Tag Archives: Journal of Medical Ethics

CAUTION: Infanticide ahead

WESLEY SMITH warns that bioethicists in the U.S. are beating the drum for legal infanticide . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

The late Fr. Richard Neuhaus famously said: “Thousands of medical ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on the way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as unexceptionable.”

In my nearly 22 years of advocating against the Culture of Death, I have found the “Neuhaus Equation” (as I call it) to be absolutely true. Example: In the 1980s, bioethicists began to discuss removing tube-supplied sustenance from people with severe cognitive impairments. Intentionally dehydrating a human being to death — once considered unthinkable — quickly became “debatable.” It was soon justified as merely refusing medical treatment. Today, dehydrating those who need feeding tubes has become routine in all 50 states.

Infanticide has been “debatable” in bioethics for 40 years — although it has been a harder slog getting to the unexceptional stage. Peter Singer became (in)famous for arguing that babies could be killed within 30 days of birth because they are not self-aware “persons.” Because of his views — not in spite of them — Princeton appointed him to head the misnamed Center on Human Values.

Similarly, British bioethicist Jonathon Glover remains in good reputation in the field even after arguing that babies are “replaceable,” and thus: “The objection to infanticide is at most no stronger than the objection to frustrating a baby’s current set of desires, say by leaving him to cry unattended for a longish period.”

A few months ago, the prominent Canadian bioethicist Udo Schuklenk wrote (in essence) that infants judged to have a life unworthy of life should be euthanized: “Does this baby have the capacity for development to an extent that will allow him or her to have a life and not merely be alive? If we reach the conclusion that it would not, we would have reason to conclude that his life is not worth living.” What makes a life worth living? Well, that would be in the eye of the utilitarian beholder, wouldn’t it?

Bioethical arguments for infanticide usually take place in professional journals and at academic symposia where they escape public notice. But once in a while people get a glimpse of what utilitarian bioethicists have planned for them, leading to angry controversy. In 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published “After Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” by bioethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. The article blatantly advocated the moral permissibility of infanticide, specifically asserting that whatever justifies abortion also validates killing newborns. But the baby is a human being! So what? The authors sniff: “Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The authors even claim that healthy babies can be killed if they are not wanted by parents, further arguing that babies who would be adopted can be put to death: “Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of the people involved? … On this perspective… we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving up her child for adoption.”

Good grief! Unlike most pro-infanticide journal articles, this one was picked up by the media. Demonstrating that all is not yet lost, “After-Birth Abortion” sparked a firestorm of popular outrage. Indeed, the criticism became so hot, the Journal of Medical Ethics took it offline and the authors wrote a public non-apology apology — not recanting anything they wrote, mind you, but claiming to be harmless philosophers merely chewing intellectual cud.

That’s baloney. Bioethics has always been about changing policy. Moreover, infanticide isn’t just theoretical. Even though it remains murder under Dutch law, doctors in the Netherlands kill babies born with disabilities or terminal conditions without legal consequence. Indeed, baby euthanasia has become so open, that doctors published a bureaucratic checklist known as the Groningen Protocol to guide infant euthanasia decisions. Demonstrating how respectable infanticide has become in the most influential circles, the Protocol received sympathetic reportage in a 2005 New York Times’ story headlined, “A Crusade Born of a Suffering Infant’s Cry.” Even more alarmingly, the Protocol was published in full — and with all due respect — in the New England Journal of Medicine.

That which we don’t condemn, we may ultimately allow. The disturbing fact that infanticide has reached the “justifiable” stage in the Neuhaus Equation speaks volumes about the bioethics movement. Anyone who thinks it can’t happen here just hasn’t been paying attention.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council.