Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Infanticide should be legal, Oxford experts say

, 29 Feb 2012

A group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued that killing young babies is no different from abortion, and should be allowed even when there is nothing physically wrong with the child.

Oxford University has argued that killing young babies is no different from abortion
Oxford University has argued that killing young babies is no different from abortion Photo: Alamy
However, the journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, has defended his decision, saying it was the job of such publications to air all sides of all arguments – however radical.
Two former Oxford associates of his, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, argued that there was no moral difference between abortion and killing babies in their article, After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?
They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”
Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”.
“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”
As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.
The authors therefore concluded 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”.
They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that “only the 64% of Down's syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing”.
Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.
“To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”
However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.
They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.
Both Minerva and Giubilini know Prof Savulescu through Oxford.
Minerva was a research associate at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics until last June, when she moved to the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Melbourne University.
Giubilini, a former Cambridge University philosophy post-graduate, gave a talk in January at the Oxford Martin School – of which Prof Savulescu is also director – titled What is the problem with euthanasia.
He too has gone on to Melbourne, although to the city’s Monash University.
Prof Savulescu worked at both univerisities before moving to Oxford in 2002.
Defending the decision to publish, Prof Savulescu, saying that arguments in favour of infanticide were “largely not new”.
What Minerva and Giubilini did was apply these arguments “in consideration of maternal and family interests”.
While accepting that many people would disagree with their arguments, he said: “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.”
He pointed out that the authors had received death threats, and called those who made abusive and threatening posts “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.”
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he added: “This "debate" has been example an example of "witch ethics" - a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her.
"It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”

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