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I bring all this up not out of idle nostalgia but because of an article that has just appeared in the British Medical Journal, and that I learned about through a news report in the Telegraph. The BMJ article is by two individuals named Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. The former is connected with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Milan and with the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University in Melbourne; the latter is associated with the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne and the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University. Both share the same job description. They are “medical ethicists.”
The point of their article is simple. They argue for the morality of what they call “after-birth abortion” – in other words, as they bluntly put it, “killing a newborn.” They say that such killing “should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” They explain that they prefer the term “after-birth abortion” to “euthanasia” “because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.”
Their case for the moral legitimacy of “after-birth abortion” is this: a newborn, they say, has not yet “formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing” if you snuff her out shortly after birth. Though newborns, like fetuses, are indeed “human beings and potential persons,” a newborn is not yet “a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life.’” Giubilini and Minerva explain that for them, the word “person” signifies “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.” Since newborns are not “persons” in this sense, their “alleged right…to develop their potentiality…is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being” – for “actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.”
So speak the “medical ethicists” – one of them connected with Oxford, no less. It is all quite chilling – and it is all straight out of Philip K. Dick, right down to the cool, dispassionate, professional rhetoric about what does and does not constitute personhood. Giubilini and Minerva – if I keep repeating their names, it’s because I want to make sure you and I remember them – are purportedly talking here about what constitutes humanity, but their very language is the epitome of inhumanity. And it is all too much of a piece with the language of the Western elite generally, which does a good deal of talking about the poor and the helpless and the greater good, but which, more often than not, is less concerned with attending to difficult real-life responsibilities than with puffing up its own image while making its own existence as smooth, comfortable, and problem-free as possible.
Nazi science: to be straightforward about it, that’s pretty much what Giubilini and Minerva are selling. And a lot of people in our time seem eager to buy it. And what made Philip K. Dick such a brilliant writer was that he saw it all coming.
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