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death chess

Arguments have logical conclusions. If it is allowable to abort babies in the womb if they ‘threaten’ the life of the mother or have a health condition, then it has long been something of a puzzle, logically, why the same thing should not apply to new-borns, who, after all, are even more helpless (having no means of feeding themselves at all). Apart from death and taxes, the third thing that is inevitable in this world is that a bad argument will eventually be pushed to its logical conclusion. A recent edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics has a piece by two authors arguing just that case.

The authors go on to state that the moral status of a newborn is equivalent to a fetus in that it cannot be considered a person in the “morally relevant sense.” On this point, the authors write:

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.


Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.

And there we have it, and a better example of the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument you could not find. Because lawmakers have allowed research to be conducted on ‘spare embryos’ and because some legal systems allow the death penalty, then newborns should be killed if it is convenient. Situations
where after-birth abortion should be considered acceptable include instances where the newborn would be putting the well-being of the family at risk, even if it had the potential for an “acceptable” life. The authors cite Downs Syndrome as an example, stating that while the quality of life of individuals with Downs is often reported as happy, “such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.

Leaving aside the ‘ethics’ of equating a newborn child with a convicted murderer (one really does wonder about an ‘ethicist’ who can advance such a thesis), the ramifications of this argument take us back to the age of Nazi eugenics. If being alive confers no rights, and if the main consideration is someone else’s valuation of your quality of life, then there is no telling where such arguments will lead – although the Nazi era provides us with chilling examples. If personhood is subject to situational ethics, especially at the hands of such ‘ethicists’, I doubt anyone would want to be poor, sick, disabled or old. But their argument contains an inconvenient truth – which is that it is the logical end of the pro-abortion argument. All that remains to be decided is at what age a child should be free from the threat of post-birth abortion – as a friend of mine commented with black humour, ‘few children would survive the terrible twos’ on that basis.

The editors of the Journal concerned have commented in a passage which perfectly sums up the debased state of our Western culture:

… 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. 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.

Such is the brave new world promised us by situational ethics and relativism. Where the only basis of morality is a societal consensus, there is no firm ground, and all is sand – and we know what happens to those who build their houses on sand. The editor notes: ‘The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands.’ So if you thought that no society would allow infanticide, think again.

The Journal does not specifically support substantive moral views, ideologies, theories, dogmas or moral outlooks, over others. It supports sound rational argument. Moreover, it supports freedom of ethical expression.

And there we have it. Not killing newborn babies is simply one ‘moral view’ among many others. Oh what a brave new world that has such people (although fewer of the wrong sort) in it!