Dr. Francesca Minerva, a research associate and ethicist at Oxford University, has been receiving death threats after co-writing an article arguing that killing newborns should be as permissible as getting an abortion.
The controversial article posited the idea that newborns and fetuses were only potential persons, lacking the same moral status and capabilities as actual persons like infants, young children and adults. Therefore, after-birth abortions should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
'It is not a policy!'
Dr. Minerva, currently working at the University of Melbourne, co-wrote the paper, titled After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? with Dr. Alberto Giubilini. It was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, a leading international journal meant to promote ethical reflection and conduct in scientific research and medical practice.
Drs. Minerva and Giubilini intended the paper to be a purely academic reflection on the nature of abortion and childcare, and to examine, from an ethicist's standpoint, why certain types of abortions are permitted while others were not. It was meant to be shared among the academic community, continuing a debate within the field of medical ethics that has been present for several decades.
Instead, the pro-abortion article went viral, with clips from the piece distributed through pro-life web sites and blogs like The Blaze. Within a few days, Dr. Minerva and Dr. Giubilini were received hundreds of hate mail, including dozens of emails threatening Dr. Minerva's life and saying You should die.
This was a theoretical and academic article, Dr. Minerva told The Sydney Morning Herald.
This is not a proposal for law, she added in an interview with The Irish Independent. This is pure academic discussion.
She herself is against infanticide. One of the crucial points of her article was to distinguish between a newborn and an infant, but even this is a position deeply rooted in the process of logical thought, not personal conviction.
I wish I could explain to people it is not a policy, and I'm not suggesting that and I'm not encouraging that.
'Two devils in human skin.'
Many pro-life activists, however, feel that after-birth abortion is a topic that should never be weighed or discussed, even within the confines of a medical ethics journal.
“Right now I think these two devils in human skin need to be delivered for immediate execution under their code of ‘after birth abortions’ they want to commit murder--that is all it is! one furious commentator wrote to the Journal of Medical Ethics. MURDER!!!”
The death threats against Dr. Francesca Minerva have become so serious that the University of Melbourne has notified the police, who have said they are assisting her.
Anthony Ozimic, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), meanwhile, has said that the article, which he described as a chilling promotion of infanticide, shows how abortion is creating a culture of death.
The paper proves what pro-lifers have long been arguing: that the common arguments for abortion also justify infanticide.
Ethics And 'The Truth'
Dr. Minerva's colleagues, however, are rallying behind her during what she describes as the worst [few days] of my life.
Professor Julian Savulescu, the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, defended her right to publish the article, which he hailed as an important addition to the discussion of medical ethics, in a blog post for the British Medical Journal, which sponsors it.
The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, Prof. Savulescu began, noting that the main difference with Dr. Minerva's article was to examine this argument's application in consideration of maternal and family interests.
Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments, Prof. Savulescu wrote. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.
The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn, he continued. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.
This kind of provocative and proactive thinking, Prof. Savulescu argues, it precisely what both the pro-life and pro-chance camp, examining as it does contentious and often contradictory ideas in an academic setting.
What is disturbing, meanwhile, is not the argument Dr. Minerva and Dr. Giubilini examine, but the hostile, abusive, threatening response to it, which he attributed to fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.
An Example of 'Witch Ethics'
Prof. Savulescu expanded on those arguments to The Daily Telegraph.
He noted how quickly some of the same commenters who claimed Dr. Minerva and Dr. Giubilini were arguing for infanticide and had no regard for human life quickly employed racist remarks to push their point, saying things like Alberto Giubilini looks like a muslim and all muslims should have been aborted and calling both scholars comunisti [sic] italiani pigs, ending with: Bang, bang. Drop in toxic waste dump reserved for left-wing contaminants.
This 'debate' has been an example of 'witch ethics--a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her,' Prof. Savulescu said. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide.
Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”
He also pointed out that the same logic the two ethicist engaged in to prove that there was no moral difference between pre-birth and after-birth abortions could be used to write an article suggesting that both abortion and the killing of newborns should be prohibited. The journal is considering publishing that article now.
'The Inevitable End Point'
Not everyone in the academic community, however, is convinced that Dr. Minerva and Dr. Giubilini are in the right.
If a mother does smother her child with a blanket, we say 'it's doesn't matter, she can get another one,' is that what we want to happen? Dr. Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St. Mary's University College, told The Telegraph.
Though admitting that the debate is certainly nothing new, Dr. Stammers characterizes the two scholars' conclusions are the inevitable end point of a road.
Dr. Stammers also dismissed the distinction between infanticide and after-birth abortion, calling it verbal manipulation that is not philosophy.
I might refer to abortion henceforth, he said, as antenatal infanticide.