Conservatives were horrified when the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article advocating “after-birth abortion” for handicapped, or just inconvenient, babies. They are correct that it is a disgusting piece of amoral analysis, but that is its virtue. As much as conservatives hate it, progressives hate it more. Many are convinced that it’s a plant by the pro-life crowd. What progressives cannot articulate, but intuitively understand, is that by applying a reductio ad absurdum approach to the notion of abortion, the article forces pro-abortion people to confront the Big Lie that underpins their willingness to terminate a pregnancy, even an advanced one.
Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubilini have advanced a very simple proposition, which is that only “a person” deserves to live:
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.’
In the authors’ lexicon, to be a “person” deserving of life, one has to have a cognitive sense of self, akin to Descartes’ proposition that “I think, therefore I am”:
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.
Because babies lack a higher existential sense, they have no greater right to life than other biological entities without an existential sense of self — say, for example, a cockroach or chicken. Downgrading a baby’s status from “person” to something equivalent to a cockroach leads to the next step in the analysis, which is that adults have the absolute right to terminate this living, breathing non-person’s existence:
[W]hat 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.
We’ve been down this path before. It ended in Auschwitz.
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