Consider the following claim:
…‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
One might guess that such a claim would be made by pro-life activists trying to ridicule or parody the philosophical logic of abortionists. But this claim is made by philosophers writing last week in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Is this a satirical piece, along the lines of A Modest Proposal? We might hope so, but it is not.
The grounding of this claim is, according to the authors, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, that “the moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.” The authors also claim (and this foundation goes back to work by Peter Singer and others, so there is nothing new here, which is the argument used by the JME editors in response to the firestorm of angry protests), that not only are not all humans persons, but not all persons are humans. Non-human animals can be persons as long as they are “capable of attributing to [their] own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”
Infants are “potential persons,” but have no right to live because “however weak the interests of actual people [those wanting to kill the infant] can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones, because this latter interest amounts to zero.”
The funny part (funny, in a sad, pathetic, horrific sort of way) is that the authors describe their own arguments with language that would be considered uncivil and inflammatory were pro-life activists to use it. Herein lies the challenge: how can you “flame” people who have so successfully flamed themselves?
The view of personhood espoused here strikes me as extremely jaundiced—the ability to attribute value to one’s own life is neither necessary or sufficient for such a determination, I would say—but, of course, I’m not a philosopher with access to their higher reasoning powers. To me, all living humans, past, present or future, are persons (though not all persons have, in all cases, the same rights). Such a view may be philosophically naïve, but at least it doesn’t lead to a conclusion that it is immoral to kill a chimp, but not immoral to kill a healthy human baby.
Isn’t there some point where even completely immoral and/or godless people, no matter how intelligent, stop making such claims because they can’t say them with a straight face? Apparently not.
I am sure that most abortion rights advocates would reject the claims of Giubilini and Minerva. Yet, can they? Amidst all the nonsense is a very compelling claim: a human baby just after birth is morally equivalent—as well as physiologically equivalent—to a baby just before birth. The only thing that really changes is the baby’s address. It has moved from the mother’s uterus to somewhere near by.
This change of address is not non-trivial as far as the mother is concerned, of course. We all have (limited) rights over our bodies, what goes on inside of them and what others can legally do to them. For this reason, making tough calls when, for instance, the life of the baby and the life of the mother are in conflict is certainly a moral challenge and a legal challenge.
But not much has changed for the baby. Her lungs are now full of air rather than fluid, but she is just as dependent, just as cognizant of her reality, just as human, just as much a person as the moment before she was born.
One can reject out of hand the ghoulish reasoning that leads philosophers to morally ridiculous claims, but the abortion rights activists are very much in the same bed with these folks, whether they like it or not.