Where would we be without experts? Alive!

The enlightened secularists among us continue to attack life and excuse murder

That’s an exaggeration, of course, as much genuine expertise goes into all sorts of good things, from producing food to handling law enforcement to building airplane engines. But some experts—notably those perching and preening in ivory towers—are to be followed with care and even kept at a safe distance, especially if you are a newborn, as The Catholic Herald reports:

A leading British medical journal has published an article calling for the introduction of infanticide for social and medical reasons.

The article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” states in its abstract: “After-birth abortion (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

The article, written by Alberto Giubilini of the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva of Melbourne University, argues that “foetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons” and consequently a law which permits abortion for certain reasons should permit infanticide on the same grounds.

The full JME article, it appears, is available online. This passage alone should be cause for a pause or three:

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.

Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. 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. This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.

A key assumption is that if a fetus can be aborted, then it follows that an infant can also be killed. That is not, of course, illogical at all, and those who are pro-life—including Popes Paul VI and Bl. John Paul II—have long warned that the clear road from contraceptives to abortion leads to the deadly highway of infanticide and euthanasia; the latter wrote the following in 1995, in Evangelium Vitae:

The contemporary scene, moreover, is becoming even more alarming by reason of the proposals, advanced here and there, to justify even infanticide, following the same arguments used to justify the right to abortion. In this way, we revert to a state of barbarism which one hoped had been left behind forever. … 

But since the possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited, it not infrequently happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic intention which accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of children affected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful and utterly reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human life only within the parameters of “normality” and physical well-being, thus opening the way to legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well.

Dr. Francis Beckwith, among others, have taken on the task of addressing the argument that a human being is not always a “person” in the sense of “subject of a moral right to life”, which Beckwith, the author of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007), acknowledge as the strongest pro-abortion argument. Beckwith, in a 2007 Ignatius Insight interview, said:

The pro-lifer should remember that the central issue is, “What is the human community and does the unborn belong to it?” As my friend Greg Koukl puts it: if the fetus is a person, none of the popular arguments are relevant; if the fetus is not a person, then none of the popular arguments is necessary. Pro-lifers make a mistake by allowing the discussion to drift away from this central question. 

Of even more interest, in some ways, has been the reaction of JME to criticism of the piece. The editor of JME, in responding to strong criticism, has offered up a mixture of appeals to “academic freedom”, claims to victimhood, demands for openmindedness, stabs at amoral moralizing, as well as uttering a variation of the standard line: “Hey, everyone else is doing it; why not us?”:

But Julian Savulescu, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, has defended the publication of the paper on the British Medical Journal website. He said: “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.”

He continued: “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.”

Because, as we all know, if arguments have been “presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora”, they work smashingly in the real world, when real lives are on the line. Of course, plenty of counter-arguments have been presented over the years as well, most of them made by philosophers who are inclined to think that killings excused by an appeal to “consideration of maternal and family interests” is hardly different than killings excused by appeals to race, eugenics, or saving the earth for the next generation of whales and spotted owls.

At least Savulescu is right about one thing: it’s fairly clear, just in reading the reports and his comments, that “the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth”, as he and his colleagues apparently don’t think that Truth exists—just a bunch of little “truths” that may or may not be compatible with one another. Which opens the door wide open to a sophisticated variation of “might makes right”; after all, if there is no Truth, those with power make the “truth”. As the bottom line becomes thicker and thicker, the line dividing civilization from sophisticated barbarism becomes thinner and thinner.

Where he is certainly wrong is in insisting that he and the Journal are not promoting a moral view, because saying you don’t have a moral view is itself a very real and meaningful view of morality. It is a way of saying that morality—seen as a subjective construct—is subservient to academic fads, political pressures, and utilitarian ends. And the latter, according to another report, in The Telegraph, is precisely the hook upon which the coat of death is hung:

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 per cent 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.”

Those are words to mull over: “when the state economically provides for their care.” The modern state, having flung open the Pandora’s box by tossing aside opposition to and qualms about contraceptives, abortion, no-fault divorce, and nearly every sort of sexual act and relationship possible or impossible, now steps in to say, “Hey, kids, we’re going to tidy up now. And here’s what you have to do since we paid for the pad, the pleasure, and the prophylactics.” The measure of an “unbearable burden” is made by technocrats, whose interest in humanity is shaped by either numbers or materialist ideologies. Bl. John Paul II wrote much about what happens when democracies embrace a belief in the absolute autonomy of self, in which ” society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds.” In that case, he writes,

The State is no longer the “common home” where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenceless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part.

All of which is what progressives in the West have been pushing for many decades. Today, especially in England and parts of Europe but also in North America, the final vestiges of Christian faith and morality have been savagely desiccated and often left completely unprotected. As Abp. Fulton Sheen once wrote, “The future conflict of the world will not be between Religion and Science, or between ‘rugged individualism’ and Socialism, but between a society which is spiritual and a society which is mechanical, between a society which adores God, and a society which claims to be God; between a society which absorbs man for secular ends, and a society which respects personality and uses the secular as a means to eternal ends.” And, in another work: “Never before in the history of the world was there so much knowledge; and never before so little coming to the knowledge of the Truth.” When a “Journal of Medical Ethics” has not interest in real medicine and real ethics, it has indeed lost all interest in Truth, and may as well call itself the “Journal of Immoral Ethics”. Written by “experts”, of course.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.