Abortion and Infanticide

Re-discovering the Slippery Slope

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MARCH 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

While this quote from “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There” is from a work of fiction, it is an apt way to depict the article published on Feb. 23 in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled: “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”

Authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, academics based in Melbourne, Australia, argued 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.”

Abortion is routinely permitted when the fetus is suffering from some type of defect or disease, or even for economic, social and psychological reasons, they said. And in Holland, under the 2002 Groningen Protocol newborns who have a “hopeless prognosis” may be killed.

Instead of the universally accepted term of infanticide to describe such a procedure they argued in favor of their neologism, “after-birth abortion.”

"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,” they claimed.

They did not put any limit as to how long after birth this so-called abortion should be permitted, aside from noting that normally any disability would be detected in a matter of days. When the justification is on non-medical grounds they also omitted any time period, saying it just depended on the neurological development of newborns.

Reasoned engagement

Not surprisingly their article elicited a great deal of criticism. In reaction to this, in the journal’s blog on Feb. 20, Julian Savulescu, the editor of the journal, said their proposal of “after-birth abortion” was not disturbing, but what was disturbing were the hostile responses to what he termed “any kind of reasoned engagement.”

In an open letter penned by the article’s authors, published March 2 on the journal’s Web site, they proclaimed their astonishment at the hostile reactions, saying: “It was meant to be a pure exercise of logic.”

Their tactic of describing the article as an intellectual exercise was anticipated by Bill Muehlenberg in an article posted the day before on the Australian Web site On Line Opinion.

“Decades prior to the Holocaust there were many academic positions and pronouncements which prepared the way for what Hitler and the Nazis did,” he pointed out.

“Using the classroom and scholarly journals to make the case – coolly and calmly – for baby killing is not an indication of professionalism and progress,” he argued. “It is a sign of barbarism and regress.”

Ideas have consequences, argued Trevor Stammers in an article published March 5 on the Web site Mercator Net.

“To put it in plain English, every social revolution begins with an idea and Giubilini and Minerva’s ideas are no exception and have every relevance in the world beyond academia,” he said.

As a parent of a Down syndrome child, their arguments disgust me, declared David Warren, writing in the March 2 edition of the Canadian newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen.

It’s true, he admitted, that others such as ethicist Peter Singer have previously advocated infanticide. Then again, he pointed out, Singer also advocates the acceptance of bestiality.

“Kill babies and sleep with apes: it’s fine with the ethics mob,” was the title of Rod Liddle’s article in last weekend’s Sunday Times.

Describing the article as a flawed rendition of Peter Singer’s position, Liddle ridiculed it, saying it lacked not only common sense, but any logic.

In Scotland on Sunday, commentator Gerald Warner noted that: “the most dangerous place on earth for a Scottish baby is its mother’s womb. In 2010, infant mortality claimed the lives of 218 babies; abortion killed 12,826.”

Ethical nihilism

While the advocacy of “after-birth abortion” might be a good example of what he termed “ethical nihilism,” he observed that the authors had, in fact, helped the pro-life cause. “It abandons the weasel euphemisms, lies and anti-scientific impostures of the pro-abortion lobby and calls a spade a spade,” he said.

Writing in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, Andrew Bolt said: “Indeed, there is no obvious boundary once you've rubbed out the absolute line in the sand: Thou shalt not kill the baby in the womb.”

The slippery slope does exist, he argued, and this case shows just how slippery it can become.

On March 7, Barney Zwartz, religion editor of the Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, said that a fatal step was taken in the debate about life when “quality of life” was allowed to replace the value of life in such discussions.

Also the father of a child with Down, he said that: “Nor is it any justification to claim one is following logic. Logic is a tool, whose usefulness depends on the premises with which it works; it is not a good in itself.”

Those upholding firm moral principles are criticized as being overly “rigid.” This latest episode shows what being “flexible” comes to when dealing with fundamental moral principles.