02 March 2012

"Killing Babies"

Although I haven't located the paper at issue, many items widely available on the Internet have given extensive play to a controversial recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. You can link to one account here. The authors apparently conclude that killing a newborn baby should be "permissible in all cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

As the authors note, this conclusion follows logical from the premise that the decision to abort the fetus is conditioned only on the will of the mother. Indeed it is, although I'd like to see if the authors expand the scope of those whose wills are relevant to end the life of the newborn to include the father, if they provide an ethical framework for what should be done if the parents disagree, and if they propose any age of the child after which parental will is no longer the sole relevant factor. In other words, if they wish, could either of the living parents of Alberto Giubilini or Francesca Minerva pull the plug, so to speak?

Perhaps not, although reading the article might clear up what appears to be an inconsistency in the authors' argument. On the one hand, their ethical paradigm seems to be based solely on the will of the parents; autonomy run amuck. On the other hand, later in the same account the editor of the journal asserts that
The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a foetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar.
This description of the contents of the paper, if accurate, subtly changes its ethical foundation from parental autonomy to child capability. I find neither persuasive and so argued in an article published a year ago titled "Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition." You can look at its abstract and download the entire article by going here.

Suffice it to say that permitting one to end the life of another for no cause other than one's will is inconsistent with the robust notion of "rights" I develop in the article (for which I drew heavily from the work of Nicholas Wolterstorff). I also consider the more-widely accepted "capabilities approach" to human rights and ultimately conclude that it too is insufficient to ground human rights.

While my distinctively theological account may strike some as out of place in the public (read: aggressively secular) square, I urge folks to consider whether it makes better sense of the notion of "rights" and if it doesn't provide as good if not better justification for human rights than the alternatives described by Giubilini, Minerva, or their journal editor.

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