The ancient Romans used to expose unwanted babies on hillsides. Thankfully, we have come a long way since those bad old days. We would never countenance letting a baby die of exposure or get eaten by animals. No, today’s infanticide promoters insist that babies be killed painlessly. After all, we aren’t barbarians!
Infanticide? Today? Alas, yes. In fact, although technically illegal, baby killing already is being carried out in the Netherlands as a logical extension of that country’s euthanasia license. A bureaucratic check list has even been published — including in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine — known as the Groningen Protocol, by which Dutch neonatologists determine which sick and disabled babies qualify to be euthanized. Indeed, according to two articles published in The Lancet, about 8% of all babies who die each year in the Netherlands (80-90) are killed by their own doctors.
But now, some advocates want to take the infanticide license beyond unhealthy and disabled babies, to include unwanted babies. A new article that has gotten much attention in the blogosphere, “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, asserts that whatever reasons justify abortion — and in the USA that means anything and everything — also support the right of parents to have unwanted infants painlessly killed.
This is rank bootstrapping for expanding the killing license. Abortion wasn’t legalized to grant a woman the “right” to a dead fetus. Rather, legislatures or courts — depending on the country — determined that a woman’s right to control her own body should trump the fetal right to life. That being so, once the baby is born the entire issue of protecting female autonomy evaporates and the issue of abortion becomes factually irrelevant.
Or at least it should. To get around this impediment, the authors sophistically expand the concept of personal autonomy to a putative right not to be personally inconvenienced or burdened by the infant or the child she would later become. They write that an infant, by definition, has not yet developed desires or goals:
On the other hand, not only [personal] 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.
In other words, babies are not people.
It is tempting to dwell on these shocking views and thereby miss the bigger picture. “After-Birth Abortion” is merely the latest example of bioethical argument wielded as the sharp point of the spear in an all-out philosophical war waged among the intelligentsia against Judeo/Christian morality based in human exceptionalism and adherence to universal human rights.
In place of intrinsic human dignity as the foundation for our culture and laws, advocates of the new bioethical order want moral value to be measured individual-by-individual — whether animal or human — and moment-by-moment. Under this view, we each must earn full moral status by currently possessing capacities sufficient to be deemed a “person.” As the authors of “After-Birth Abortion” put it, “We take ‘person’ to mean an individual [not just a human] 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.” In other words, if you can’t value your own life, your life has less value.
In this view — which is rife within international and American bioethics — the unborn, infants (at least through the first few weeks) and those who have lost relevant capacities because of, for example, late-stage Alzheimer’s or severe brain damage are not persons because they have either not yet attained or have lost the capacities of personhood. Some would even deprive such so-called human non-persons of the right to life. This means that you can be a person today but not tomorrow, and not be a person today and be killed before you become one tomorrow.
Even more radically, according to some personhood theorists, higher mammals — dogs, dolphins, chimps, pigs — are persons and hence have greater value than human non-persons. Princeton’s notorious bioethicist Peter Singer is perhaps the world’s most famous advocate of this view — arguing, for example, that patients in a persistent vegetative state should be used in medical experiments in place of animals with higher cognitive capacities.
Some might wave the threat away by claiming that personhood theory is merely the secular equivalent of debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. But that is to whistle past the graveyard. Bioethics isn’t about abstract argument. It uses discourse to transform philosophical views into societal action. And while personhood theory is certainly not the unanimous view, I think it is fair to say that it represents the consensus in the field — at least among the majority of bioethicists who don’t have a modifier such as “conservative” or “Christian” in front of their title.
Now consider just one practical example of how personhood theory could soon deleteriously impact the well-being of you and your family. Obamacare has centralized control of health care into the federal bureaucracy, including by establishing a plethora of cost/benefit boards that will start operating within the next several years. Who do you think will be tapped to fill many of these powerful government positions that could ultimately decide what medical procedures will and won’t be covered by insurance — perhaps even which patients will and won’t receive them? Bingo! “Experts” trained in bioethics.
Now consider what could happen if many or most of these board members adhere to the noxious view that “human non-persons” do not have a right to life: To say the least, the potential for “death panels” comes vividly into focus.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, consults with the Patients Rights Council, and serves as a special consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture.