J Med Ethics 39:341-344 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100844
  • Response

Potentials and burdens: a reply to Giubilini and Minerva

  1. Francis J Beckwith
  1. Correspondence to Francis J Beckwith, Department of Philosophy, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97273, Waco, TX 76798-7273, USA; francis_beckwith{at}
  • Received 7 June 2012
  • Revised 24 July 2012
  • Accepted 29 January 2013


This article responds to Giubilini and Minerva’s article ‘After birth abortion: why should the baby live?’ published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. They argue for the permissibility of ‘after-birth abortion’, based on two conjoined considerations: (1) the fetus or newborn, though a ‘potential person’, is not an actual person, because it is not mature enough to appreciate its own interests, and (2) because we allow parents to terminate the life of a fetus when it is diagnosed with a deformity or fatal illness because of the burden it will place on the child, parent, family or society we should also allow parents to do the same to their newborn, since it is no more a person than the fetus. The author critiques this case by pointing out (a) the metaphysical ambiguity of potential personhood and (b) why the appeal to burdens is irrelevant or unnecessary.