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Abortion, infanticide and allowing babies to die, 40 years on
  1. Julian Savulescu
  1. Correspondence to Professor Julian  Savulescu, Faculty of Philosophy, The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Suite 8, Littlegate House, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK;

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In January 2012, the Journal of Medical Ethics published online Giubilini and Minerva's paper, ‘After-birth abortion. Why should the baby live?’.1 The Journal publishes articles based on the quality of their argument, their contribution to the existing literature, and relevance to current medicine. This article met those criteria. It created unprecedented global outrage for a paper published in an academic medical ethics journal. In this special issue of the Journal, Giubilini and Minerva's paper comes to print along with 31 articles from some of the best scholars in the world, from the broadest range of perspectives on abortion and infanticide, including those strongly critical of Giubilini and Minerva.

The killing of a baby is among the most shocking of human practices. I am strongly opposed to the legalisation of infanticide along the lines discussed by Giubilini and Minerva. But I would like to explain why a journal of medical ethics published an article examining infanticide and now devotes a special issue to bringing a wide range of perspectives for further examination of these issues.

Infanticide has been practised throughout human history for various reasons and continues to be practised today throughout the world. In rare cases, infanticide can be practised openly and legally—for example, as specified under the ‘Groningen Protocol’, in the Netherlands. The Groningen Protocol allows doctors to end the life of neonates at the request of their parents if the infant is experiencing hopeless and unbearable suffering.2

But medical infanticide arguably occurs elsewhere other than in the Netherlands today.

In neonatal intensive care, it is not uncommon for a doctor to withdraw artificial ventilation with the consequence that a baby dies.3 If anyone else performed that act, including the parents of the child, it would be viewed as an act of homicide, in some cases …

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  • Contributors Thanks to Ingmar Persson, Jeff McMahan, Peter Singer, Raanan Gillon, Guy Kahane, Imogen Goold, Tom Douglas and Dominic Wilkinson.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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