sorry Mr. Savulescu, you lack historic knowledge, the most basic one, don't you know that Nazi-crimes were ideologically legitimated by the most popular science of that time, the Eugenics.

      There is a very good article on the Eugenics in the U.S. and the combination with Nazi-crime. Shocking reality. But you look away, because you think as long as you are a "liberal", you are allowed to incite the most hideous crime and still be called a "nice man". Sorry, no such privilege for you.

      1. THe former post of my was directed against Mr. Savulescu, not against Prof. Freddoso, whom I respect highly, and from whose publications I've profited a lot.

  23. You people are sick. Seriously this is murder. You know where this leads to. One minute its a new born, the next its more elderly, and the next its whoever else is a burden to the state.

  24. And before that it was a fetus, and before that an embryo, and before that a sperm and an egg. So what should we conclude? These are all murder?
    And how should we view the killing of chimpanzees, cows and pigs?
    "Where this leads to" depends on us and our capacity to reason. Or on brute force and moral certainty that has historically lead to so many catastrophes.

    1. Julian are you seriously saying there is no real distiction regarding indvidual organisms and their sex cells, the lay 'Masturbation must be murder' lay argument?

      It will be intersting to see where this leads, many of the objections to infanticide made by philosophers who support general access to abortion seem especially weak or inconsistent. Like pointing out to Peter Singer that one of his objections; that the parents would prefer the child lives, fails to consider that some parents would prefer otherwise.

      The fact that the baby could be passed onto other care givers is neither here nor there if being a person is the basis of the highest form of moral valuing. If it has moral value then what alternative do we have that doesn't also run into it own fundamental problems?

      If embryo's have such huge utility and lack full moral consideration, why don't we use babies unwanted by their parents as body banks or humanly use them as experiment material? Many of the stem cell arguments can also be used here.

    2. And before it an adult, it was a teenager, and before that a child, and before that an infant and a fetus. So what should we conclude? That these are all NOT murder? If it's morally acceptable to murder my newborn baby because it's inconvenient and burdensome, why not my older child? Or my teenager? How about my husband, or the lady who cuts me off in traffic? What, exactly, is so magical about "intellect" and "self-awareness" that it deserves to act as the line drawn in the sand when it comes to who "deserves" to live and who does not?

  25. The response to this publication, horrible as it is in many ways and symptomatic of the ways the tabloid-press mistreats science, is also fascinating. Because it highlights how far removed Ethics in particular, and contemporary analytical philosophy in general, is from popular understandings of the world. This is not news to anyone who is a professional philosopher – try explaining the consequence argument against free will, the liar-paradox and its implications for truth-ascriptions or physicalism and mentalstates as epiphenomenological at a family dinner, and you're likely to leave your nearest and dearest worried whether you ought to be committed – nor is it unique to philosophy. In fact, its true of most sciences that their revelations are very different from how lay persons see the world. Its just that, for most sciences, people don't really care. So what if quantum physics has shown that reality exists in 11 dimensions, even if we perceive only four – why does it matter? Not so, of course, for Ethics.

    Now, I probably disagree with the authors (Francesca – haven't had time to look at the article, but I'm somewhat familiar with your views), but only because I'm willing to bite the bullet on the Repugnant Conclusion, and hence say that abstinence is as bad as infanticide. Any time we do not take an opportunity to increase the total amount of well-being in the world, and not creating a new human or animal is one such missed opportunity, we're doing moral wrong in the same way and for the same reasons as when we decrease the total amount of future well-being by ending the existence of something (human or animal) which would have enjoyed it. But frankly, its a view which I keep to myself most of the time, except when around fellow philosophers. Not because I'm ashamed of it, or uncertain of the strong arguments in its favour, but because presenting it to non-philosophers leads almost inevitably to either a long and endurance-sapping crash-course in modern normative ethics (take a day off…), or to being misunderstood, ignored or rejected. It is a view which, like any good science, rests on a number of complicated suppositions, most or all of which are unknown to and difficult to comprehend for anyone who is not a philosopher with years of academic training. Again, not so different from any other science. Except that with Ethics, laypersons really care. They have strong and vociferously defended opinions (and, as this is part of what being a moral agent means, having strongly held values is probably a good thing).

    Now, there's a bright side, and a not so bright side to this situation. The bright side is that the staggering difference between the conclusions of modern analytical ethics and folk-wisdom reveals the incredible advances we have made in professional Ethics. The past 100 years have seen explosively growing insights, the past 30 years even more so. Consider all that we know today in value theory, action theory, expected utility theory, population ethics; about egalitarianism and prioritarianism, determinism, compatibilism and moral responsibility; consequentialism and side-constraints; desert and mental-state-theories. And that's just normative ethics – take Metaethics (reflective equilibrium, intuitionism, cognitivism, particularism, justification-requirements, etc.) and applied ethics (punishment, animal ethics, normative democratic theory, distributive justice, multiculturalism, etc.) into account, and the advances are mind-boggling. We continue to prove Parfit's modest hope for the growth of secular ethics well-founded. Small wonder that the gap between philosophy and folk-wisdom is so large, then, and probably growing.

    The not-so-bright-side is that the gap is probably growing. And its hard to see how to close it. Even well-educated, well-read persons have little hope of keeping up with the scientific developments of any discipline, unless they happen to be working in it. And the vast majority of people are not particularly well-educated nor particularly well-read. It is entirely unsurprising that they are unfamiliar with the insights of modern Ethics, but it is also unreasonable to expect that they should be, or to demand they become so. And it is utopian to imagine that professional philosophers can perform the task of communicating their insights to the public and thus educate them. They're too busy watching "X-factor" on tv, minding the children and sorting out who is going to look after the cat when they go away to visit the family next weekend, just as philosophers are too busy, well, philosophizing, not to mention jumping the insane number of bureaucratic hoops that academics have to cope with these days (but that's another rant). That does not mean that we should do nothing. It is in everybody's interest to make an effort to learn about scientific advances, perhaps more so with the insights of Ethics than with anything else, and it is in everyone's interest that philosophers do what they can to make these insights accessible to the general public. There are good efforts ongoing in these respects. But, realistically, the gap is probably here to stay.

    Which makes it all the more important that philosophers can go about their business of doing philosophy without fearing for their personal safety. Props to Julian for standing up for that.

    1. Okay, pause for a moment and acknowledge what you have just done, Frej Klem Thomsen. You have taken the "baffle them with bullshit" path of response.

      I won't even bother to respond to each of your digressions. I am educated and well read.

      Simply put, when ethics can argue in support of that which is blatantly unethical then it is no longer ethics we are discussing but rather it philosophical cousin – propaganda.

      Good day.

    2. Allow me to translate: "all of you silly rubes who think killing infants is obviously wrong are anti-science, because moral philosophy is totally scientific, and you are scoffing at conclusions your intellectual betters have derived through rigorous scientific methods. [At his point I am stifling caustic laughter – MF] Those of us who entertain the thesis that killing infants is just fine, well we're obviously the smart ones, because we use fancy jargon and you don't. The gap between us and you god-bothering morons who think killing babies is wrong is growing. If you think the conclusion of this paper is ridiculous and unworthy of serious response, then there is just no talking sense into you. Go watch reality TV, and wait for us geniuses to figure out a justification for post-birth aborting you. The gap is here to stay. I am so awesome."

  26. "They had plenty of "sound arguments" for what they were doing"

    I have withdrawn myself from this messy discussion, but I must correct you in this, because it is a symptom of how oblivious all of your are regarding what you are talking about: Mein Kampf is terribly written and its arguments are so shallow that they can be easily countered by any 15 year old with some world experience. Besides, Germany has denied access to the book.

    Everyone posting here should do his or her homework. Read the article, learn history, study ethics, quote your sources and behave like rational grown ups. In this context what you believe is irrelevant unless you can provide a sound argument for it. Minerva and Giubilini did this. You are not doing this. Argumenta ad hominem, ad populum and in terrorem do not belong to a mature scientific debate.

    1. I have read the article in its entirety, and I agree that ideally everyone should do so (though I cannot recommend paying for it, because it is rather poorly written and poorly argued). I have quoted a couple passages in my comments here, and the rest of it is no less jejune than the paragraphs I quoted. There is no precision in defining terms, and the authors neither question nor defend their initial assumptions. If you want to understand their argument, read Peter Singer. At least he is a competent philosopher.

    2. The numerous defenses of the paper, posted in the last 24 hrs by academics, in which they digress with explanations regarding the history of intellectual debate and philosophical argument, amount to prevarication.

      When educated people create "sound arguments" for killing certain segments of the human population they are in fact lending genocide legitimacy. Their paper suggested that "person-hood" was measurable according to ability and value [an outright dangerous concept similar to the arguments supporting slavery, the holocaust etc]. Thus this type of published conclusion does lend legitimacy to those who would practuce genocide.

      Simply put, when ethics can argue in support of that which is blatantly unethical then it is no longer ethics we are discussing but rather its philosophical cousin – propaganda.

      1. … and yes I am aware of my typos… there does not appear to be an 'edit' function on this thread.

        So, please no elitist derision for my POV based on my typos.

      2. Defining what is "unethical" in a given situation is essentially what people do in this field, sometimes for decades. You take that notion for granted. This evidences how different our approaches to the issue are.

        I will comment no more on this, as I don't expect anything useful to come from such a heated debate.

      3. "Their paper suggested that "person-hood" was measurable according to ability and value [an outright dangerous concept similar to the arguments supporting slavery, the holocaust etc]"

        Well, what *is* it measurable by then? Anything at all? Can I grant my guitar person-hood?

        1. Good question. Perhaps the best approach to this is an oblique one: if we weren't so obsessed with figuring out whom we should be allowed to kill and then killing anyone and anything that is deemed unworthy of protection whenever convenient, this wouldn't be such an important question.

          1. So what do you suggest? That we try to keep everything/one alive, regardless of the pain and suffering it may result in?

          2. I take a rather broad pro-life stance. By pro-life I am not talking about abortion per se but rather I believe killing, period, is wrong. I do not support the death penalty, I do not support abortion, I do not support war. This is not based on any religious reasoning but rather a basic fundamental understanding of human rights.

            I know these positions are not absolutes. There will be instances of compromise where killing will be acceptable [an army is invading your land and you are left with the choice to defend yourself or surrender is but one example ].

            However, barring extreme circumstances – most conscientious human beings would ascribe to the belief that we must avoid killing each other when possible. It does not take an education in advanced ethical theory to realize that.

          3. Matt – Do I have to do all the work? 🙂

            I was chiefly responding to the proposition advanced in the paper, which is that even minor inconvenience, or even a whim, is sufficient to justify infanticide. Your question is a more reasonable one, and basically amounts to a discussion of euthanasia, which is a much less obvious question than infanticide on demand. But in partial answer to your question, I do not think it necessary to take all possible means to extend the life of a suffering terminal patient, though I would draw the line at actively killing a patient.

          4. Randy, I applaud your consistency, and of course I agree with you that we must avoid killing each other when possible.

            Michael; fair point.

          1. Why should we accept that definition? If we came across an intelligent alien species with basically identical traits to normal adult humans, then we would surely want to call them persons, and agree that they should have the same rights as human persons. They would be persons, but they wouldn't be human beings.

          2. To Matt – Should that day ever arise… of course we can revise the definition to reflect that. Considering the likelihood of us encountering such beings within our lifetimes is so remote as to be nonsensical – the point is moot.

          3. The point is not moot. The point is that being a member of the species 'homo sapiens' is morally irrelevant to personhood. You have accepted that we should revise the definition in the case of a future encounter with such aliens, which demonstrates that 'personhood' is not identical to 'human being'.

          4. No Matt – it just demonstrates how exhausting having a straightforward conversation, with a smug, self-styled intellectual, can be. It also illustrates why those in the general public can be left feeling as though they'd like to sock such a person in the nose. Using pointless rhetoric to confuse the issue is a high school debate club tactic unworthy of most adults [save politicians and lawyers].

          5. I hate to drag religion into this discussion, but it hardly seems avoidable at this point. From my perspective, the Christian tradition has the best account of personhood available, one which meets the various objections and confusions rather well, once you grant the premises of Christian theology (a largish step, I know, but hardly impossible). A person is an individual bearing the image of God. Anyone bearing that image (whatever planet they are from, whether their origins are biological or mechanical) is deserving of what we now call "human rights". Any individual belonging to a species that has the potential to have a two-way relationship of love with God bears that image. Of course, those who aren't Christians presumably won't accept this account: but one of the reasons why I'm a Christian is precisely because the answers Christian theology provides to questions like this seem, to my mind, much more coherent and sane than any purely secular ethical account that I know of.

            On a separate note, it's worth pointing out that an entity doesn't need to be a person, in whatever sense, to have certain legal rights. Cats may not be persons, but they have the right not to be tortured by little boys. Whales may not be persons (at least, there's not much evidence that they are), but almost all nations have laws against their indiscriminate slaughter. Even if you don't want to grant that a two-celled embryo is a full person (I'm not sure where I stand on that), I don't see any way of avoiding the conclusion that it's moral status is rather more significant than a fingernail or a kidney.

          6. Ah yes, the "conversation should be straightforward" defence.

            Let's leave out the aliens and instead go back a few hundred years and perhaps consider what a white slave-owner might have replied if I had asked him for a definition of a person.

            -a white human being.

            Now that wasn't so hard was it?"

            I could respond by asking why 'white' was in any way relevant. And instead of trying to explain why, he would have no doubt accused me of 'using pointless rhetoric' if I pointed out that 'person' is not identical to 'white human being'.

          7. Ken, I agree with your second paragraph. But the issue is that foetuses are not legally recognised as persons in states that allow abortion. In the UK, legal personhood only begins at birth. Foetuses *are* certainly granted greater rights than a fingernail or kidney at least once they have obtained a certain level of development. That's why abortion is only allowed after 24 weeks in the UK (except, supposedly, under special circumstances). And even embryos are granted certain protections that fingernails and kidneys are not. That is why there are certain limits on their use in research. The problem, of course, is how far these rights should extend.

          8. Matt – assuming for the moment that embryos have a moral status somewhere between "dog" and "human being", yes, that is precisely the question. As an explication of that topic, consider this. Some years ago, my wife and I went through three IVF treatments, resulting in three viable embryos being implanted. None of those embryos survived, and eventually we decided on adoption. (We now have three wonderful and very rambunctious kids tearing apart our house.) But the question in my mind is, "How many children have I had?" Nothing in my gut or my instinct tells me that I've actually had six children. While we grieved the failure of the IVF procedures, if I'm honest with myself, I don't *think* we were grieving the death of the embryos. I'm strongly anti-abortion, but I can't quite convince myself that three people have died inside my wife's uterus. Nevertheless, I'm not quite sure what else those embryos were. If we had had extra embryos, I can't imagine just discarding them. Maybe they're not persons – maybe killing them isn't murder – but that doesn't mean that intentionally causing their demise for my (or anyone else's) convenience is acceptable and should be legal: just as it's quite reasonable for the law to insist that even a fair bit of inconvenience does not justify killing a whale or other endangered species. (On the other hand, if an embryo is not a full person, there may be other circumstances which do justify killing it that are more compelling than "convenience" or "mental health", such as the actual physical safety of the mother, or perhaps rape or incest.)

            In all of this, I try to be fairly humble about what we know and what we don't know: but I'm convinced that in scenarios where we are ignorant, the law should err strongly on the side of life. If I'm driving down the road at night, and see a dark form wiggling on the road that *might* be a baby, it would be unethical for me to drive over it anyway on the basis that it might *not* be one. Indeed, the only ethical course of action in that scenario would be to put myself at some risk to avoid hitting the thing-that-might-be-a-baby, up to and including swerving off the road. And a judge should take a dim view of any defense that began, "Well, I wasn't sure if it was a baby or not, so I decided to go ahead and run over it."

          9. Matt – {sigh} at least we agree that the white slave owner would be wrong.

            The point, you so cleverly continue to avoid is whether or not is ethical to kill newborns and in addition whether it is ethical to write and publish an article arguing in favour of killing newborns.

            How about this: I do not care how you wish to define "person-hood" within the context of the convoluted logic of academic debate. What I care about is whether or not someone else uses such legitimacy, should it be accepted, to kill newborns.

            How about the simplest definition even a child can understand.


            – a person, silly.

            Now you may return to your regularly scheduled broadcasts as quantum physicists prove that today is actually yesterday and tomorrow is already gone.

          10. Randy this is all very relevant and not about intellectual arrogance, we all use a criteria to select moral in-group out-groups that involve life and death decisions. One involves personhood another involves being a Homo Sapiens; clearly defining, understanding and flowing through what each entails doesn’t turn someone into intellectual fool. It is necessary in social ethical debates that determine cultural and legal moral standards that each side knows what it’s talking about.

            Again on a side note, this at least to me leads to ontology and what we fundamentally are and IMO unfortunately both sides are wrong in thinking we are either persons or Homo Sapiens and until we sort that out this debate will never progress.

  27. I am beginning to suspect this entire undertaking [the writing of this paper, its publication and the defense mounted for it by some in academia] amounts to this:

    Ego stroking.

    This has provided the authors and their supporters an opportunity to publish inflammatory conclusions guaranteed to garner public outrage. Since the general public do not possess the necessary tools to refute these conclusions on an academic, theoretical basis, they [the authors and supporters] are free to gloat at their own 'superiority'.

    It's pathetic really…

    1. There is another more plausible theory. That the editor of this publication, as in the past, has invited a contribution he knows will give ammunition to the anti-abortion movement.

      A brilliant technique to shift the debate once again, claiming that even "liberals" agree that the morning after pill and killing babies is the same thing or on the same slippery slope.

  28. So, violance is not good if it is against an adult who can reason, but is okay if an arguement can sound good enough to encourage violance towards someone who is helpless, namely a newborn child. This sickens me! I would like to tear any philosopher apart that comes to these conclusions! Why? I have had three preemies, one of whom needed CPR at birth. This little boy is not a happy almost 2 year old. I cannot imagine my life without him. If we allow these thoughts to continue in our society, then it would also allow insurance companies and doctors to "allow" these children to die, since they would save money and heartache in the future, even if their lives are also a blessing to those who know them. How awful! You know who else agreed with infantcide? Hitler! Not that I would compare, but we need to keep certain things in mind to, like you state in this article, keep unnecessary violence at bay!

  29. Richardson McPhillips

    The personal attacks and threats are unreasonable and should be ignored or reported, as you see fit. You can find all sorts of things if you go looking for them, and I don't particularly see what The Blaze has do with anything. The crux of the matter is threefold: freedom of academic inquiry, professional norms (including the <i>status quaestionis</i>), and basic humanity. You win on the first two, even if it discredits the field of medical ethics in the minds of most people. Which brings us to the third. The field seems to have worked itself out of what many reasonable people feel is reasonable for human beings to discuss. In effect the argument reads, for many reasonable people, as an argument <i>reductio ad absurdum</i>.

  30. Julian Savulescu said earlier: "And before that it was a fetus, and before that an embryo, and before that a sperm and an egg. So what should we conclude? These are all murder?"

    This is the best you can do? Equating a sperm and an egg to a just-delivered, breathing, teething infant with the capacity, if given enough love, support, food and shelter, to grow up into…I don't know, another
    Julian Savulescu?

    Then, "And how should we view the killing of chimpanzees, cows and pigs?"

    Ironic in that you, in a previous post, grab air cover from Dr. Peter Singer regarding these arguments. Is it not strange to consider the "personhood" of a cow equal to that of a just-born human infant?

    "Where this leads to" depends on us and our capacity to reason. Or on brute force and moral certainty that has historically lead to so many catastrophes."

    Would this be the same brute force and moral certainty that would empower a doctor and parent working in unison to kill a just-born baby??


  31. Julian writes,

    "Francesca and Alberto have attempted to defend who we should kill and who we should not, on the basis of reasons. Every human (except perhaps Jainists who oppose all killing) have to have reasons for who they believe it is permissible to kill and who it is not permissible to kill. There is no agreed position on this."

    So by your logic as long as there are people who are open to repulsive and amoral ideas it is in the interest of academic illumination to bring these ideas to the public forefront to be discussed in a dispassionate manner avoiding at all costs the fact that abstract ideas breed concrete consequences?
    Those who dare suggest that certain ideas are beyond the pale and should not be given voice are stifling the great art of Philosophy.

    Am I right in thinking that at the heart of the author's argument is the belief that certain atrocious actions may be justified because a known good will be achieved by those actions. That you might be harmed by my actions is bupkus compared to the harm you will do me. This of course stands on the reasoning that some beings should not be counted as having personhood.

    But if this is a reasonable premise because the authors believe a good will be achieved should such actions ever occur why leave this debate to the philosophers? If an idea can be justified under the reasoning given why not an action? Why not let the march of good ideas for the betterment of people, and the whole of humanity leave in its wake the blood of those who are holding back Utopia? Why not decide that being human is not a state of rightful natural inheritance but a mantle put on by others? All those deaths are not a waste or a shame or a cry to heaven as long as we can build the shining city on the hell over the bone heaps. What noble ideas you advance. Truly it must stick in your craw that the ungrateful peasants won't eat your bread.

    Do you know what you are sir? You sir are a liar. You are not a freedom fighter. You are not a noble protector of radical ideas. You are not a superior intellectual bringing reason to the masses. You are a liar. You lie and wrap yourself in a cocoon of injured pride. You think yourself reasons bride but you are the dragon's harlot. A liar and a harlot has no right to sputter in indignation when somebody notes they charge too much and do not keep their word.

  32. Seriously? Is there really a debate about this? Shouldn't infanticide be automatically considered unconscionable?

    1. Why should anything be "automatically" considered unconscionable? Don't we want to make sure that our deepest moral convictions, and the principles to which we are most passionately committed, can in fact be rationally justified? The only way to be sure that the moral convictions we hold are the right ones is to ask ourselves difficult questions, critically examine all of our most cherished beliefs and commitments, and see where reasoned argument takes us.

      1. It's not a difficult question. It's immoral to kill or abuse innocent people. Why not murder people in comas, even if they're sure to recover? Why not use mentally handicapped people for free labor. It's not like they're on our level.

        Why even bother with murderers? Just execute them all. They certainly deserve it more than babies.

        1. "It's immoral to kill innocent people".

          Are you sure about that? Always?

          Anyway, that's no response to the authors' paper, since they argue that newborns are not persons, and therefore on their view, even if it is immoral to kill innocent persons, that argument cannot be used to account for the wrongness of killing a newborn.

          1. Why aren't they persons? They're human beings.

            How about this. Anyone who would suggest that infanticide is justified doesn't have the same moral judgement others have and is thus subhuman.

          2. All that means is that Cularius's response would not convince the authors of the paper. Fair enough, but if his or her goal is to appeal to others, it is perfectly legitimate.

            Also, just because the authors of the paper wrote their argument first does not mean they get to frame the issue. The biggest problem with the paper is that the authors provide little support for the claim that newborns are not persons. If their definitions of "person" and "harm" are rejected, then there is nothing left to their argument. The definitions do all the work. I find their definitions of "harm" and "person" to be utterly unconvincing, and so obviously tailored to produce their desired conclusion that there is little reason to regard them seriously. At best they are inconclusive, in which case they cannot justify the conclusion, because newborns are not merely potential persons but for-all-we-know persons, which changes the moral calculus significantly.

          3. Sophia,

            are you unsure that it is always wrong to kill innocent people? Why?

            What the authors seem to be saying is that it is not possible, ethically speaking of course, to harm a newborn baby because it is not yet a person and only persons can experience harm.. If you agree that it is not possible to harm a newborn baby and that if they are killed before attaining personhood no wrong has been committed then you must also agree that it would be impossible for a wrong to be committed by doing anything at all to newborn. Surely they should be experimented on, no? Or kept for their organs? Or handed to paedophiles as therapeutic devices to reduce their offending?

            It makes me truly sad to read your comment and the comments of others on this matter. It just seems so obvious that the authors are 100% wrong. I can only hope that you are merely being contrarian for sport and do not really believe what you say. Shame on all of you equivocating this evil rubbish.

            Look to history for the reasons why articles like this are truly dangerous.

          4. Maybe it would be better to think of moral persons as full moral entities the have full moral consideration and 'right' to life. Then as some here think human beings are full moral entities by explaining why you think this it would tease out the differences as to why people who support personhood as the criterion would disagree.

      2. In answer to your question, asking ourselves difficult questions is fine. But if we start from a position of skepticism, nearly all of our moral beliefs can be "justified"… and so can their inverses. All require appeal to debatable assumptions. None will achieve universal acceptance. The proposition that killing babies is wrong comes about as close to universal acceptance as any proposition can.

        It is important to keep in mind that ethics is not a science, despite the pretensions of some in the field. Non-scientific precommitments are unavoidable and often determinative of one's ultimate conclusions on ethical questions. Nothing is wrong with asking the questions, but one can always find fault with any ethical argument, if not in the reasoning then in the precommitments the argument entails.

        Thus, "where reasoned argument takes us" is always to a stalemate in a pluralistic society. The questions will typically be "answered" by majority vote, or else by appeal to founding government documents establishing certain principles – documents that were, themselves, adopted democratically. In other words, these questions are only ever conclusively answered by force, whether physical force or the "force" of democratic processes. Philosophically, these "answers" answer nothing, but practically, they provide the only possible means of resolution.

  33. Although it may be hopeless at this point, this is a gentle reminder that while we welcome robust debate on the Practical Ethics blog, we cannot tolerate personal attacks or abuse of any kind. I will be deleting comments that violate our comments policy.

    1. "our comments policy"

      What about incitement to commit murder that your editors have engaged in, the murder of newborn children no less.

      Your comments policy, where the hell was it when you published this hate speech.

  34. Sophia (ironic in that its Greek for Wisdom, a nom de guerre perhaps?) wrote: "Why should anything (Infanticide) be "automatically" considered unconscionable?"

    My response: Well, because its the killing of an innocent human being for one.

    Do you really live you life this way? Do you truly only consider principles that you can passionately embrace and defend to be run through some arbirary gauntlet of reason of your own choosing? Are you truly operating and living in such a morally relative universe?

    For an exercise lets replace "infanticide" in your comments above with some other statement that I imagine you too will not consider "automatically unconscionable":

    – I should be able to kill people who annoy me without punishment or consequence. Hell, why not?

    – Crippled people drag down society. Better to put them out of the misery with gas chambers.

  35. Admin, I have taken the liberty of self editing my comments and reposting in case it should be viewed in any way as a personal attack. If you find such editing premature please remove one of the duplicates. Thanks.

    Julian writes,

    "Francesca and Alberto have attempted to defend who we should kill and who we should not, on the basis of reasons. Every human (except perhaps Jainists who oppose all killing) have to have reasons for who they believe it is permissible to kill and who it is not permissible to kill. There is no agreed position on this."

    So by your logic as long as there are people who are open to repulsive and amoral ideas it is in the interest of academic illumination to bring these ideas to the public forefront to be discussed in a dispassionate manner avoiding at all costs the fact that abstract ideas breed concrete consequences?
    Those who dare suggest that certain ideas are beyond the pale and should not be given voice are stifling the great art of Philosophy.

    Am I right in thinking that at the heart of the author’s argument is the belief that certain atrocious actions may be justified because a known good will be achieved by those actions. That you might be harmed by my actions is bupkus compared to the harm you will do me. This of course stands on the reasoning that some beings should not be counted as having personhood.

    But if this is a reasonable premise because the authors believe a good will be achieved should such actions ever occur why leave this debate to the philosophers? If an idea can be justified under the reasoning given why not an action? Why not let the march of good ideas for the betterment of people, and the whole of humanity leave in its wake the blood of those who are holding back Utopia? Why not decide that being human is not a state of rightful natural inheritance but a mantle put on by others? All those deaths are not a waste or a shame or a cry to heaven as long as we can build the shining city on the hell over the bone heaps. What noble ideas you advance. Truly it must stick in your craw that the ungrateful peasants won’t eat your bread.

    Do you know what those who espouse such things are sir? They are liars. They are not freedom fighters. They are not noble protectors of radical ideas. They are not superior intellectuals bringing reason to the masses. They lie . They lie and wrap themselves in a cocoon of injured pride. They think themselves reason's bride but they are the Dragon’s harlot. A liar and a harlot has no right to sputter in indignation when somebody notes they charge too much and do not keep their word.

  36. "No moral difference between a fetus and a newborn"…

    Is there a difference then between a newborn and a one-week-old baby? How about between a fetus and a one-year-old? How about between between a fetus and a disabled ten-year-old? How about between a fetus and an elderly person with advanced Alzheimers? Where does one draw that line?

    As soon as a human life, whether in-utero or without, is allowed to be intentionally taken, we have begun the slide down a very slippery slope. Infanticide would presumably have been far-fetched in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided. And yet, today, with the slippery slope slicker than ever, our "advancements" allow us to calmly discuss here the classes of human beings whose lives we can choose to extinguish. Eye-opening, to say the least.

  37. "And there we are again, at the Nazis "Untermensch" and "Herren-Rasse". I won't be surprised when one day liberal leftists define that all Christians and all anti-abortionists are non-persons and should be killed in the Gas chamber. "

    Interesting that in the US, the anti-abortion movement is almost an exact replica of the population that is pro-death penalty and that championed slavery, racism and lynching of Blacks. Can anyone explain this phenomena?

    1. Actually, that's a fairly dramatic oversimplification. The US Conference of Catholics Bishops, for one, is consistently pro-life, and its members have taken principled stands for civil rights, and against poverty, unjust wars, and the death penalty, for many years now. (I should note that I'm not a Catholic: but I do admire their politics perhaps more than any other single group.)

      1. Statistics are by definition are "simplifications", that doesn't stop them from being true.

        As far as Bishops (who are statistically a miniscule percentage of the population) being "pro-life", they have repeatedly protected, following Catholic dogma, priests who rape children. Furthermore, Catholic Bishops have certainly not been historically consistent in opposing the death penalty, war, torture, etc. The last fifty years has seen American Bishops of all persuasions, pro-war, racist, etc. And Catholics in general are much less consistent.

        But life itself is complicated. Is "consistency" in inconsistent situations a moral virtue, or immoral rigidity?

      2. re: Catholic Bishop consistency:

        The Catholic Church refused communion to women who used birth control, considering birth control an attack on the sanctity of life. But now they practice "don't ask, don't tell", having realized that being "consistently pro-life" according to Catholic Doctrine would mean there would be virtually no more Catholic women, with the exception of nuns and lesbians.

    2. And a second point: to at least the same extent that there is inconsistency within the pro-life movement, there are inconsistencies within the pro-choice movement. If it's so important that the government's powers be limited in matters of conscience, why are no pro-choice folks coming to the defense of the Catholic Church's objection to the HHS contraception mandates? Why are pro-choice folks fine with killing babies who have the temerity to trouble our convenience, but are indignant when a whale is killed? I'm sure there are explanations for these rather glaring inconsistencies: but it's worth considering that the pro-lifers may have explanations for their apparent inconsistencies as well.

      1. First thing, some pro-choice people have indeed come to the defense of Catholics who don't want to respect their legal obligations as employers. Just as some pro-choice people have come to the defense of Quakers who refuse to pay income taxes because they are morally opposed to war.

        If moral decisions were simple and unambiguous, we would perhaps all make the same choices.

        I haven't seen any pro-choicers telling Catholics or others that they must have an abortion. The health insurance mandate does not oblige anyone to terminate their pregnancy. It doesn't oblige 7th Day Adventists to have blood transfusions. It doesn't oblige Mennonites to take motor ambulances to the hospital. But immorally it does allow Catholic organizations to escape their equal responsibilities, for reasons of political expediency.

        Why isn't the Catholic Church arguing that traditionalist Mormons should be able to have several wives, while arguing that Catholics should have a religious "conscience" exception? Consistent?

        Many people here have claimed that killing babies is absolutely immoral. And yet I don't doubt that most of them support bombing "the enemy" (whether it be Nazi or Taliban or…) even when it is absolutely certain that innocent babies will be killed. What happened to their absolute opposition to killing the innocent?

        1. I reject your argument that any church has an obligation to provide contraception or morning after abortion pills. One reason is that the US constitution (which defines the LIMITS of government power) includes an amendment declaring the government has no right to nterfere with church dogma.

  38. Venson,

    Oh surely you are familiar with the "Just War" theory.

    The Catholic Bishops do not argue that only Catholics should have conscience exceptions. But you must know that and trying to distract the argument will not work in this case.

    I am a bit fascinated with your claim that "having realized that being "consistently pro-life" according to Catholic Doctrine would mean there would be virtually no more Catholic women, with the exception of nuns and lesbians." because it is so nonsensical I think it would make lovely lyrics for a comic musical. Is there something within the Catholic womb that is hostile to the Y chromosomes? Do tell.

    This and the rest of your tirade are of the "have you stopped beating your wife" variety where correcting errors and presumptions are so time consuming that the original rebuttal can barely make it to the surface as one tries to clear the scum from the pond's surface.

  39. Sorry that I apparently insufficiently connected the dots.

    American Bishops were both in favor of and against the "Just War" of Vietnam.

    To the best of my knowledge, Catholic Bishops have yet to declare that Mormon and Muslim men should be able to have multiple wives according to their religious beliefs. Claiming a religious exception for only those beliefs you yourself share is indeed a demand for exceptional religious treatment, prohibited by the US Constitution.

    To be Catholic, one must receive Communion. As I mentioned, the Church now practices "don't ask, don't tell", which allows the reported 98% of American Catholic women who practice "artificial" birth control to pretend they do not, and – according to Church Doctrine – receive Communion in contradiction with the will of God.

    A Catholic using artificial birth control who knows that the Church condemns such practices is not to receive communion. If they do receive Communion, they are committing sacrilege against the Blessed Sacrament. Here are some quotes from the Church's official book of Catholic Doctrine–The Catechism of the Catholic Church. These quotes are authoritative because the Catechism is produced and approved directly by the Vatican.
    Unnatural Contraception is a Sin:
    "EVERY ACTION which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act (i.e. the birth control pill, the IUD), or in its accomplishment (i.e. the condom, the diaphragm), or in the development of it's natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, TO RENDER PROCREATION IMPOSSIBLE IS INTRINSICALLY EVIL" (Paragraph 2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; parenthetical comments and emphasis added).
    –The Church officially teaches that artificial contraception, since it's an action that intends to render procreation impossible, is a seriously evil action–a grave sin.

    A Catholic in a State of Mortal Sin Must Not Receive Communion:
    "ANYONE WHO IS AWARE OF HAVING COMMITED A MORTAL SIN MUST NOT RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession" (Paragraph 1457 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; emphasis added).
    –The Church charges anyone who has not yet received confession for a mortal sin to abstain from the Eucharist.

    Three Conditions for a Sin to be Mortal:
    "For a SIN to be MORTAL, three conditions must together be met: 'Mortal sin is sin whose object is (1) GRAVE MATTER and which is also committed with (2) FULL KNOWLEDGE and (3) DELIBERATE CONSENT" (Paragraph 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, emphasis added).
    –So for a sin to be mortal, the sin must (1) be grave (as artificial contraception is defined), it must be (2) committed with the knowledge that it is a sin, and it must be (3) committed with full consent. Notice that the sinner doesn't have to know that the sin is grave, they only have to know that it is wrong. The grave nature is something that is objective, it doesn't depend on whether the sinner knows that it is grave.

    Therefore, since artificial contraception is a grave sin, then as long as a Catholic knows that his/her Church speaks infallibly for Christ, and he/she knows that the Church condemns contraception as evil, then he/she is committing mortal sin if he/she uses artificial contraception with full consent. Furthermore, since this Catholic has then committed mortal sin, they should refrain from Communion by order of the Church until they receive the Sacrament of Confession.

  40. I'm still waiting for the pro-life crowd to invest money into research for stopping the 'holocaust' that is spontaneous abortions. Surely, it is terrible that each year billions of little human beings die in their mother's wombs without anyone caring about their fate. Just about all people, with the exception of the women perhaps, are not even aware this is occurring. Why no love here?

    If you oppose abortion and infanticide on the grounds that the entities are human beings (which seems to be the argument from most of the haters commenting on this blog) you must be consistent and also protect human life by attempting to save these little human beings from spontaneously aborting. In some ways it might be an easier task to undertake than opposing induced abortion. I believe this is not happening as the underlying reason pro-lifers oppose abortion is not to save the lives of 'innocent human beings' but to control and put women in their supposed roles in society (ie motherhood). It is an issue of having power over others and not of thinking critically and following rational arguments.

    There is a massive hole in the pro-lifers approach and until they fill it in or at least attempt to do so those of the pro-choice side can simply ignore these religious women-hating know-nothings.

    Good on Francesca and Alberto for publishing their article and bringing some fundamental issues into the public sphere. Best wishes for your future endevours.

    1. Well said. Would you know where I find a more elaborate version of this argument? I would like to read more about that.

    2. This is stupid. No offense, but it is. Are you really suggesting that there is no difference between a natural death, and the deliberate ending of a human life?

      From this perspective, a sudden death by heart attack should be considered a homicide. If fact, any death could be equated to murder. Absolutely ridiculous.

      And in case you haven't noticed, there are a TONNE of resources for pregnant women (and lots of research done) which help them in ensuring that their children are healthy throughout pregnancy. There are things such as fetal surgery which attempt to save the lives of those who would be "spontaneously aborted" before they are born. Medical science, I have no doubt, will push the envelope further as time goes on, so that perhaps one day we really could save most children that would otherwise die naturally.

      And why don't you go look at the women involved in the prolife movement. Most of them are confident, successful, powerful, charismatic, and have not stayed "in their supposed roles in society (i.e.: motherhood)". They are doctors, lawyers, nurses, advocates, actresses, reporters, senators, congress women, and some are mothers all the same. Its time people stop thinking that just because you have a kid, you suddenly can't do anything at all. Its ridiculous, its outdated, and the people who espouse that idea (i.e.: YOU) are sexist jerks.

    3. Richardson McPhillips

      In any case, lots of medical research IS done on helping women through pregnancy. It's a bit ludicrous to say that the Catholic church, massively involved in health care, is inconsistent in this regard.
      But it might also be a bit ludicrous to think that someone who could write "religious women-hating know-nothings" would be persuaded by something as mundane as consistency and reasonableness.

  41. And I must add, there are plenty of women, often prolife women (though this doesn't have to be the case – I just happen to read a lot in prolife circles so that is what I am exposed to) who will literally do anything (up to an including being bedridden, almost upside down, for an extended period of time!) to ensure that their "at risk pregnancy" is not spontaneously aborted. There are some inspiring stories out there – I really suggest you go read them before you spout off this nonsense.

    1. Sorry about this – I posted wrong. The above post is in response to:
      Richard Williams says:
      March 1, 2012 at 8:57 am

    2. Doctors estimate that that half or more zygotes and embryos spontaneously abort in the first few days or weeks. It is a natural process, based not only on the genetic health of the new organism, but also the physical and psychological state of the mother and her behavior including things like smoking, drinking, dieting…

      Shouldn't the State be involved in accusations of voluntary man-slaughter of embryos if the embryo has a right to life?

      1. You do realize that you just admitted that it is a natural process. Not murder. Therefore, how exactly is it anyone's business? And "in the first few days or weeks" implies that not even the mother may have known that she was pregnant – how can you be accused of harming something when you had literally absolutely no way of knowing it was there? That's like saying we're responsible for the death of an elderly person when they fall down the stairs when they are home alone, even though no one could have known it was happening. There's a name for something like that – a tragic accident. Stop being obtuse.

        And in cases when embryos are deliberately killed, such as IVF practices in the States, or experimentation, absolutely the state should be involved.

        Again, there is a BIG difference between a natural death, and deliberately ending a life.

        Though why we're talking about embryos, when the above article advocates for the deliberate killing of children who can easily be saved, who are visible, helpless, but not dependent specifically on the mother for survival, is beyond me.

      2. During the Black Plague, roughly half of Europe's population died. Since infants mortality was frighteningly high, and many people who did survive childhood didn't live past their twenties, would it have been alright to kill someone? After all, that guy next door to us just died of natural causes.

        You're another pristine example of the exceptionally low standard of arguments that left-wingers hold themselves to.

  42. Venson, I don't want to let this discussion be taken to far afield. I will respond that you are correct that a Catholic who knows (and knowledge is very important when determining if a sin is mortal) they are in a state of mortal sin must refrain from receiving the Holy Eucharist. Please note that a Catholic who is not in a state of Mortal sin is only obligated by Church law to take Communion at least once during Eastertide.

    You approach polyandry and polygamy as a religious liberty issue that should be supported by the Bishops. To do that a debate would have to ensue on whether any and all religious exercises are protected by the 1st Amendment and if polygamy and polyandry falls outside of that clause. That is not a debate for today, just suffice for me to write several court cases have answered that question in the negative for other religious matters.

    But you are also comparing apples and oranges. The question at hand is two fold. First, can the government define how a church, mosque, synagogue, coven, temple, etc. performs its religious exercise? Should they have the power to decide what activities are religious in nature and what activities are secular? The second question, can the Government compel a church, mosque, syangogue, coven, temple, and individual believers to commit acts which not only go against their beliefs but that would make them at a minimum guilty of material cooperation? Historically the answer has been 'No" which is why you don't see many Amish on the front lines and why Jehovah Witnesses affirm their word rather than swear to it.

    So back to the the killing of infants. Let me pose this question, if it becomes the norm in secular hospitals to practice the voluntary euthanasia (will assume that such actions have become legal) of certain infants, should those medical staff who are against such actions be compelled to perform or cooperate in such acts? What if it becomes the law that infants with certain must be disabilities be euthanized?

    Oh and for those who are squawking on about spontaneous abortion being manslaughter or that to be pro life you must do everything to prevent spontaneous abortion I believe this. To the first, keep forgetting that important phrase "natural death" and you are certainly welcome to equate the two or hey carry that even farther by demanding that all death be treated as a homicide or at least manslaughter. I bet ME's could use the work. To the second, yes we as a society should support medicine and science to find an answer to the medical reasons why women miscarry. Just as we should support science and medicine finding answers to other medical mysteries.

    But I think you are thinking more along the lines of should the law compel or forbid a pregnant woman from doing or not doing actions that are harmful to her fetus. For instance should a pregnant addict be forced into rehab? Should a mentally ill pregnant women be forced to take her meds? I have mixed feelings on that because I think good intentions can lead to bad consequences. If there is a legal penalty for certain behaviors might that prevent someone from seeking the help they need? I don't want harm to come to the fetus or to the mother.

    If abortion is seen as a good because it gives woman control over their lives why not infanticide? If infanticide is forbidden to me does that mean others now have an inordinate amount of power over my life? Will ignore that in some current and in many ancient civilizations it is and was the father who had absolute power of life and death over infants.

    The heart of the matter is who and what decides personhood? Should it ever be a standard set by others using a list of criteria drawn up by them? For a Christian the answer has always been "Imagio Dei". This for Christians was reinforced by the Incarnation. Simply put the answer is no. Personhood is not to ever be a standard set by others. It is owned by all human beings by virtue of being made in the Image of God. It does not depend on skin color, mental ability, physical health, religious belief, sex or other outside characteristics. Every law, every governmental system, every economic system, every interaction should be centered on the belief in the inherent dignity of the human person. That belief does not require one to believe in God but it does require one to believe that people matter. Which at one time was the engine that drove the "Liberal" train.

    Now I will leave you with a thought that will make no sense to many here. For a Christian Truth is not found in an idea or in a philosophy it is found in a person, Jesus Christ. He is the Truth which all other truths must be measured against. Using that measure there is no truth in advocating (even for purely intellectual exercise) for infanticide. None at all.

  43. First let me say that your ideas about what has "always" constituted Christian beliefs is far from knowledgeable. Infanticide – either active or passive – was generally acceptable in Christian societies until quite recently. You need only read about how Christian doctors treated the human beings they called "monsters" in the middle ages, in practices that continued in America well into the 20th century, especially in heavily Christian rural communities, where they were most often described euphemistically as stillborn. It was considered a responsibiliity of an ethical doctor to deal with these situations, insulating the families from choice.

    Past centuries had no difficulty with the moral question; a monster was obviously not made in the image of God, and would only result in an unjustifiable drain on the community, simultaneously delaying the birth of a future healthy and Godly child. There was controversy about whether a monster should receive sacraments or be baptized before or after it was thirsted to death, exposed to the elements or actively suffocated. Not all Christians reached the same conclusions as to how to deal with the situation – actively or passively. But there was virtually universal agreement that certain "monsters" should not be maintained alive.

    1. I'm interested in reading your sources that show this view of "monsters" was condoned by the Church. I haven't been able to find any online; could you provide a link or a reference?

  44. Abortion is indeed, as you have accepted, a natural process. A process which is genetically programmed to interrupt pregnancy in various situations which are known to extend to not only situations of famine, for example, but also to the psychological state of the mother.

    Ignorance is no excuse. As medical science continues to develop, the sort of prenatal testing Santorum says he opposes will enable people to know – if they wish – much earlier about whether a woman is pregnant and much more about what measures may have an effect – negative or positive – on that pregnancy. Today medical science allows us to save many human beings who could not be saved even a few years ago. Surely the fact that these techniques were unavailable in the past doesn't today mean we have no obligation to try to use the available means to save a human life, no matter what the material costs?

    Surely if personhood starts with the zygote, we should be monitoring every female of reproductive age to see what we can do to guarantee that that human being is not "accidentally" killed (if it can be prevented, surely it is not "natural", but only at best unknown or accidental?) or is killed because that human being does not receive the care any human deserves?

    1. I am sorry, but do you monitor every single human being on this planet to make sure they are not accidentally killed?
      Do you advocate that governments intrude on the privacy of individuals when they have no previously known just cause, with the goal of stopping us from doing anything remotely dangerous (like, I dunno, driving, hiking, swimming, walking across the street, eating junk food, going on vacation, etc …), just to make sure we won't accidentally die?

      No, you don't think we should live like that?

      Didn't think so. So why exactly should this type of thinking be applied to unborn children?

      And whether abortion is natural or not depends what you mean by abortion – abortion as the deliberate killing of an unborn child is NOT natural. What is more commonly referred to as miscarriage, is natural. And people die naturally at any age. And, as I've said above, none of us, not even children, are continuously monitored just to make sure we don't die naturally. Don't want to go to a doctor? No one will force you. Don't want to feed your children healthy foods 24×7? No one cares. Let your children play in the basement without supervision? No one's going to check in on you without just cause to make sure that doesn't happen. So WHY should this happen exclusively when your kids are possibly inside of you? Seriously.

  45. DolceBella2 hasn't made the distinction between stopping an adult from doing something dangerous with their *own* life, and protecting the powerless from other people. Surely you are not arguing that we should, under the guise that it might be difficult, abandon the idea that society should do its best to protect an infant from being harmed by a child molester?

    Furthermore, we have no difficulty understanding that an infant must be protected from the *unintentional* carelessness of a parent who abandons them, or does not provide adequate care, allowing the child to "accidentally" be harmed. Surely you are not suggesting that any parent should be allowed to "passively" place their child in danger, by for example allowing a three-year-old to wander on the highway?

    While intentionally harming a child and unintentionally-but-foreseeably allowing a child who is in your care to come into possible harm may not be the same level of crime, surely we agree that both are crimes?

    Most voluntary abortions are medicinal, a mother simply taking a drug. (This is nothing new, arsenic and other abortifacients have been used since well before Christ.) If we can act to protect human beings (and their immortal souls) against such intentional acts, surely we can also do our best to protect them against foreseeable but theoretically "unintentional" acts which produce the same result, death of a human being?

    1. If you can show a causal link, not a correlation, between an activity and the killing of an unborn child, then yes, you could propose legislation criminalizing that activity. The state already intervenes in some cases, such as testing newborn babiess for drugs, and laws increasing penalties if an unborn child is killed during a physical assault against a pregnant woman.

    2. I'm not arguing against that. You said – we should monitor all women of reproductive age, irregardless of whether they may be pregnant or not, just to make sure someone that may or may not be there is not harmed. That doesn't even happen with born people. Police don't periodically search though every single house in the country to make sure there are no people trapped in closets being assaulted and tortured. You don't get involved unless there is probably cause – as in, you know that the woman is pregnant, and is showing signs of distress and self harm. And guess what?!?! That's what doctors already do! They won't allow women to take certain drugs during pregnancy. They prescribe vitamins, diets, and exercise routines. They check on the women to ensure her health and the baby's health is good periodically throughout the pregnancy and after birth. If a pregnant women is harmed so that her child dies, she usually has recourse under the law to do something about it. If a pregnant woman drinks or does drugs during pregnancy so that the baby is in danger, people get involved. All these things already happen. I'm saying that it is absolutely NOT necessary to go overboard and invade people's privacy for absolutely no reason at all. That's not allowed when it comes to born people, and it won't be allowed when it comes to unborn people.

      To put it plainly:
      If the police believe someone is being abused or a crime is taking place, they need a warrant to search a house. They can't just enter every house to make sure nothing is wrong.
      The state needs probable cause to become involved with a family who is believed to be harming its children, deliberately, or through neglect. The state can't just search every home and take every child away from their parents on the off chance that the parents might abuse them.

      Drinking coffee, or going for a run, when you don't even know if you're pregnant yet, don't even come close to being something that needs to be monitored. Its ridiculous.

  46. I agree pregnant women should receive prenatal care without account to their personal financial circumstances. That is just a basic of a caring and just society. How such care should be paid for and provided and by whom is a subject of debate.

    When does a medical cost become disproportionate to the benefits it offers and who determines that? Does being against infanticide mean endorsing that extraordinary methods must be used to keep very premature infants alive no matter the material cost or the likely overall survival of the infant or the chances of severe disability should the infant survive as a result of those measures? Is not taking action the same as active euthanasia? Is it enough to offer only palliative care?

    If I understand the logic of the authors the answer to the above would be that active euthanasia would be quite acceptable because the infant is not aware of the harm to be done to it and more harm will occur to the parents and to society as a whole if extraordinary measures are taken to keep the child alive. This harm would be direct and personal, for example the parents might have to make serious economic sacrifice to care for the child. Society might have to forego caring for several healthy babies to provide care for the ill infant.

    The authors however move beyond that scenario to one which explores endorsing the euthanasia of healthy infants because indirect, impersonal harm may befall others should he be permitted to live. "The alleged right of individuals (such as fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality, which someone defends, is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being…" Though later in the article the authors write, " 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." Nowhere do I see that "well being" is to be restricted to those considerations.

    To make the leap that euthanasia of healthy infants for rather vague selfish reasons should be permitted because abortion is allowed for such reasons is to me a leap. I am pro life but I do not think that the majority of women who choose abortion do so in a moral vacuum. Yes there are women who abort for reasons we find jaw dropping and scandalous. But I believe that most women who seek abortion do so because she honestly believes having the child would cause direct harm to her life. That harm might be economic, it might be psychological, it might be physical. The fact that these factors may very well continue in her life should she choose to bear the child does not mean we should give her the answer "oh go ahead and have a post birth abortion." Certainly it can not be justified when those factors are absent and we only have vague notions of well being as a defense for the killing.

    The authors have taken the existence and acceptance of abortion and made it both the question and the answer to the problem of how to discuss the killing of infants. What they should have done is make make the question why women choose abortion and make the answer how to give support to women and families to make life the better and more beneficial choice.

    Be serious about discussing eliminating the direct harms that a fetus and/or an infant brings to the life of the mother and the family instead of offering up the insult that women who choose abortion do so with no more care than I take in eating chicken embryos, and for that reason we should allow post birth abortions. The "what's the big deal" argument is suitable for teens breaking curfew. It is not suitable for adults who are bringing debate on matters of life and death to the public square.

  47. Joe, I understand your drift. But I would submit that the link between a parent allowing their 3-year-old to wander the highway and damage done does not even rise to the level of correlation, but is merely hypothetical, at least until the child has actually been struck by a car. That doesn't stop us from intervening *before* the damage is done.

  48. You're correct. If a pregnant woman is assaulted, or if you know a pregnant woman is using drugs, you have a responsility to intervene before the damage is done.The forces being set in motion are not hypothetical. There are known instances of toddlers being killed on streets by moving vehicles. The laws of physics with regard to mass and force are very clear with regard to what happens when a car hits a toddler. The law recognizes this principle – you can set causal forces in motion that will damage the child if they are not stopped, whether intentionally or out of negligence. But just stating that you have a hypothesis about the relation between two events does not legally or philosophically justify moral intervention. I can propose a hypothesis that eating vegetables damages an unborn child, but unless you have the science to back up the causal relation, you're going to have a hard time justifying intervention, whether personally or legislatively.
    The law recognizes behaviors that justify state intervention, even if no damage is done, such as child neglect not resulting in injury(the child left alone to wander in the street who is rescued) or attempted assault.

  49. I'm sure if 2 in 5 (the rate of spontaneous abortions-higher or lower depending on what source you use) of new born babies were dying you would want to do something about it. Why is it different when the human life is only a few days old, inside someone and barely visible? The cause of death would not matter; our society invests a lot of money and effort into attempts to prevent natural and accidental deaths of adults. An example of this; suppose a women was driving her car along a road and suddenly a small child ran out in front of her. She attempts to brake but it is too late, the child is killed instantly. Our society would still hold the driver responsible and the police would either charge her with manslaughter or murder. This is a very similar case, but with some differences I will admit, to spontaneous abortion.

    For a pro-lifer a newly formed zygote and a new born baby are of the same moral value, so to be consistent they should care equally for both. What I was attempting to highlight was the fact that pro-lifers put an enormous amount of effort into protecting human life when the mother is deliberately ending that life (often for very non-selfish reasons such as putting her already born children's interests in priority), yet pro-lifers ignore the ending of other 'human lives.' My example of spontaneous abortion should bring out the pro-lifer's assumptions on what their values are; to protect human life or to control women. I would argue that it is the latter, as there are many easier and more effective ways of protecting human life than attempting to stop induced abortion.

    By the way, the Christian notion of 'Imagio Dei' argues that a messed up foetus with no awareness of its own existence and no future is of more value than an adult chimpanzee-a non-human animal that is aware of its own existence and does have a future. This idea is seriously stupid and is very similar to racism and sexism. Perhaps it is time that Christians read some Charles Darwin, come to grips with our origins and develop a more inclusive set of beliefs.

    1. Are you saying that our society is not investing money in trying to figure out how to stop miscarriages? Which societies are you talking about and what are the figures on this? Also, do you support infanticide? That is the subject of the article. For the record, I support funding research into stopping miscarriages.
      Your view that a "messed up foetus" is worth less than an adult chimpanzee are the same arguments advanced by the eugenics movement in America around the turn of century or in Europe in the 1920's and 1930's. Those movements were also racist. Also, an affirmation that all humans are made in the image of God is an anti-racist idea. I'll let you figure out why, since you're not "seriously stupid."
      I've read "Origin of the Species" by Charles Darwin, and am intrigued by his arguments, but since you assert that my belief that we are all made in the image of God renders me "seriously stupid," we don't have a basis to continue a rational discussion on that issue. Besides the topic is whether it is okay to kill babies, not your opinion on animal rights, evolution, or your hatred of Christians.
      "Having a future" is a vague and broad term and needs to be clarified. What does it mean for a human being to "have a future?" What does it mean for an "adult chimpanzee" to "have a future?" Is it the same thing as a human being "having a future?" Once "having a future" is defined, the next question is why is "having a future" morally significant for how we treat others? Who decides who "has a future?" Can we morally justify killing baby chimps using the authors' criteria? That would be a more interesting question than discussing someone's antipathy towards Christians.

    2. "She attempts to brake but it is too late, the child is killed instantly. Our society would still hold the driver responsible and the police would either charge her with manslaughter or murder. "

      Uh… no. Where did you get this ridiculous notion? She would be investigated, but unless there was some action that she took, directly or indirectly, that resulted in the death of the child, she would not be held responsible. She has to be proven to have – at the very least – been doing something negligent that inhibited her being able to stop on time. Hitting, even killing, someone who jumps in front of your car, if you are unable to avoid them, is not a crime and would not be punished.

  50. Yes, I do support infanticide. I believe there are some very good arguments for it, ie Singer, Tooley or Parfit.

    1. If you honestly believe this, I'm not sure how there can be any reasonable conversation between us, for the simple reason that we don't inhabit the same moral universe. In my world, and thankfully, in most people's world, the right, the ethical response, to a position like yours is disgust and disdain. Disdain for your beliefs, I should add, though not for you, for God commands me to love you. Still, that's because He commands me to love my enemies. And without apology, that's what you, and that's what the authors of this paper are: my enemies.

      1. 'In my world, and thankfully, in most people’s world, the right, the ethical response, to a position like yours is disgust and disdain'
        I would have thought a well reasoned response which shows me where I go wrong with be ethical.

        1. Everyone reasons from certain presuppositions and axioms. It's axiomatic that killing babies is wrong. Whether I should kill a baby is not a question that I judge on the basis of other theories: it's how I judge those theories. If a theory leads to the conclusion that killing babies is right, that's prima facie evidence that theory is wrong. Call it reductio ad absurdum if you like. (Still, I should note that one of the reasons why theism in general, and Christianity in particular, is so compelling to me is precisely because it provides an overarching theological, philosophical and ethical framework for justifying and defending this fundamental moral intuition.)

          But since we apparently don't share this axiom, I'm not sure how to proceed with a rational discussion of the issue at hand. My attack on your position – and that's what it would be, is an attack – would take us far afield into theological realms where we would probably share even fewer presuppositions. There have, historically, been numerous productive arguments between believers and non-believers, but Chesterton and Blatchford (to take one example) at least shared the premise that mothers shouldn't kill their babies.

  51. I am open to the possibility that there could be some situations where it may be justifiable to do so. I'm not going to walk down to the zoo and start killing them, just as I am not going to the local hospital to start killing newborn humans. As a consequentialist I need to be aware I may have a responsibility to so if the situation arises.

  52. If you have a metaphysical committment to consequentialism, then we differ in the basis for our beliefs, and that lies beyond the scope of this article. Have a good day.

  53. WTF? By that logic you should never have been part of the discussion on this article in the first place.

  54. Maybe not. I see your arguments on the subject of this article, and your metaphysical justification for it, and beyond that I'm just not interested in an internet debate between consequentialism and deontological ethics with someone who already has an absolute commitment to one side or the other, and I'm especially not interested in pursuing that path in the comments sections of an Internet blog posting with a much more narrow topic. That would certainly be an exercise in "What The Fuck."
    You answered my questions; I got an insight into the point of view of someone who supports infanticide by probing a little bit. That's what I wanted to learn.
    Whether my not pursuing a consequentialist vs deontological ethics discussion with you satisfies you or not is a different story. But I would argue no harm was done.

  55. Aww, poor widdle infanticidal bioethicists. I feel SO SORRY for you, John Harris, the involved writers and about the "threats to their personal health and safety." Does the medicine you've/they've prescribed for others not taste very good? They think they should be able to threaten the health and safety of newborns with impunity? Sorry, it doesn't work that way, nor should it. Those who suggest violence against a particular person group (in this case infants) shouldn't be surprised when people call their position evil and sarcastically suggest that violence would be a justifiable response, particularly against those who might actually put that suggestion into practice. As for the racist comments, I find it ironic, again, that you've published hateful remarks about infants and now are whining that people responded in kind. You are like a typical schoolyard bully running to the teacher when your victim finally gets fed up and socks you in the nose.

    1. Thank you, I tried pointing out the horrific nature of their position, politely and using calm academic phrasing. It got me nowhere. They will not acknowledge the danger posed by such vile posturing under the guise of academic discussion, let alone apologize to the world for drafting a document that could very well be used to justify everything from infanticide to slavery and genocide [by applying a merit/value measure to 'personhood'].

      I agree 100%, sometimes the bullies do require the proverbial sock-in-the-nose.

      In matters of ethics & morality I am of the opinion that an understanding of right & wrong is difficult to teach some individuals without building on a foundational fear-of-consequence, to begin with.

  56. Astrid H. Johannmeyer

    Did anyone of you already mentioned the word responsibility? What about the responsibility adult parents have by law? Not only for themselves, but also for the baby who is in a defenceless state. It is clearly regulated by law that the parents are not allowed to be a deadly peril to their children.

    @Prof. Savulescu: I hope to get you right that you just wanted to trigger an "academic" discussion. That implicates to me that only the brain is working – simplified. In my eyes, to exclude the heart from ANY academic discussion or even more any dicision concerning the life of others (beings, persons, animals, plants, etc.) is a fault. Both, heart and brain, should work together as an intellectual and moral unit.

    The second thing is: In my opinion it is a question of the trinity of body, soul and intellect that is worth saving from any deadly peril in any stage of age – any impact on that trinity has an huge impact on the soul, too, not only on the body. This was the ground on that actual law in the majority of states (also the Vatican) is based! The Netherlands may be an exclusion; but do they suit as a role model? So, as long as the body is not connected to a soul – guess, when this is the case – the soul will not feel any harm when the body gets "killed". Now there comes up the question when´s the point a soul connects to a body? A question to fight about! In my opinion, in the point of procreation.

    The ability to feel pain, and how differentiated, is one of the most important questions one should consider when speaking about ending someones/somethings (?) life. How many pain does a flower feel when it is picked compared to a child? How big is the impact on the soul in each case?

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