When a Baby Isn’t a Baby: After Birth Abortion
“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance…. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.” Martin Luther, 95 Theses, Nos. 1 & 4
I really did not think that I heard the news report correctly. Delivering a baby alive, only to discover some sort of defect that, had mums and dads known about it before the birth, they would have aborted the baby, and then killing the baby. And yet, there it is in all its grisly horror. I guess it is needed, after all, with the technology we have, doctors should know whether a child being born will have a defect. After all, we now have a new cause of action for parents who have been wronged by doctors, hospitals and technology. Last Friday, it took a jury less than six hours to deliberate and award an Oregon couple $2.9 million dollars for the failure of their doctors to discover that the child mom carried in her womb had Down’s Syndrome, National Right to Life News Reports. Doctors have to be protected from this kind of frivolity. Enter the gruesome practice of after birth abortion.
“After Birth Abortion: Why should the baby live?” is the title of an article published last month in the Journal of Medical Ethics by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. If the title itself isn’t provocative, the justification for the practice certainly is. Andrew Ferguson critiques the article and the ethics of its authors in an article he wrote for the Weekly Standard entitled “Declaring War on Newborns: The Disgrace of Medical Ethics:”
Right at the top, the ethicists summarized the point of their article. “What we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”
The argument made by the authors—Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, both of them affliliated with prestigious universities in Australia and ethicists of pristine reputation—runs as follows. Let’s suppose a woman gets pregnant. She decides to go ahead and have the baby on the assumption that her personal circumstances, and her views on such things as baby-raising, will remain the same through the day she gives birth and beyond.
Then she gives birth. Perhaps the baby is disabled or suffers a disease. Perhaps her boyfriend or (if she’s old-fashioned) her husband abandons her, leaving her in financial peril. Or perhaps she’s decided that she’s just not the mothering kind, for, as the authors write, “having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children, regardless of the condition of the fetus.”
The authors point out that each of these conditions—the baby is sick or suffering, the baby will be a financial hardship, the baby will be personally troublesome—is now “largely accepted” as a good reason for a mother to abort her baby before he’s born. So why not after?
“When circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.” (Their italics.) Western societies approve abortion because they have reached a consensus that a fetus is not a person; they should acknowledge that by the same definition a newborn isn’t a person either. Neither fetus nor baby has developed a sufficient sense of his own life to know what it would be like to be deprived of it. The kid will never know the difference, in other words. A newborn baby is just a fetus who’s hung around a bit too long.
As the authors acknowledge, this makes an “after-birth abortion” a tricky business. You have to get to the infant before he develops “those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” It’s a race against time.
Ferguson will draw this out, but let’s make sure the point is clear: babies born alive are not people in the ethical world of after birth abortion. They do not possess inalienable rights, chief among them, the right to live. Their Creator has not seen fit to endow babies with these rights. He must have simply forgotten about babies. After all, God created man and woman, not baby. Ferguson observes, “The article doesn’t go on for more than 1,500 words, but for non-ethicists it has a high surprise-per-word ratio. The information that newborn babies aren’t people is just the beginning.” Adoption, for example, simply will not work. It is absurd to put such a demand on a couple who find themselves in such an awkward position having been so wronged or merely come to the conclusion that they do not want to be parents:
But what about adoption, you ask. The authors ask that question too, noting that some people—you and me, for example—might think that adoption could buy enough time for the unwanted newborn to technically become a person and “possibly increase the happiness of the people involved.” But this is not a viable option, if you’ll forgive the expression. A mother who kills her newborn baby, the authors report, is forced to “accept the irreversibility of the loss.” By contrast, a mother who gives her baby up for adoption “might suffer psychological distress.” And for a very simple reason: These mothers “often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss because they can never be quite sure whether or not it is irreversible.” It’s simpler for all concerned just to make sure the loss can’t be reversed. It’ll spare Mom a lot of heartbreak.
Wow. Shock and surprise. It seems as if this is a macabre fairy tale being spun in this 21st century world. But there it is, in a respected medical journal for all the world to see. A discussion about killing babies. Our global society is supposed to be civilized, enlightened. But perhaps the self indulgence of our age has finally won, and anything really does go in an age where truth is individualized, contextualized, and experiential.
Now, it’s at this point in the Journal of Medical Ethics that many readers will begin to suspect, as I did, that their legs are being not very subtly pulled. The inversion that the argument entails is Swiftian—a twenty-first-century Modest Proposal without the cannibalism (for now). Jonathan Swift’s original Modest Proposal called for killing Irish children to prevent them “from being a burden to their parents.” It was death by compassion, the killing of innocents based on a surfeit of fellow-feeling. The authors agree that compassion itself demands the death of newborns. Unlike Swift, though, they aren’t kidding.
They get you coming and going, these guys. They assume—and they won’t get much argument from their peers in the profession—that “mentally impaired” infants are eligible for elimination because they will never develop the properties necessary to be fully human. Then they discuss Treacher-Collins syndrome, which causes facial deformities and respiratory ailments but no mental impairment. Kids with TCS are “fully aware of their condition, of being different from other people and of all the problems their pathology entails,” and are therefore, to spare them a life of such unpleasant awareness, eligible for elimination too—because they are not mentally impaired. The threshold to this “right to life” just gets higher and higher, the more you think about it.
And of course it is their business to think about it. It’s what medical ethicists get paid to do: cogitate, cogitate, cogitate. As “After-birth Abortion” spread around the world and gained wide publicity—that damned Internet —non-ethicists greeted it with derision or shock or worse. The authors and the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics were themselves shocked at the response. As their inboxes flooded with hate mail, the authors composed an apology of sorts that non-ethicists will find more revealing even than the original paper.
“We are really sorry that many people, who do not share the background of the intended audience for this article, felt offended, outraged, or even threatened,” they wrote. “The article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments.” It was a thought experiment. After all, among medical ethicists “this debate”—about when it’s proper to kill babies—“has been going on for 40 years.”
So that’s what they’ve been talking about in all those panel discussions! The authors thought they were merely taking the next step in a train of logic that was set in motion, and has been widely accepted, since their profession was invented in the 1960s. And of course they were. The outrage directed at their article came from laymen—people unsophisticated in contemporary ethics. Medical ethicists in general expressed few objections, only a minor annoyance that the authors had let the cat out of the bag. A few days after it was posted the article was removed from the publicly accessible area of the Journal’s website, sending it back to that happy, cozy world.
What more can be said? Really. Do we hate ourselves that much? Or do we simply love ourselves that much? I am not sure which it is. To kill the very image in whose creation God has allowed us to participate is pure hatred. And yet the act is one of such love of self just the thought of it…. There is something just so shocking and unreal about this whole discussion. And yet, here we are talking about it. Though it appears as a new idea, it is not — it is a logical extension of late term and partial birth abortion, growing out of the time worn goal of perfection of the human race by man. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun. Today, it is just marketed and packaged differently. Evil and deceit have many faces. Some friendly, some reasonable, some stark, raving mad. Sometimes that stark raving madness is wrapped in and delivered to us in something that sounds so reasonable, so delectable, so convenient. The most beautiful angel of all continues to deliver the curse to mankind.
As incomprehensible as this all may seem, it is utterly more incomprehensible that our Creator, who is denied as sovereign in this thought experiment, would send His Son into this flesh as a baby to save us from the depravity of our minds. He continues to call to us through His Word, calling us to repentance: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” “As you do not do to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Babies. Born or unborn are the least of these — the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the unwelcome stranger.