William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Academics Call For The Killing Of Babies In “After-Birth” Abortions

Update This is back in the news. This (lightly edited) post originally appeared 28 February 2012.

Academic philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva—shockingly working in Australia1, a land where commonsense was once held sacred—have written a peer-reviewed paper in which they say that killing newborns is A-OK, and even in some cases to be encouraged.

Their “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” is in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

MinervaI am not completely convinced that Giubilini and Minerva are in earnest, as academics frequently say silly things for effect. (Both are also possessed of nice smiles—but then Stalin had a terrific moustache). But we also know that philosophers and logicians are prone to lunacy, and so we are right to suspect any radical position is the product of an unhinged mind.


The paper begins by claiming that “having a child can itself be an unbearable burden” to a mother. Unbearable is that which cannot be born. It is an extreme word describing an impossibility and not an unlikelihood. Since a birth and the subsequent care of a child is a contingent event, we cannot claim that any birth and rearing is unbearable in advance. Even if it turns out unbearable in some instances, it is not always so and cannot be predicted to be so perfectly. Thus, GM have begun their argument with a false premise.2

GM next state a truth: some mothers kill their fetuses when the mothers learn that raising a baby will cause them to miss out on clothes shopping. No, I’m kidding. They abort when they learn the fetus has, for instance, Down’s syndrome. Or because having a baby would be inconvenient (the shopping quip isn’t far off).

They remark that the Netherland’s “Groningen Protocol (2002) allows to actively terminate the life of ‘infants with a hopeless prognosis who experience what parents and medical experts deem to be unbearable suffering’” There’s that unbearable again. Since suffering is individual and contingent, it cannot be that “medical experts” are perfectly accurate at always diagnosing “unbearable suffering.” Thus, we have another false premise, and one fallacy: “experts deem” is an appeal to authority.

GM appear to recognize these mistakes when they next say, “it is hard to find definitive arguments to the effect that life with certain pathologies is not worth living, even when those pathologies would constitute acceptable reasons for abortion.” This is true: definitive arguments do not exist.

However, they quickly brush sanity aside and claim that to raise children with Down’s syndrome would be an “unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.” We must resist the joke that to read this paper is “unbearable.” But notice that they have committed the fallacy, as many Enlightened do, of equating morality with money. So another false premise and another fallacy.

From these inauspicious beginnings, they derive this gem:

Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. [emphasis in original]

They do not choose to call this killing infanticide, presumably because they are squeamish. It’s easier tout the slitting of newborns’ throats from a distant ivory tower than in the hospital with the mother spread-eagled on a gurney. One wonders whether GM would change their tune were they charged with enforcing their argument, and made to pull the knives across that delicate flesh.

But this is an obvious appeal to emotion, a fallacy on my part. Stupid of me. Strike it from the record and let’s push on.


Candidates for infanticide would “include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.” Again, the “well-being” of a family is a contingent matter, and not subject to perfect prediction. Plus, perfectly healthy babies pushed out from well-to-do mothers may end up having worse lives than sickly babies born to poor mothers, thus causing their families more pain than any Down’s syndrome child. This highlights that in killing the baby, we are making an imperfect forecast of future events. Consider this is a healthy child which is killed, merely for the “well-being” of the family.

Next comes a genuine non sequitur: “Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person.” It is a true statement, but what makes it a non sequitur is that the sentence is equivalent to (say), “Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by failing to fill the car with gas before a long trip.” Since it is true that the two cannot be compared (in both examples), there is no point in mentioning both, unless one’s purpose is to obscure.

GM offer two more justifications for baby killing. I examine these claims next (which are given in bold).

The newborn and the fetus are morally equivalent

“The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” This is a restatement of the claim and not an argument.

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. This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons.

It is simply false to state that an infant is not self aware. Their self-attributed “value to their own existence” might be small, but small is not zero. As an aside, notice that they generously allow animals personhood, which partially solves the psychological riddle that those most desirous of abortion often elevate the welfare of animals above people. But never mind that. We have another (contingent and) demonstrably false premise.

Actually, two. Notice that they say that some mentally retarded “human individuals” are not persons. They merely claim this, and it is obviously false.

Their next non sequitur comes in reminding us that we sometimes execute criminals. We also kill cows to make hamburgers. Both facts are irrelevant to whether babies are human beings. Once again, GM have an inkling that they have made a mistake, so they continue:

Our point here is that, although it is hard to exactly determine when a subject starts or ceases to be a ‘person’, a necessary condition for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X.

The premise that it is “hard” to determine when a “subject” becomes a person is false, but let them have it. But we cannot accept the fallacy that a person has a right to life only if she is “harmed” by depriving her of life. This is simply begging the question: it asserts what GM purport to prove.

GM add that “hardly can a newborn be said to have aims” so that they are not harmed from removing the potential for having aims. This is false, and blatantly so. A baby (we can only hope) does not have the aim of becoming an academic philosopher at so early an age, but it at least has the aims of sleeping and eating, both pleasurable activities. From this false premise, GM reason:

On the other hand, not only aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion.

This is absurd utilitarianism, which begs the question and asserts that economics (or utility) decides who is human. It also contains the false premise (as before) that people know what they will want in the future.

The fetus and the newborn are potential persons

They claim that newborns are “potential persons because they can develop, thanks to their own biological mechanisms, those properties which will make them ‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’: that is, the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life.”

It might be claimed that someone is harmed because she is prevented from becoming a person capable of appreciating her own being alive. Thus, for example, one might say that we would have been harmed if our mothers had chosen to [kill]3 us as soon as we were born. However, whereas you can benefit someone by bringing her into existence (if her life is worth living), it makes no sense to say that someone is harmed by being prevented from becoming an actual person.

This is more question begging and poor writing. A “someone” is already a person. We are trying to prove a non-person becomes a person: this just restates that “appreciation” of aims is what makes a baby human.


A male gamete is not a person, nor is the female egg. Neither alone (if left to themselves) are potential people. When joined, the fertilized egg (which we can call a fetus) is either a person or not. If the fetus is not a human being, then there must be some contingent event which causes the fetus (as it grows) to “switch” from non-human being to human being.

GM say that this event is if the fetus can be harmed. Killing it is certainly a kind of harm, but they don’t like this definition (the implications being obvious), so they switch their definition of “harm” to the deprivation of future “aims” (or something). They say that infants cannot have aims, therefore they are not morally human.

But the fetus has aims. This is an observational truth, one not subject to quibble. Fetuses kick, they eat, they sleep, their intellects while diminutive are active. It is only true that the aims of the fetus are not the same as, say, GM’s aims.

GM dodge the big question: when. If the newborn baby doesn’t have aims and isn’t morally human, then when does it? What contingent, measurable event turns the newborn baby into a human being? When it can talk and say, “I want”? Their lame response is “we do not put forward any claim about the moment at which after-birth abortion would no longer be permissible.”

Now, since they do not answer the question which is the main point of their paper, we are justified in calling them whatever Australianism is most insulting.

Update Apparently, GM was in earnest. See this report.


Thanks to reader Alan Grey for suggesting this topic.

1Giubilini is based at the University of Milan, but also has an appointment at the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University.

2You might claim that they meant inconvenient instead of unbearable, but you would be fooling yourself.

3GM used the word “killed.”


  1. None of this is new. “Causing Death and Saving Lives” http://www.amazon.com/Causing-Death-Saving-Lives-death/dp/0140134794#_ has long been undergraduate reading.

    -1 for emotional button-pushing. Killing anybody at any age is subject to similar considerations.

  2. Perhaps some of David Oderberg’s work will interest you. In particular this essay about the state of the academic subject of bioethics:


  3. Next paper: Solving the Medicare Dilemma: Logan’s Run, Or How I Learned to Love 198th Trimester Abortions.

    I always get a chuckle out of associations of philosophers and logic. Actually, reading philosophy reminds me of undergraduate math classes, when I jumped to unsupportable conclusions. Typically, these were pointed out by the professor with red marks, and a reference to something I had overlooked, or incorrectly assumed.

  4. Briggs

    28 February 2012 at 11:07 am


    Thanks very much for that. Incidentally, great website you have there.



  5. Thank you, Dr. Briggs, for making life a little more bearable for graduate students (like myself) thrown into the world of academia, who retain the right to think for themselves. It’s refreshing to find that someone out there has been through the system and has come out at the other side with some humanity and common sense still intact. So glad I’ve stumbled upon your blog!

  6. What of parents who are going to be unbearable for the baby? Maybe they will cause pain and suffering (resulting in hefty psychiatric fees later in life) for the child.

    The solution is clear: we should be terminating certain parents shortly after delivery.

  7. It wasn’t all that long ago that seriously handicapped babies were often allowed just to die, at least in Britain. Some people suggest that it was the moving of births into large maternity hospitals that led to decline of the habit.

  8. Briggs,

    With respect, your focus on a single event to act as a threshold of a right to life is, at best, sidetracking. They already clearly acknowledge the lack of a solution to the threshold problem. The moment of conception is also imperfect as it is not clear to the non-religious why this cell should have an absolute right to life and arguably the religious texts do not give clear guidance either. “My threshold is best” is not an infallible line of attack, especially if you already accept is as a prior due to your religious convictions.

    One of the big plusses of abortion, and infanticide, is that it should increase the proportion of children who are actually wanted by their parents. Another is a reduction of the proportion of severely disabled people. These are both good things if they can be achieved in almost any other way.

    Personally, if something had happened to me in the womb that meant that I was almost certainly destined be a huge burden on my family, I would prefer to have been put down regardless of whether it was 2 months after conception or 2 years after birth. Neither do I expect my children, or taxpayers, to keep me alive on a ventilator for as long as is possible. I appreciate that this is a subjective valuation of different actions based on the estimated consequences.

    Outside of your interpretation of Christianity and emotional disgust at ending a life, do you have any arguments why it’s better to never end a life regardless of the consequences?

    Is your position – life at all costs – the same on euthanasia?

  9. Dr. Briggs:

    The right to life is a natural right (not granted by the state), is inalienable (one cannot relinquish it), but it is not an absolute right (it can be balanced against and overridden by other rights).

    Examples of this balance are triage, killing under duress, and advanced directive, none of which are murder, and each of which balance the right to life against some other right, such as quality of life (which is a “lifestyle choice”).

    Rather than a discussion of the morality of killing a person, which by definition is morally wrong, it may be more instructive to explore where this wrong is outweighed by greater wrongs.

  10. Briggs

    28 February 2012 at 11:28 am


    When you set out to write an article that purports to prove when a fetus or baby becomes a human being and then dodge that question by claiming it is difficult, yet you nevertheless intimate (via faulty and fallacious reasoning), that you have found just such a threshold, I think we can count your article as a failure.

    It is false to claim that only a religious argument can support conception as the point at which human life begins.

    It is fallacious to claim that “wantedness” should be the criterion on which we define personhood, though I am willing to hear you expand that argument.

    Most importantly, I am not here (today) to defend my view on when life begins (which I did not give, but which is easy to infer). I am here to show you that GM’s argument is badly flawed and absurd.


    You have good questions, but let’s keep this discussion of the merits and demerits of GM’s arguments. We can’t solve all problems in one post.

  11. The idea of a “post-birth-abortion” — killing a newborn infant (also known, for the time-being, as “homicide”) — reflects a profound degree of intellectual laziness. Numerous couples & families would readily adopt the child; demand exceed supply, especially for healthy children. Why an academic cannot figure this out/find this out/or even consider it is baffling.

    I’m sure it would be relatively easy to show that the overall cost-benefit tradeoffs to those involved and society overall between killing an unwanted born human versus handing the human off to another family to raise supports adoption over homicide.

    On the other hand, I can think of a number of “cases” where a “post-birth-abortion” seems like the perfect solution…however…all of those “cases” involve humans most would characterize as “adults” and/or “almost adults”….

  12. Silly me…after making the above comment I then read the article…and find:

    “And what about adoption? Giubilini and Minerva write that, as for the mother putting the child up for adoption, her emotional state should be considered as a trumping right. For instance, if she were to “suffer psychological distress” from giving up her child to someone else — they state that natural mothers can dream their child will return to them — then after-birth abortion should be considered an allowable alternative.”

    So now it becomes patently clear — what the authors are basically espousing is hedonism unfettered by second-thoughts. Raising an unwanted child may be inconvenient (a variety of inconveniences, an incomplete summary, is presented)…so kill the child for our comfort.

    And if the parent has later second-thoughts or regrets about keeping the child alive, but with someone else…more grounds to kill it so there’s no turning back….


    ….that overlooks the obvious [should be obvious, anyway] dilemma: if the parent (usually the mother) has second-thoughts about giving away their child, the fact they have second thoughts suggests their second-thought greief would be even greater if they kill the child — a parent in such a situation would greive more, not less, for the homicide.

    Most parents, its ordinary humany psychology [but by no means universal], would prefer their children to live even if they had to give it to someone else (assuming someone else was a reasonable parent). This is illustrated by the [relatively] famous story of Solomon deciding the mother of an infant between two feuding women: in frustration he order’s the child cut in half with each half given to each woman…in response the real mother, in an act of maternal defense, immediately offered to give her half away to keep the child whole. From that, Solomon then knew for sure she was the real mother.

    If anything, we can conclude from the aritcle that its authors are particularly narcissistic, and all that implies.

  13. I am not a fan of abortion, but having spent 5 years working at a children’s hospital, I do understand the practicality of infanticide, be it prenatal or postnatal when the baby is less than perfect.

    Having given in to the reality that abortion will remain legal and common, I have argued that both parents should have an equal say in the process, giving either full rights to make the decision, and modifying the law so that abortions could be performed retroactively for a period of no less than 18 years.

    Since we have disenfranchised the unborn of the right to life, the least we could to would be to demand gender equality for adults and fully empower both parents in terms of termination.

  14. “But notice that they have committed the fallacy, as many Enlightened do, of equating morality with money.”

    The enlightened believe spending other people’s money to do good is moral. The more you spend, the more moral you are. The governor of Washingtron state was on TV news a year or two ago and said they couldn’t reduce spending because that would hurt education and healthcare and that would be immoral. Money=morality.

  15. Briggs,

    >I am here to show you that GM’s argument is badly flawed and absurd.

    Fair enough. Even though I cannot read the original article, I am convinced that many of your criticisms are merited and “unbearability” is a somewhat loosely defined threshold.

    >It is false to claim that only a religious argument can support conception as the point at which human life begins.

    I said it was not clear to the non-religious, and the term I used was “a threshold of a right to life”, not when human life begins.

    >It is fallacious to claim that “wantedness” should be the criterion on which we define personhood

    I did not make that claim.

    >I am not here (today) to defend my view on when life begins.

    True, and your critiques of fallacious reasoning are very much appreciated.

  16. My guess is that the authors of this paper are not parents.

    Adult non-parents sometimes have a naive and patronizing attitude toward parents. Parents know that a baby changes everything. In the moments when a baby (regardless of its health) is being a born, everything changes—priorities, plans, expectations, hopes, and dreams. Had the authors been parents, and experienced that transformational moment, they would find it impossible to seriously articulate the thoughts found in their paper.

  17. I think, Dr Briggs, that you may have correctly surmised that this is actually a piece on noting the absurdity of determining when a foetus becomes a human in any kind of philosophical manner. I think you may have discussed this in previous articles, but determining a limit on when abortion is not infanticide is not possible from a scientific or philosophical standpoint and this paper simply takes that point and extends the “allowable” time limit to include after birth.

  18. Thank you for this most excellent fisking of that fallacy-riddled, pseudo-intellectual sophistry.

    As you point out, they make the case for snuffing all sorts of “undesirables.” I’ll skip the gratuitous references to genocidal dictators…

  19. This is typical of the kind of confused nonsense that some seem to wear as a badge of honor.

    How can these people call themselves philosophers? What happened to rigor and logic? If I weren’t so polite, I might posit that they are deluded by the smallness of their intellects, churning out rubbish to climb the academic ladder.

    But the agenda is clear: by advocating for infanticide, abortion, the unrestrained practice of which, in their minds, would bring us to Utopia, becomes not so abhorrent. Many mental midgets who read this drivel will parrot it uncritically in further papers, and so try to make the vile seem not quite so bad.

  20. that some mothers kill their fetuses when the mothers learn that raising a baby will cause them to miss out on some important shopping. No, I’m kidding.

    No, you’re not kidding. My wife shared a hospital ward once with three women who were having terminations. One told my wife she was having the abortion because it wasn’t the right time to have a baby. She wanted it later so she could buy the child nice things.

    Perhaps it was a joke, who knows. But as my wife was expecting our daughter and we were scared we were going to lose her we didn’t laugh. I didn’t laugh at your post either.

    I’ve learned to mistrust conclusions that are reached after long and tortuous argument.

  21. Philip K. Dick was there first.



  22. This sounds like a longwinded version of Peter Singer’s argument:


  23. Hey this unbearable child thing sounds interesting, especially when dealing with teenagers. Mind you, I’m not certain I’d be willing to actually go through with aborting a snotty 14 year-old, but there are times when I think having the legal option would be nice.

  24. What about bio-ethicists who I find to be unbearable. Open season?

  25. “Actually, two. Notice that they say that some mentally retarded “human individuals” are not persons. They merely claim this, and it is obviously false.”

    Their argument seems similar with Peter Singer (another Australian) on this. Singer is not necessarily true, but why is it obviously false?

    Seems unlike Briggs, Singer differentiate “life” and “person”, and value only on the person. Mentally retarded and newborn are alive but not necessarily “person” to Singer. That’s why in his utilitarian view, the concern of the mother obviously weighs more than the infant.


    Personally my position on when the switch from a mere organism to “person” is similar to Carrier in http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/debates/secularist/abortion/carrier5.html

    It is unfortunate that Briggs didn’t want to defend his view on the beginning of human “life” today. I’m genuinely interest to hear his opinion on it. And euthanasia too.

  26. The crux of the problem is that these ethicists are arguing from a utilitarian perspective. There is no such thing as a right in such an ethic, only competing claims of the preferences or utility of consequences brought about by acts.

    This means that under utilitarian ethics, there is no act that is immoral.

  27. We are all at different places in our development, from the embryo in the mother’s womb, till we die one day, and no-one has the right to decide on the outcome of any human life. We really live in a time of the vanishing conscience. The saddest about this,is that this “message” was published in the “Medical Journal of Ethics” How one can call the above ethics is beyond understanding.

  28. Noblesse Oblige

    28 February 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Lesson: When you see the phrase Center for (Prefix)-Ethics or Committee on Science Ethics, run for the exits. You are about to get slimed by the Gleicks of the world.

    But don’t be inept and get caught when you exercise your right to define your own ethics. Scroll down to the “A. Lacis” comment in: http://judithcurry.com/2012/02/26/gleicks-testimony-on-threats-to-the-integrity-of-science/#comment-177569 It begins with:

    “From all the foregoing, as I see it, Peter Gleick was simply being inept in his deception (i.e., he got caught doing it). And, there was some poor secretary at the Heartland Institute who was being gullible and naïve (I hope she still has her job). All of this falls in the category of dirty-pool politics that has a long established tradition dating back to the early days of recorded time. After all, deception, ethics, and morality are all relative, depending on one’s culture, circumstances, and purpose at hand.”

    There you are. BTW Lacis works for Hansen at NASA GISS. You can bet that this is office talk on taxpayers nickels.

  29. genemachine:

    “One of the big plusses of abortion, and infanticide”

    You are standing right at the threshold, shoulder-to-shoulder with the great genocidal minds of the 20th century when you consider any sort of positive effect from killing infants. Who is next on the list of those it is acceptable to kill in the interests of staying “out of the red” (irony intended).

    Liberals seem to be fine with killing an innocent to honor someone’s choice, yet they refuse to kill someone who, through their own choices, forever revoked the choices of another. That realization in itself makes it clear that the liberal agenda actually has nothing to do with ensuring people get their choices.

    Since the fundamental liberal argument presented for the killing of infants is pro-choice, consider the number of choices that are denied when any life, infant or otherwise, is ended. There is no honest conclusion other than this: that ending a life reduces the overall number of choices significantly more than allowing that life to continue to exist, even in the case where it infringes upon the choices of another. Yet liberalism takes the path that reduces choices overall. It is therefore made clear that it is not simply choice that is important to liberalism, but self, and that selfish choices must be allowed even at the expense of another’s life.

    This then is why abortion and capital punishment are inextricably linked, though few who hold the liberal viewpoint seem to be conscious of it. To make anyone pay the ultimate price for misusing their own selfish choices is to cast doubt and suspicion upon liberalism’s own world view, where ultimately only you and your own interests reign supreme. And here is the foundation of it all: that fundamentally, the liberal view, which purports to be the kinder, gentler side of politics, is not about caring for anyone but oneself.

  30. Regardless whether one agree or not, I failed to see error in Singer (and followers) reasoning. Their definition of personhood and utilitarianism, are consistent with their ‘morality’ on abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, status of mentally retarded and/or brain-dead people, and status of chimps and alike animals.

    Meanwhile those who holds human life above all regardless situation (sort of speciesm), will perhaps have to face this type of issue all the time: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/new-essay-explains-church-teaching-on-brain-death-organ-donation/

    So hopefully in the future we will first be able to make our mind immortal before our body, for if not we may have to maintain a lot of zombie for a while for the sake of our universal human morality.

  31. Seems more like a debating position to me. Since one end of the when life begins is taken, lets see if we can extend it to the other side. Oh wait most people accpt birth and the outer limit — ah but that is relativistic so lets extend it. YEAH that will make us famous.

  32. Why is it that high levels of academic training are necessary to formulate profoundly stupid opinions? Whatever the status of the general debate on abortion and the acquisition of human status, no one so far has suggested leaving it until we see how the kid turns out then taking a view. Perhaps we should just cull all the ones who end up as “Academic philosophers”

  33. Interesting that GM see fit to make the following assertion:

    “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

    It is convenient that when it fits the pro-abortion (or infanticide) argument, this is an acceptable logical statement, given that its starting point (the moral equivalence of a newborn and fetus) is also the basis of the moral pro-life argument. Thus, the entirety of GM’s argument hangs on the whether their underlying assumption, that the life of a fetus is of small enough moral value to be justifiably terminated on a whim (i.e., is a “non-person”), is a true statement. In doing so, they have left themselves open to the necessary alternative that, should their founding premise be found false, then in-utero abortion is also morally wrong.

    Briggs has made solid arguments from physical observations that their criteria for defining “non-persons” is not sound, and in doing so has shown the fallacy of GM’s particular argument. However since the definition of when (and logically then, IF) a human being becomes a person with a moral right to exist is necessarily made from the starting point of a moral belief, whatever arguments are made in either direction (well-reasoned or not) will always build from and consequently seem to support the arguers underlying belief.

  34. This paper’s focus appears to be just a variant of Eugenics, but there’s an ominous twist suggestive that such an analogy is grossly overly simplistic.

    Eugenics, by the way, was pioneered in the USA (especially California with mandatory castrations, for example, of undesirables like certain criminals) and then adopted & expanded in various directions by numerous countries, with German ingenuity being most noteworthy with Nazi development of racial purification now referred to as The Holocaust.

    What’s interesting is the shift in focus from then to now:

    THEN: Harsh measures for the betterment of society overall;

    NOW: Harsh measures to ehance personal comfort.

    THEN: Criteria for given actions was based on broad principles applicable everywhere (objective relative to the “science” as it was understood);

    NOW: Criteria for given actions is to be based on values & criteria unique to the individual (subjective relativism/moral relativism/”if it feels good it’s ok so do it”)

    The paper reviewed is symptomatic of a very broad social shift toward narcissism/hedonism — which, is hard to distinguish from sociopathy.

    A nice summary of Eugenics is at: http://eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/list3.pl

    Rather than debate philosophically based on one’s limited, or nonexistant, expertise it is often good to do a “literature search” in advance. Subjects such as this are not all that new nor are the debates they stimulate.

  35. Jonathan,

    >You are standing right at the threshold, shoulder-to-shoulder with the great genocidal minds of the 20th century when you consider any sort of positive effect from killing infants.


    It would surely be more wrong to consider killing infants and foetuses without considering the pros and cons. As I said there is an inherent logic in increasing the wantedness of children and the physical and mental abilities of the populace. A majority of democratic representatives and voters in most of the world agree, at least up to a certain age threshold. You are right though, logically this leads to questioning why keep the severely disabled alive at all. Maybe that can be explored in Giubilini and Minerva’s next paper. Since it is so often misreported, I would like to note that killing the severely disabled is not eugenic since they are unlikely to produce children either way.

    One key difference with abortion, pre or post-term, and executing the severely disabled, is state involvement. In Nazi Germany it was the state making the choices, with abortion it is the pregnant woman making the choice.

    >Since the fundamental liberal argument presented for the killing of infants is pro-choice..

    I do not know if you can stereotype liberals so precisely, it’s a broad church and can mean different things to different people and very internationally. Nonetheless, I find quizzing them on the morals of baby killing can be quite amusing.

  36. I was really hoping that the we were a month from now so I could chalk this up as hijinx on the part of the author. I have wacko discussions on the subject also. I suggest that abortion should be allowed through the upteenth trimester. The deciding line being the child saying “holy #()$ in heaven, I am an adult now, i will care for myself”, at which point abortion is no longer legal. The child has declared his majority and can go out in the world and fend for himself.

    Am I serious about such an idea? Well, yes and no. Yes I am serious that a parent should be responsible for their child. I am serious that a child should recognize the absolute authority of the parent. Actually execution of such an idea is of course less than ideal. So no I am not serious. I just want people who wish to fail to become parents after the fact to be fully aware of the decision they are making. The difference between aborting a 12 year old child should be every bit as easy as the decision to abort a 4 week old fetus… There are consequences to your actions no matter what the law. The law is just there to try and smooth out relations between the rest of us.

  37. I have given this a lot of thought over the years and, very simply, any standard except that individual human beings have the right to life from conception to natural death leads to insoluble problems. Logically, the sacrifice of certain individuals for the greater good seems okey-dokey. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Obama’s Science Adviser all made very sound arguments that some must die for the furtherance of the Collective Good.

    Indeed, we could solve all of our environmental “crises” and especially “CAGW/CC/CD” merely by culling the useless 90% and getting along with a nice, stable 600 million people or so. Why not? Certainly, a Select International Panel of scientists and academics would render an objective, practical, utilitarian judgement on who should die for Gaia.

    I challenge anyone who accepts the premises of GM (or, e.g., Peter Singer) to explain why elite thinkers should not make calculations of Total Well-being or whatnot and then decide how many billions will have to die to produce the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number (including non-humans and the Planet as a Whole).

    Ah, but who wants to bet that the Death Committee will not find that all of its members and their families are necessary?

  38. And who will do the killing?

  39. Perhaps another advantage of allowing infanticide is that those with profoundly damaged moral intuitions will leave fewer surviving offspring

  40. >It is false to claim that only a religious argument can support conception as the point at which human life begins.

    I said it was not clear to the non-religious, and the term I used was “a threshold of a right to life”, not when human life begins.

    Note that he made no religious arguments whatsoever in the post on which you are commenting.

    The question of when life begins is easy; you can get it from elementary school biology, and need no recourse to religion, which in fact won’t help you, because religion is not biology. Ethical religions do, however, teach ethics, and can tell you something useful about how to treat children, unborn or otherwise, as well as about how to master your appetites, reflect on your motives, and avoid rationalizing evil.

    The zygote is alive. If it were not, it would be dead, and could not grow and develop. It is also human, because it has, among other things, an identifiable sex. It cannot have a sex without being a sexed something, and it cannot be human offspring, which it is, without being human. To pretend it is not human, or to pretend it is human but not a person, is merely a string of excuses to justify what we could otherwise clearly recognize as abominable.

    Note that in the above, painfully brief and admittedly underdeveloped paragraph, I made appeal to no religious authority.

  41. Ken “The idea of a ‘post-birth-abortion’…reflects a profound degree of intellectual laziness.”

    Oh, I don’t know. It seems like they’re working awfully hard to come up with rationalizations for the evil they desire. Call it not laziness but callousness.

  42. ApocalypseDevotee

    6 March 2012 at 8:25 am

    These folks are not taking their own reason to its final conclusion. That they are basically using the same arguments that eventually lead to death camps. I wonder if they would feel a right to personhood although they are unbearable to me as commandant.

  43. D. G. D. Davidson,

    >Note that he made no religious arguments whatsoever in the post on which you are commenting.


    >The question of when life begins is easy .. [a zygote is a person]

    Conception is certainly the most logical point to say that life begins but it’s a bit more debatable to say where personhood starts. Frankly, a spider is closer to what I would usually define as a person than a human zygote. The spider easily wins in terms of cognition.

    >To pretend it is not human, or to pretend it is human but not a person, is merely a string of excuses to justify what we could otherwise clearly recognize as abominable.

    I really don’t think Giubilini and Minerva are building excuses with the aim of slaughtering anyone’s children. I think that they mean to question, and force readers to question, how we got to our current sense of right and wrong.

    I recently read that some libertarian bloggers have been discussing necrophilia which, I’m Giubilini and Minerva would agree, can be argued not to harm any living soul. I’ve not been party to this conversation but I did laugh at a quote of one former libertarian “Libertarian logic leading to necrophilia legalization? …..Nope, no way, full stop, I’m getting off this train, and tearing up the rail road tracks.”

    Questioning whether it’s ethical to deny necrophilia to those who desire it is another ethical conundrum of the sort ethicists love where our emotions and logic can go in different directions. By default, I would not assume that an ethicist raising the topic is actually advocating the practise.

  44. Where is the paper being discussed? The journal link gives “not found”. Has it been withdrawn?

  45. Briggs

    4 March 2013 at 8:36 am


    Link fixed. See also (for now; this is temporary) the headline at Pewsitter.

  46. Sander van der Wal

    4 March 2013 at 9:53 am

    From the English wiki on the Groningen Protocol:


    and regarding its legal status:


  47. Sander van der Wal

    4 March 2013 at 9:54 am

    From the English wiki on the Groningen Protocol:

    [[ In 2005 a review study was undertaken of all 22 reported cases between 1997 and 2004. All cases concerned newborns with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. ]]

    and regarding its legal status:

    [[ The Dutch euthanasia laws require people to ask for euthanasia themselves (voluntary euthanasia), and it is legal for people of 12 years and older. The Groningen Protocol does not give physicians unassailable legal protection. Case law has so far protected physicians from prosecution as long as they act in accordance with the protocol, but no black-letter law exists in this area.[4] ]]

  48. How about defining “After-Birth Abortion” to include the “abortions” of school teachers & administrators that will suspend a 7-yr old kid for chewing a pastry into the shape of a “gun” & saying “bang” or “bang bang!”?

    You just know the day is coming when some frustrated parent, irritated older sibling, or au-pair will say “enough is enough” or “not in my school district” or whatever — only they’ll “say it” with a very real well-aimed “bang! bang!” (or “bang bangs”) to the teacher/administrator/all-involved for such over-reactions.

    And you know, right now, they’ve (those dimwits worried about imaginary pastry weapons) only have procedures in place to deal with non-threatening kids that only such dimwits can imagine to be threatening…and…will be surprised when they provoke a very real “bang bang”-style “after birth abortion” they’re so desperately “asking for.”

    Shortly after that will come a ritual ending in what is called “jury nullification.”

  49. If a mother could regret giving a child up for adoption, it seems likely she could regret suffocating the infant because his crying really ticked her off, as noted by Ken. Women are known to regret abortions, especially if later on they lose the ability to have a child of their own.

    It’s interesting to note that abortion/infanticide are the female equivalent of male stalkers killing the object of their lust. “If I can’t have her/the baby, no one can and I will kill the person to prevent this.”

    As for capital punishment being allowed but not the killing of a baby, show me an infant that killed a dozen people just for fun, and we can talk.

    Answer to George Steiner (10:45 pm): You will have no lack of volunteers.

  50. Person of Choler

    4 March 2013 at 12:18 pm

    After reading stuff like this I resolve to hold my breath after I turn on the taps until I’m sure it’s only water coming out of the shower head.

  51. It seems thag G&M have an inversion on and old sylogism.

    A human foetus is a living human being.
    It is accetable to abort a fetus.
    Therefore it may be acceptible to kill other living human beings.

  52. Of course there are arguments for killing unwanted babies. There are arguments for killing unwanted criminals. The issue is how compelling are those arguments and should they inform public policy and legislation. To base the argument for killing babies on an artificial and arbitrary definition of personhood strikes me as a fundamentally weak argument. GM’s argument also assumes that the killing is somehow to be done by some disembodied force and that there are no consequences for those directly or indirectly condoning the specific acts. If GMs goal was to attract attention and notoriety, they succeeded.

  53. Sylvain Allard

    4 March 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Infanticide was the first form of abortion. This is how mostly single women in the 18th-19th century got rid of unwanted children. While families got rid of their unwanted girl as slaves into manufacture where they weren’t free to do as they pleased working 12-15 hours a day 7 days a week.

    That a woman decide to abort after learning her child has dow syndrome is one thing. To kill it after it is born is another altogether.

    I found it very interesting how much people claiming to be pro-life are in favor of the death penalty. Not counting those who claim to be pro-life but order their mistress to get aborted so that they don’t have an illigimate child.

  54. Halflife (28 February 2012 at 11:57)said “modifying the law so that abortions could be performed retroactively for a period of no less than 18 years.”
    If I recall my history lessons correctly Roman fathers were allowed to kill their children up to age 30.

  55. Sylvain,

    As usual :-P, I have the opposite reaction, where I am shocked at the people who are anti-death penalty, but pro-abortion.

  56. Sylvain Allard

    4 March 2013 at 6:06 pm


    You are the ying to my yang. Btw I’ve made some comparison between Québec/Canada and the USA that you will undoubtedly disagree with on the spending treads.

  57. This is what happens when people have no idea what they are, where they came from, what they should be doing here, and what happens to them when they die.

    The answers to these question all come from spiritual studies — religion, cosmology, theology.

    The clueless make senseless research and reach unsupportable conclusions.

  58. Sylvain Allard

    4 March 2013 at 9:18 pm


    I’m not entirely against death penalty in some cases, like Aurora and Tucson cases where there is no doubt that they are guilty.

    The main reason I’m against death penalty is that there are too many judicial mistakes where non-guilty are sent to prison and sometimes death rows.

  59. Sylvain: It is not contradictory to oppose abortion and approve of the death penalty. They are two totally different situations (other than both involve death, as does nature, disease, war, car accidents, etc). One can believe the death penalty is acceptable as a way to stop dangerous sociopaths from killing innocent people while believing that abortion kills a baby that has done absolutely nothing wrong. Personally, I don’t think the death penalty should be used except in cases of extreme threat from the felon continuing to live. Persons should never get the death penalty for their first offense unless they blew up a building with a bunch of people in it or something similar. There should be massive amounts of evidence of guilt. Too often it’s used without sufficient evidence.

  60. Sylvain Allard

    5 March 2013 at 4:39 pm


    We can agree on death penalty. At least, >125 people went from death row to liberty because they were falsely accused. How many were falsely executed,at least 15 since 1992 according to Wikipedia.


    More often in death penalty cases the crime is what is being judge, not the person. If the crime is horrendous enough anyone accused will ve found guilty because people feel that something need to be done.

    As for abortion, one can believe that a baby is a person at conception, whenever that is. The problem is to impose that view on other who don’t consider a fetus as being a person.

    A wheel doesn’t make a car, a few cells doesn’t make a person.

  61. Sylvain: I am curious what definition one should use concerning when a bunch of cells becomes a person. The article discussed here avoided the issue of how long after birth one can kill a “child”. If we skip the part where we commit infanticide, is the fetus a non-person until birth? Until they breathe? What about the idea that kicking a pregnant woman and causing her to lose the baby? Is it (a) simple assault or (b) homicide? Fetuses look like babies–does that matter?
    I’m not being contrary here. People have different ideas. Or do you just leave that up to the woman, who did not get pregnant by herself and whose actions may affect other people. Do you think women kill the fetus so no one else can have it? This is all very complicated when you take out life starting at conception. Maybe that’s why the “rule” existed in the first place–straightforward and easy to understand?

  62. Sylvain Allard

    5 March 2013 at 11:40 pm


    Of course, I don’t share the point of view that we should be able to kill babies once they are born as those academics claims.

    In Canada, the Supreme Court ruled that a baby becomes a person once it is able to breath on its own, or at least born alive.

    When inside the mother, the fetus is only a potential person, since even if desired, and that the woman do her best toward carrying it, many pregnancy end in miscarriage.

    The all or nothing rule is not that great on either side. And discussion could be easier with compromise. While abortion at 35 weeks is pretty much ridiculous, preventing women access to the day after pill is also ridiculous.

    Fetus can be save with relative success starting at 21 weeks when all organ are present, while nit completely formed. From the 21st week doctors in Canada will perform abortion only for the health of the mother.

    The vast majority of abortion happens before the 12th weeks.

  63. Thank you for explaining your position. I have often heard the requirement that the baby breathe to be counted as a person. That would mean you cannot commit murder if you kick a pregnant woman and induce a miscarriage.

    While I don’t agree with your position (though not because I believe life starts at conception, but for other psychological and social reasons which are too lengthy to explain here), you do have a consistent belief. I can respect that.

  64. Sylvain Allard

    6 March 2013 at 9:17 pm


    The requirement of breathing is the Canadian Supreme Court argument of when a fetus becomes a person.

    So no doctor or woman can be accused of murder in case of late term abortion.

    Technically, no one can be accused of first degree murder of a fetus unless the mother died, but if the mother survives, they can be accuse of second dregree murder or maybe, manslaughter if it is shown that the baby was desired by the mother.

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