Paganism in the 21st century, the sequel: Academia doubles down

It’s not enough that the Journal of Medical Ethics published a paper on the ethical underpinnings of infanticide–the editors involved are now justifying the decision to publish and are outraged (outraged, I tell you) and “disturbed” that they are receiving passionate, sometimes rude, responses to that publication. (Infanticide is apparently something to be considered “rationally” but abusive language calls for immediate condemnation–go figure).

Two responses have appeared; one by Julian Savulescu, editor, Journal of Medical Ethics, and in the comments, one by Kenneth M. Boyd, Rev Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and the editor responsible for deciding that the paper should be published.

First, Julian Savulescu:

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

What a thin skin to consider those comments “disturbing” in any way.

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.

And this is a very good point, and one that advocates for “choice” had better take a hard look at, because he’s absolutely correct. The logical decision to allow termination of a baby in utero for any reason at any time (which is legal in the U.S.) leads to questioning the arbitrary line of location: inside or outside the womb.

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 (

“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:

Racism: bad, bad, bad; infanticide: not so much

“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.

Infanticide is now a liberal value? Who knew.

And now, Kenneth M. Boyd:

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.

Nothing to see here, folks, it was all just an academic exercise. Don’t worry that bioethics professors actually work on hospital committees that debate on what care, how much care, and whether any care should be provided for patients.

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.

So it appears that this paper passed muster with a number of academics. And none thought to disagree with the authors’ personal (not scientific, not medical) opinion of what a “person” is?

From the paper: We take ‘person’ to mean 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.

Well, that might be their definition, but it’s not my definition or the definition of most people, academics or not. According to this definition, someone unconscious (no matter how short or long) or even someone sleeping does not fit their definition of “person,” much less a baby or an elderly person with dementia, all non-persons according to these academic heavyweights.

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 [ed. comment: of course not, you’re already born and weren’t terminated as a baby] 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.

According to this paper, everyone might have had their lives “ended by ‘after-birth abortion'” since the authors hold that killing infants is justified for any reason. So I guess we’re all offended.


One response to “Paganism in the 21st century, the sequel: Academia doubles down

  1. Pingback: Paganism in the 21st century: Ethicists argue in favor of ‘after-birth abortions’ as newborns ‘are not persons’ | intersection

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