Saturday 3 March 2012

Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva (and Charles C. Camosy) on After-Birth Abortion

Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, ‘After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?’, Journal of Medical Ethics (2012), first published on 2 March 2012.

Charles C. Camosy, ‘Concern for Our Vulnerable Prenatal and Neonatal Children: A Brief Reply to Giubilini and Minerva’ (2012).

The short article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva came to my attention via posts from friends on Facebook. It hasn’t even been formally published in the journal yet, and already seems to be causing a wave of consternation.

Here’s the abstract:

‘Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses 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.’

The authors essentially argue that ‘when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible’. They propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, ‘to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child’, seeking to claim that ‘killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be’.

There are two reasons, they say, which, taken together, justify this claim: (1) ‘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’, and (2) ‘It is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense’.

On the first of those points, they argue that ‘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’.

And on the second of those points: ‘If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all.’

In a brief reply to Giubilini and Minerva, Charles C. Camosy notes that the Catholic Church also makes logical connections between abortion and infanticide, but, of course differ on their views of what kind of thing the prenatal and neonatal child is. Hence, ‘the Catholic Church will part company with Giubilini and Minerva with regard to moral anthropology and in particular when they claim human persons can be defined merely as collections of actualized traits’.

‘From our prenatal and postnatal children – to brain damaged and mentally disabled adults – the fact that a fellow substance of a rational nature happens to have their potential frustrated is no reason at all to treat them as anything less than a person. If anything, those who are not currently expressing these traits deserve our special attention given that they are so vulnerable.’

Camosy notes that pro-lifers, to be serious players in public debate, ‘should hold a coherent and consistent point of view’, and so ‘should expect... to be pushed to deal with the implications of our positions which seem absurd to others’. He also decries the personal attacks and threats of violence that Giubilini and Minerva have received from those who identify as Christians.

‘That hate and vitriol are spewed by people on all sides of these controversial debates is nothing new, but Christians are called to love and solidarity even with those who oppose us on massively important issues like this. When we behave in ways which undermine our own values of love, solidarity, and respect for life, we not only fail to live the life to which Jesus called us, but we also undercut the effectiveness of our own arguments.’

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