Philosophies, as well as Actions, Have Consequences*

March 10, 2012 • Posted in Blog

D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.

Executive Director

29 February 2012

It was Horace Mann who said, “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it.”  If that habit is of thought, it becomes a philosophy.  Whether that habit is of thought or action, there are attendant consequences.  Let’s consider children in this light.

Whether one thinks that babies are commodities, “not yet persons,” or a heritage, those philosophies have consequences.  Recently, Theresa Erickson came face-to-face with the consequences of viewing babies as commodities (wire tap recordings).  Ms. Erickson, the author of a book on surrogacy, and a lawyer in southern California, was sentenced to five months in prison, and fined $70,000, although she could have had a stiffer sentence or a higher penalty.  What did she do?  She instigated the selling of babies in the following way.  She, with the help of two other women (one, a lawyer also), recruited women willing to serve as surrogates.  These women journeyed to the Ukraine, were impregnated through in vitro fertilization (IVF), because of the favorable relative cost of IVF and the legal climate there.  The pregnant women returned to the United States, and, when the pregnancies reached the second trimester, would-be parents were recruited.  The hopeful parents paid $100,000 – $150,000 per child.  This is baby-selling.  It is illegal.  Babies are not commodities.  Theresa Erickson, Hiliary Nieman, and Carla Chambers know that, and pled guilty.  We can hope they do not forget this, and that their punishments bring lasting change.  Philosophies have consequences.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva is an example of a habit of thinking that has become a philosophy.  The abstract of “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” reads as follows:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

The authors reject the term “infanticide,” using a euphemism instead.  They write that, since a newborn cannot have developed any aims of life, that no harm is done by killing that newborn, if his/her life makes difficult the life/lives of the parent(s) or costs the state too much, in terms of support.  The social “good” of the family or state is paramount in such decisions.  The authors give no time limit for this “after-birth abortion” of a “newborn” — a lay term — although the medical term “neonate” is given to a baby through its 28th day of life.

First of all, the authors are right that many abortion are done for social reasons.  I would point out,however, that this fact does not make the procedure of abortion a “good.”  More importantly, how does one respond to such hubris?  This wrong-headed philosophy says that the right to life is bestowed by those older in the community; it does not recognize the equality of all human life.  If the right to life is given by parents or the state, where is the attendant responsibility?  If parents or the state cannot in and of themselves make life, what right do they have to take it away?  Are parents or the state infallible in their decisions, so that all of society should trust them to do what is best or right?

If the authors of this barbaric philosophy (related article in The Telegraph) are right, then we would be wrong to prosecute Kermit Gosnell and his minions for the Philadelphia “house of horrors,” in regards to their treatment of infants born alive and killed with scissors.  In January 2011, Gosnell’s actions were described thusly:

He “induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord,” District Attorney Seth Williams said.

It is apparent that for Gosnell and his clinic, babies did not have a right to life, and they were also commodities.  Abortions reputedly cost $325 in the first trimester, and $1,600 – $3,000 for fetuses up to 30 weeks gestation.  Although prosecutors called this a “complete regulatory collapse,” it is more than that.  It is a manifestation of a habit of denying the truth that hands which cannot form innocent life have no right to take it away.  Kermit Gosnell and his clinic workers are a perfect example of the philosophy of Giubilini and Minerva lived out.  It is a philosophy that ends only in death:  in this case, infanticide.

* This piece was originally published as an e-newsletter on 29 February 2012.  For further reaction to the article on “after-birth abortion,” see “The Infanticide Controversy:  the Authors.”