COVER STORY: Two Melbourne academics want infanticide legalised
by Bill Muehlenberg
Two Melbourne-based ethicists have recently called for the legalisation of infanticide.
Dr Alberto Giubilini, of Melbourne’s Monash University, and Dr Francesca Minerva at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, have asserted, in the latest edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics (February 23, 2012), that the newborn are not persons.
They argue that if the abortion of the unborn is allowable, so too should be the termination — that is, the killing — of the newborn.
They state that “when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible” (Italics are the authors’).
An introductory abstract of the article summarises the two authors’ arguments as follows:
“Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the foetus’s health. By showing that (1) both foetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”
When academics such as these call for baby-killing, you know we have reached the outer limits of the moral atmosphere. Our mighty intellectuals, who are supposed to be training the next generation, both mentally and morally, are often instead doing society a great disservice.
To be well educated is certainly no guarantee of general intelligence or wisdom. To have a string of letters after one’s name is obviously not a sign of high moral acumen. Tragically, we often have some of the most morally deficient and intellectually lacklustre positions being argued for by our academics.
Not that Drs Giubilini and Minerva are the first Australian academics to make a case for infanticide.
Another well-known academic of this persuasion, who commenced his career many years ago at Monash University, is Peter Singer. He is now a professor at Princeton University in the United States.
He is a long-standing advocate not only of abortion and euthanasia, but of infanticide as well. He believes that the new-born must not automatically be considered to be persons, and they must be tested to see who should live and who should die. (See a profile I wrote, “Peter Singer and the gospel of death”, CultureWatch, October 14, 1996).
Giubilini and Minerva state the following in their defence of infanticide: “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, foetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.”
However, anyone exercising some intellectual and moral clarity would see just how slippery such weasel words are. The authors do not establish what they are seeking to argue for — namely, the non-personhood of certain humans — they simply assert it. That does not constitute an argument.
The case for the non-personhood of these classes of humans has not been made. They simply take a backward step in ethical reasoning: proceeding from what is to what ought to be. They assume description should lead to prescription. They think that if we are already killing some human beings, then it must be morally acceptable.
Of course they have things back to front here. We first should be examining the moral and ontological status of these groups. We should determine if they are in fact persons. And if they are, then of course killing them is quite wrong.
The fact that embryos are now being destroyed does not mean it is morally licit. That which is legal is not always moral. As can be seen in the blue panel on the left, it was quite legal in Nazi Germany to kill all sorts of classes of human beings. But that legality did not mean it was therefore morally right.
The same is true of the unborn child. Simply declaring that such a human is a non-person is not based on science: it is a philosophical pre-commitment. In Singer’s case it is utilitarianism and pragmatism. He has simply assumed, ahead of time, that certain groups are non-persons, and can therefore be bumped off at will.
And the two Melbourne academics also have great misunderstandings about the nature of capital punishment. No one argues that those warranting the death penalty have somehow become non-persons. It is exactly because they are persons, and have committed heinous crimes against other persons (such as murder), that the state takes these issues so seriously.
So we have three cases appealed to by these ethicists, and not one of them stands up under scrutiny. We have the same old story of some intellectuals and academics telling us that certain people are not persons, and therefore must forfeit the right to life.
They have merely made a pronouncement based on their secular utilitarian worldview. They have not established their case, and they have not proved in any sense of the term that the unborn and others are in fact non-persons. But by their lending of more intellectual and professional credibility to the case for baby-killing, they make it seem all the more acceptable, and will undoubtedly sway the views of many.
This is a grave abuse of medical ethics and the academic community. Using the classroom and scholarly journals to make the case — coolly and calmly — for baby-killing is not an indication of professionalism and progress. It is a sign of barbarism and regress. And we have seen it happen all before.
Have we not yet learned the lessons of history? Apparently not.
A genuinely ethical person would be utterly thunderstruck and outraged by what these ethicists are saying. Those who shrug and show no concern about all this, and offer no vocal opposition, are scarcely any better than these ethicists.
Tragically, there was mainly silence from the German citizens living during the reign of Hitler’s Nazis. I passionately hope there will not be this deadly silence again today, when similar pro-death ideologies are being allowed full sway in the public arena. Those who cannot or will not get incensed by the explicit call for the legalisation of infanticide are moral zombies who have long ago lost both head and heart.
Someone who understood the peril of compromising with evil, and who paid for his moral stand with his life, was the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He warned: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Or, as we read in Dante’s Inferno, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com
Bill Muehlenberg, “Peter Singer and the gospel of death”, CultureWatch, October 14, 1996.
Bill Muehlenberg, “Those unethical ethicists”, CultureWatch, November 18, 1996.
Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?", Journal of Medical Ethics, February 23, 2012.
Liz Klimas, “Ethicists argue in favor of ‘after-birth abortions’ as newborns ‘are not persons’”, The Blaze (United States), February 27, 2012.
John Jalsevac, “Journal editor defends pro-infanticide piece: Killing newborns is already legal in Holland”, LifeSiteNews.com, February 28, 2012.
Milestones to Hitler’s Final Solution
A major element leading up to the “Final Solution” in Germany was the notion that some people — indeed, whole classes of people — were not persons.
Decades before the Holocaust there were many academic positions and pronouncements which prepared the way for what Hitler and the Nazis did. In 1895 the German legal scholar Alfred Jost wrote an influential volume, The Right to Die, and in 1904 the German Society for Racial Hygiene was formed.
Of special importance was the publication in 1920 of Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding’s Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (The Authorisation of the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life). This volume promoted the concept of “lives not worth living”. It spoke of the “incurable feebleminded” who should be killed. It all led nicely to Hitler’s political manifesto, Mein Kampf (1925-1926).
State-sponsored euthanasia was called for, with the idea that many humans had to be excluded from those deserving the right to life. Other writings appeared, with much discussion, especially in the German medical community. All this helped pave the way for the programs the Nazis enacted after they came to power in 1933.
As Henry Friedlander says in the opening of his important book, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (1995), “Nazi genocide did not take place in a vacuum. Genocide was only the most radical method of excluding groups of human beings from the German national community. The policy of exclusion followed and drew upon more than fifty years of scientific opposition to the equality of man.”
Extract from Bill Muehlenberg, “Infanticide again”, CultureWatch, February 28, 2012.
Critics of infanticide accused of “hate speech”
The editor of an ethics journal that recently published an article advocating infanticide (what the authors call “post-birth abortion”), has responded to widespread criticism by pointing out that promoting the killing of newborns is nothing new: in fact, in the Netherlands infant euthanasia is already legal and practised.
Editor Julian Savulescu also criticises what he calls the “hate speech” directed at the authors of the article, arguing that the public’s response to the piece shows that “proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.
In the journal article Alberto Giubilin, a philosopher from the University of Milan, and Francesca Minerva, an ethicist from the University of Melbourne, made the case that “after-birth abortion” should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is perfectly healthy. They base their argument on the premise that the unborn baby and the newborn do not have the moral status of actual persons and are consequently “morally irrelevant”.
In response to the backlash, Savulescu wrote that the arguments in the article “are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public forums by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris”.
He also observes that the paper “draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands”.
Extract from John Jalsevac, “Journal editor defends pro-infanticide piece: Killing newborns is already legal in Holland”, LifeSiteNews.com, February 28, 2012.