Thursday, March 8, 2012

"After-Birth Abortion" Article Continues to Cause Uproar

Alberto Giubilini and Fransceca Minerva recently published an article "After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" which has caused quite a fire storm of protest.  I wrote about the issue HERE.  Now the authors of the controversial article have released an open letter attempting to clarify their intentions.  They begin with the following words:
"When we decided to write this article about after-birth abortion we had no idea that our paper would raise such a heated debate.
“Why not? You should have known!” people keep on repeating everywhere on the web.  The answer is very simple: the article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments.  Indeed, as Professor Savulescu explains in his editorial, this debate has been going on for 40 years.
We started from the definition of person introduced by Michael Tooley in 1975 and we tried to draw the logical conclusions deriving from this premise.  It was meant to be a pure exercise of logic: if X, then Y."
According to Giubilini and Minerva their paper was to be an exercise in logic and not a call for policy action enacted by legal statute.  Wesley J. Smith has written a response to their "open letter" that is brilliant.  Part of what he says accurately puts their words in perspective.
"But that is precisely why it was important that the public sit up and take notice. Bioethics is no mere debating society in which participants debate the propriety of infanticide today and oppose it tomorrow. Rather, the field is — and has been since its inception — about changing the values and public policies of society. As USC bioethics professor Alexander M. Capron once noted, “Bioethical analysis has been linked to action.” Bioethics historian Albert R. Jonsen has called bioethics a “social movement.” None other than Daniel Callahan, one of the movement’s founding fathers, wrote that “the emergence ideologically of a form of bioethics that dovetailed nicely with the reigning political liberalism of the educated classes in America” accounted for much of the movement’s influence and clout.
Bioethicists haven’t discoursed about infanticide for 40 years because they enjoy exploring novel concepts, but rather, because it isn’t easy to convince people — not even bioethicists — that killing babies is acceptable. Giubilini and Minerva pretend they are not part of that process of persuasion:
[W]e never meant to suggest that after-birth abortion should become legal. This was not made clear enough in the paper. Laws are not just about rational ethical arguments, because there are many practical, emotional, social aspects that are relevant in policy making (such as respecting the plurality of ethical views, people’s emotional reactions. etc.). But we are not policy makers, we are philosophers, and we deal with concepts, not with legal policy.
But gaining the philosophical high ground is precisely how radical bioethical ideas have historically been implemented. Here is the pattern: In the 1960s, the propriety of abortion was actively promoted in professional journals, leading directly to the great denouement of Roe v. Wade. Similarly, in the 1970s, bioethicists argued that it should be acceptable to withdraw feeding tubes from people with severe brain damage, an idea that was once beyond the pale. After a general bioethical consensus toward that end was achieved, the “concept” soon became public policy. Now, people who are unconscious and minimally conscious are dehydrated to death in all 50 states as a matter of medical routine."
Giubilini and Minerva seem blissfully ignorant and totally shocked at the public outcry of their ideas.  They wanted to serenely debate the merits of infanticide in an ivory tower (why they put their thoughts on the "world wide web" is a question to ponder) with other academics--"perhaps a spot of Earl Grey to enhance the ambience as we discuss killing newborn babies!"  The old adage is profoundly true: Ideas have consequences.  Killing whole segments of humanity is not an abstraction.  This has been done in our past.  Can you imagine an article written in 1935 which raised the logic of exterminating the Jewish race and then attempted to justify this by speaking of it merely as an exercise in logic?  It is a good thing that there was and is an outcry against the idea of infanticide.  It shows that although our cultural moral compass may be defective it is not completely destroyed.