The article, After-birth abortion: why should the baby live, has generated far more telling commentary than the article itself.
For example, Nicholas Shakel, writing for the University of Oxford blog Practical Ethics:
You may not like the idea that the instant of birth doesn’t draw a morally significant boundary between a permissible and impermissible killing, but so what? What makes you so important that your dislike, your violent disagreement, your outrage means that no one should hear this opinion? Obviously, nothing at all. So you have a simple choice. You can either argue back or shut up. What you can’t do is try to shut me up.
Forgive me for missing his point, but didn’t the article get published? Nobody has been shut up. A few people have responded irresponsibly, even threatening the original authors with violence, and they should be held accountable. The rest of us see it as wrong and are willing to say so. Advocating that there is no moral defense for the killing of infants (as I do) is not the same as saying publishing the article should be illegal.
Another response, also published in Practical Ethics, has Professor John Harris “clarifying his position on infanticide” which he claims has been misread:
There is a big difference between an analysis of the moral symmetry of some abortions and some cases of infanticide on the one hand and the defence of infanticide or indeed the advocacy of infanticide on the other. I have always drawn a clear line between what I call “Green Papers” and “White Papers” in ethics. Green papers are intellectual discussions of the issues, white papers are policy proposals. I have never advocated or defended infanticide as a policy proposal. I would not and do not advocate the legalization of infanticide on the basis of any alleged ethical parity of infanticide with abortion.
Sometimes I’m just left scratching my head. Do ideas matter to him or don’t they? Do they only matter once they become actionable, like through legislation? What if your idea encourages someone else to act on it – does that make you an innocent actor?
In his article, Ethical problems in the management of some severely handicapped children, Professor Harris doesn’t openly attack the problem of ‘selective treatment’ (that is, deciding which child’s condition should be treated and which should result in the death of the child) but instead accepts selective treatment as normative and asks simply how the child should be killed. As I read it, it didn’t really matter if it was intended to be ‘green’ or ‘white’ – it was clearly advocating for a certain kind of behavior. It seems clear he is fine with the active killing of some children.
His more recent equivocation (excuse me, clarification) on infanticide is all the more puzzling because his entire professional life is dedicated to ideas, so they must matter to him. His attempt to back away from the practice of infanticide itself is denying the power of the very discipline he practices – which must in itself be troubling to him. At least I hope so.
There are many others, but I’ll end with this. The editor of the journal has allowed there is nothing truly new about the after-birth abortion article, except possibly its application to social as well as medical reasons for killing children:
The ethical discussion of infanticide dates back several thousand years. At least 100 articles have been published on infanticide in the Journal over its history, with articles both for and many against it. Some of the world’s most famous living philosophers have written about its merits and justification over the last 40 years. . .
That’s helpful. The argument has gone on for thousands of years, so we must see ourselves in the long stream of those who have argued against it and prepare our children to continue the argument after we are gone. And we can do so from the greatest of positions – 100% certainty that the practice will end someday!
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV)