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Archive for February 28th, 2012

After-Birth Abortion: Editorial Comment

28 Feb, 12 | by BMJ

Rev Prof Ken Boyd, Associate Editor, Journal of Medical Ethics, writes:

Coming up to me at a meeting the other day, an ethics colleague waved a paper at me. “Have you seen this ?”she asked,  “It’s unbelievable!” The paper was ‘After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” by two philosophers writing from Australia, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. Well yes, I agreed, I had seen it: in fact I had been the editor responsible for deciding that it should be published in the Journal of Medical Ethics; and no, I didn’t think it was unbelievable, since I know that arguing strongly for a position with which many people will disagree and some even find offensive, is something that philosophers are often willing, and may even feel they have a duty, to do, in order that their arguments may be tested in the crucible of debate with other philosophers who are equally willing to argue strongly against them. Of course for that debate to take place in the Journal of Medical Ethics, many of whose readers, doctors and health care workers as well as philosophers, may well disagree, perhaps strongly, with the paper’s  arguments,  we needed first to make sure that the paper, like any other submitted to the Journal, was of sufficient academic quality for us to publish; and the normal way in which we determine this is to invite academics in relevant disciplines to review the paper critically for us, so that we can eventually make an informed decision about whether or not to publish it, either in its original or (as in this case) a form revised in the light of the reviewers’ reports. Satisfied by the reviewers’ reports and my further editorial review that the paper was of sufficient academic quality to be published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, and being charged with making the decision as an Editor with no conflict of interest in the matter, since unlike my fellow-editors in the relatively small world of international academic medical ethics I have never met the authors, and indeed personally do not agree with the conclusions of their paper, I decided that it was appropriate to publish it in the interest of academic freedom of debate.  It has subsequently been suggested to me that people whose lives might have been ended by ‘after-birth abortion’ were this legal, might be deeply offended by this paper. If that is the case I am sorry, but I am also confident that many of these people are equally capable of mounting a robust academic reply to the paper which, again subject to peer-review, the Journal of Medical Ethics will be very willing to consider for publication.

(IB adds: the paper in question is here; Julian Savulescu defends publication in the next post down.  I’ll add relevant links, both pro and contra, as I find them.)

“Liberals Are Disgusting”: In Defence of the Publication of “After-Birth Abortion”

28 Feb, 12 | by BMJ

The Journal of Medical Ethics prepublished electronically an article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?

This article has elicited personally abusive correspondence to the authors, threatening their lives and personal safety. The Journal has received a string abusive emails for its decision to publish this article. This abuse is typically anonymous.

I am not sure about the legality of publishing abusive threatening anonymous correspondence, so I won’t repeat it here. But fortunately there is plenty on the web to choose from. Here are some responses:

“These people are evil. Pure evil. That they feel safe in putting their twisted thoughts into words reveals how far we have fallen as a society.”

“Right now I think these two devils in human skin need to be delivered for immediate execution under their code of ‘after birth abortions’ they want to commit murder – that is all it is! MURDER!!!”

“I don‘t believe I’ve ever heard anything as vile as what these “people” are advocating. Truly, truly scary.”

“The fact that the Journal of Medical Ethics published this outrageous and immoral piece of work is even scarier”

(Comments from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/ethicists-argue-in-favor-of-after-birth-abortions-as-newborns-are-not-persons/#comments)

As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands.

Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.

Of course, many people will argue that on this basis abortion should be recriminalised. Those arguments can be well made and the Journal would publish a paper than made such a case coherently, originally and with application to issues of public or medical concern. The Journal does not specifically support substantive moral views, ideologies, theories, dogmas or moral outlooks, over others. It supports sound rational argument. Moreover, it supports freedom of ethical expression. The Journal welcomes reasoned coherent responses to After-Birth Abortion. Or indeed on any topic relevant to medical ethics.

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. More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.

On the Blaze which reported it (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/ethicists-argue-in-favor-of-after-birth-abortions-as-newborns-are-not-persons/#comments):

“Liberals are disgusting. They have criminal minds. To think that a person must be considered “worthy” to live is criminal.”

“It seems to me if good people are not going to stand up to do away with people who believe in doing away with live babies, then it means no one is good, and it’s just easier for God to drop a couple asteroids on earth.”

“i can’t even comment on this atrocity. I know these people are murderers in their hearts. And God will treat them as such. They are completely spiritually dead.”

“I have to say that I would personally kill anyone doing a after-birth abortion if I had the chance. Is that clear enough?”

The comments include openly racist remarks:

“Alberto Giubilini looks like a muslim so I have to agree with him that all muslims should have been aborted. If abortion fails, no life at birth – just like he wants.

“Journal of Medical Ethics” — hahaha! You libs and your quack science. Ya think that’s impressive, Albutt & Franpoop? No ****! I can beat you in my sleep. Here goes:

I take a ‘subject of a moral right to life’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to my own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to me.

Here’s the “projected moral status” you comunisti italiani pigs would get: Bang, bang. Drop in toxic waste dump reserved for left-wing contaminants.”

What the response to this article reveals, through the microscope of the web, is the deep disorder of the modern world. Not that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement.

Julian Savulescu, Editor, Journal of Medical Ethics

Conference: “Other Voices, Other Rooms: Bioethics, Then and Now”

28 Feb, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Richard Huxtable has asked me to publicise this:

The EACME (European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics) annual conference will be hosted by the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol, between 20 and 22 September 2012:
http://www.eacme2012.org/welcome/

This conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the Association, which provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on the many contributions made in and to European bioethics to date.  The conference theme, “Other voices, other rooms: Bioethics, then and now” is borrowed from Truman Capote’s novel, which deals with issues of coming of age, including embracing one’s identity, understanding others, caring and being cared for, as well as searching for oneself and for those to whom one is relationally bound.

In keeping with these themes and the aims of the Association, we therefore invite speakers to reflect on the identity of European medical ethics, and the many places and people with whom it is intimately bound.  As such, we’re keen to hear from across the different disciplines which encounter bioethical issues, including (but not limited to) medical sciences, nursing, allied health, law, social sciences, philosophy, classics and drama. The deadline for abstracts is 1 March 2012.a

It’s a very tight turnaround to submit an abstract – but the conference as a whole could be very interesting, and touches on some of the worries I’ve articulated over the years here concerning what bioethics is.

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