- Philosopher and medical ethicist Francesca Minerva argues that killing a newborn is little different to aborting it in the womb
- Even a healthy baby could have its life snuffed out if the mother decides she can't afford to look after it, Dr Minerva suggested
- Doctor receives death threats and hate calls telling her to 'burn in hell'
Doctors should have the right to kill newborn babies because they are disabled, too expensive or simply unwanted by their mothers, an academic with links to Oxford University has claimed.
Francesca Minerva, a philosopher and medical ethicist, argues a young baby is not a real person and so killing it in the first days after birth is little different to aborting it in the womb.
Even a healthy baby could have its life snuffed out if the mother decides she can’t afford to look after it, the article published by the British Medical Journal group states.
The journal’s editor has defended the piece, saying the publication’s role is to present well-reasoned arguments, rather than promote one particular moral view.
But the article has angered other ethicists, peers and campaigners. They have described the call for legalised infanticide as chilling and an ‘inhumane defence of child destruction’.
The doctor, a research associate at Oxford, has received death threats and hate calls telling her that she will 'burn in hell', and she said the last few days since publication have been 'the worst of my life'.
Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Dr Minerva and co-author Alberto Giubilini, a University of Milan bioethicist, argue that ‘after-birth abortion’ should be permissible in all cases in which abortion is.
They state that like an unborn child, a newborn has yet to develop hopes, goals and dreams and so, while clearly human, is not a person – someone with a moral right to life.
In contrast, parents, siblings and society have aims and plans that could be affected by the arrival of the child and their interests should come first.
The article, After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? first addresses scenarios in which parents are unaware their child is disabled until after it is born.
The piece argues that, though the child may be happy, it will not reach the potential of a normal child.
‘To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole…On these grounds, the fact that a foetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion.’
The ethicists are also in favour of the infanticide of a healthy baby when the woman’s circumstances have changed and she no longer has the time, money or energy to care for it.
They argue that while adoption might be an option, it could cause undue psychological distress to the mother.
When infanticide was mandatory: How values have changed through history
As the hate calls came in, Dr Minerva she had not been expecting the overwhelmingly negative reaction.
She said she believes her argument was taken out of its academic and theoretical context, and that 'I wish I could explain to people it is not a policy - and I'm not suggesting that and I'm not encouraging that'.
She believes the majority of threats have come from religious or Pro-Life groups.
Some of the hate messages told her that she would be punished by God, while others suggested she should 'burn in hell'.
The article also provoked responses from religious and pro-life groups.
Trevor Stammers, a lecturer in medical ethics and former chairman of the Christian Medical Fellowship, described the viewpoint as ‘chilling’.
Gill Duval, of the ProLife Alliance, said every life is precious and added: ‘Everybody talks about what women want but women wouldn’t want this.’
Lord Alton, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Pro-Life, told the Catholic Herald: ‘It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion-formers within the medical profession have ditched the professional belief of the healer to uphold the sanctity of human life for this impoverished and inhumane defence of child destruction.’
Julian Savulescu, the journal’s editor, said that the article’s argument has been made before by eminent figures.
He added: ‘I’m not defending practising infanticide. I’m defending academic and intellectual freedom.’
He said that Dr Minerva has a ‘loose relationship’ with Oxford and her main position is at the University of Melbourne.