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J Med Ethics 39:289-292 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100767
  • The argument

Infanticide, moral status and moral reasons: the importance of context

  1. Anita Silvers2
  1. 1S J Quinney College of Law, University of Utah, Utah, USA
  2. 2Department of Philosophy, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Leslie Francis, University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law, 332 S. 1400 E., Room 101, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA; francisl{at}law.utah.edu
  • Received 12 June 2012
  • Revised 30 October 2012
  • Accepted 30 November 2012

Abstract

Giubilini and Minerva ask why birth should be a critical dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable reasons for terminating existence. Their argument is that birth does not change moral status in the sense that is relevant: the ability to be harmed by interruption of one's aims. Rather than question the plausibility of their position or the argument they give, we ask instead about the importance to scholarship or policy of publishing the article: does it to any extent make a novel or needed addition to the literature? Giubilini and Minerva's argument is remarkably similar to one advanced by Michael Tooley in ‘Abortion and Infanticide,’ almost 40 years ago. There have been immense changes in the intervening 40 years: in the ability to diagnose conditions early in pregnancy, in genetics and in the availability of in vitro fertilization; in understanding of the capabilities of persons with disabilities; in law; in economic support and access to healthcare for pregnant women and their children; in social customs and arrangements; and even in philosophy, with developments in feminist thought, bioethics and cognitive science. Some of these changes have been for the better, but others, such as the unravelling of social safety nets, have arguably been for the worse. Any or all of these changes might give rise to moral reasons for the relevance of birth that were not available 40 years ago. These changes might also be relevant to the identification of cases, if any, in which ‘after-birth abortion’ might be considered. If context is relevant to the applicability of moral reasons—as for theorists of justice in the non-idealised world it surely should be—it is questionable whether a view of the birth-line that ignores contextualising change can be adequate.