I HAVE written about cases so shocking that whatever you think of abortion – for, against or agonised like me – I thought you’d agreed.
Yes, here a boundary was crossed. This, at least, is too much like murder.
There was the 2000 case of the “abortion” of Jessica, a healthy 32-week-old foetus, after her deeply distressed mother threatened suicide if made to give birth.
The mother thought Jessica could be a dwarf, which meant bad luck. But on “delivery” of the girl, killed in the womb, a nurse at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s recorded: “The baby doesn’t look small.”
I thought this would at least prompt restrictions on the abortion of healthy babies so close to birth.
I was wrong.Later, I reported on Jessica Jane, aborted in Darwin after her mother decided she’d prefer her career.
Jessica Jane was expelled from the womb – alive. She was placed in a stainless-steel dish by a horrified midwife and left in a room, where she cried until she died, alone, 80 minutes later.
I thought this might force us to consider how carelessly we said “foetus” when discussing late-term abortions, when we’re actually talking about babies who, outside the womb, can cry – and take an hour to die.
I was just as wrong to assume that publicising other cases – like the rescue of an aborted baby, still alive, from a bin at Sydney’s Westmead hospital – might make us agree such deaths involve a profound wrong. Yes, a mother has a right to her body, but surely these babies had a right to their lives.
But again no debate. Or so I thought.
Now the Journal of Medical Ethics has published a paper by professional “ethicists” that confronts the very hypocrisy that troubled me – that we permit the killing of children in the womb who we’d rush to protect if outside it.
But here is how Alberto Giubilini of Monash University and Dr Francesca Minerva of Melbourne University say that hypocrisy should be overcome.
“What we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is (permissible), including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”
That’s right. Since we already permit the killing of babies inside the womb, why not outside it, too?
As the authors say: “If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the foetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”
A legal reason for killing your baby could be, say, unexpected losses at the pokies, leaving you short of cash for nappies.
That’s how I interpret this bit: “We do not suggest any threshold (beyond which you can’t kill your healthy baby), as it depends on the neurological development of newborns.
“However, … if economical, social or psychological circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden on someone, then people should be given the chance of not being forced to do something they cannot afford.”
So, it’s unclear how long you would have to lawfully kill a child who becomes too expensive. Two weeks? Two years?
Indeed, there is no obvious boundary once you’ve rubbed out the absolute line in the sand: thou shalt not kill the baby in the womb.
Yes, this is the slippery slope argument that progressives hate, because it gets in the way when they argue for same sex marriage or euthanasia.
Yet, the defence of the journal’s article by its editor, Julian Savulescu, shows how slippery that slope can be, since he offers the “they’re all doing it anyway” excuse that can licence any mass barbarity.
“The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature.”
In fact, what shocks Savulescu is not a proposal to allow the murder of babies, but that people should be angered by it.
“What is disturbing is not the arguments in this paper nor its publication in an ethics journal. It is the hostile, abusive, threatening responses that it has elicited.”
Poor ethicists. How scary if some people feel entitled to threaten you, as if you were just some baby.
After all, even in a world where a baby’s life isn’t sacred, an ethicist’s is.