Unethical arguments

DAVID WARREN

According to an article published by the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics, currently getting a lot of press, it's all right to kill babies.

Abortion, even "late term abortion," is not the issue here.

The authors, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, adopt the prolife argument that there is no essential difference between a child in the mother's womb, and a child newly born. They then turn this argument on its head, to say if it is permissible to abort the unborn child, then it is permissible to kill the newborn.

Their clinching argument comes from an examination of 18 European birth registries. Apparently, Down syndrome was diagnosed prenatally in only 64 per cent of cases. In 36 per cent it thus came as a surprise. If the presence of Down syndrome, which the authors call a "disease," is reason enough to kill a fetus, why should the parents of such an infant be put to the burden of keeping it, through the ill-luck of a missed diagnosis? Alternatively, why should the State be put to the expense?

As I am the father of a beloved Down syndrome son, the reader will imagine how much this argument disgusts me. But long before that (prenatally undiagnosed) child was born, I associated eugenic arguments with the pointed Darwinism of Hitler.

Such "emotional" objections are obviated by the authors, for they go on to find no objection to any argument parents might have for killing their newborn child. (Maybe they wanted a boy and got a girl "by mistake"?)

This is called "infanticide" in received English. But as the authors realize, the term has acquired some moral loading over the centuries, and they suggest replacing it with the euphemism, "post-birth abortion." This kind of wordplay is a commonplace of our age; a certain George Orwell wrote all about it. As Trevor Stammers, a medical ethics specialist in an English Catholic college, told the Daily Telegraph, we could as well refer to abortion as "antenatal infanticide."


So let's just call it "infanticide." And rather than get emotional about it, let us remember that infanticide has been practised and accepted in many (if not most) non-Christian cultures, and was, like slavery, perfectly acceptable in the pagan, "classical" civilization that preceded our Christian "dark ages."

Far from joyfully embracing the sanctity of all human life, the ancient Greeks looked upon life as an almost unbearable burden, and the Stoic, Epicurean, and Cynical philosophies alike worked from this premise. Read your early Church Fathers, and you will see that they were tangling directly not with the results, but with the premises of ancient reasoning.

And that is what pagan philosophers are doing today, in reverse: challenging the Christian premises upon which Western Civ was founded, to serve the advance of — something else.

So let me get this on the record. If the witches are opposed to infanticide, then I'm with the witches.

The contemporary argument for infanticide is hardly new. It is taken almost for granted among the many followers of the Peter Singer school of applied ethics. Working from what he calls a secular, "preference utilitarian" perspective, and quite consciously from the political Left, the celebrated Princeton professor from Australia has found that it is possible to overthrow all the old Western Civ reasoning, simply by substituting new premises.

In, for instance, his groundbreaking article "Heavy Petting," Singer argued against our taboo on bestiality. If you enjoy having sex with your dog, and your dog seems to like it, then what is the problem? Only a problem if the dog (or some other animal) doesn't seem to like it, for Singer is also an animalrights activist, who has opposed "speciesism." And no, I am not making this up. Google-search, and you will soon find his essay.

That Giubilini and Minerva belong to the Singer school of reasoning is evident from their various faculty affiliations. They work explicitly from Singer's "personhood" position: Just because a being is genetically human does not mean he is a "person." It is for the new "preference utilitarian" experts of the ethics faculties to determine who gets that status, and who does not. Those who do, get "rights" protection. Those who don't may be freely slaughtered. (Hitler used this argument precisely, in withdrawing "personhood" from Jews, Gypsies, cripples, homosexuals, etc.)

Julian Savulescu, the Oxford ethics professor who edits this BMJ journal, has characterized opponents in the "debate" as practitioners of "witch ethics." As he explained to the Daily Telegraph, "a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her." We, who betray any emotion in resisting an argument for killing babies, are "fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society."

So let me get this on the record. If the witches are opposed to infanticide, then I'm with the witches. And if killing babies is among "the very values of a liberal society," then I'm against liberal society, too.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

David Warren. "Unethical arguments." Ottawa Citizen (March 3, 2012).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.

THE AUTHOR

David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled – especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.

Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Citizen




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