Only a Projected Moral Status
The Journal of Medical Ethics has published an article that has understandably caused a firestorm of controversy. I cannot find any freely available copies of the article online, so I will highlight a few of the authors' points here. In short they argue for "aborting" newborn babies which one might call infanticide, but they shun the term for its negative connotation.
The editor of the journal is apparently shocked and outraged at the extent of shock and outrage expressed by people who were shocked and outraged at the arguments being offered for infanticide. And while I'm all for civil dialogue, at some point isn't it okay to express a little shock and outrage if, for example, you believe someone is trying to use lofty philosophical arguments to justify the murder of babies? I think the journal editor is being a tad niave and overly sensitive.
Either way, I find the authors' lofty philosophical arguments to not be terribly lofty, and positively of no convincing value to someone who is pro-life for the simple fact that a pro-life stance will reject all of their basic premises:
“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her."
Naturally, this argument is not being made for the pro-life stance which would draw no such distinction between personhood and merely being human. So this point is being made for proponents of the pro-abortion stance. But the next point is particularly interesting because it delves into the more delicate (and difficult) issue of drawing the chronological and developmental line for when you may kill the fetus/infant and when you may not. Any proponent of abortion MUST develop a rationale on this "killing line." For the authors of the paper, their rationale leads them logically to killing newborns because they propose that any morally objective value we might give to life can only exist when the subject of such potential value is able to attribute said value to themselves. Fascinating and terrifying.
I've heard a variety of arguments with regards to when abortion should no longer be permitted (e.g. when the fetus feels pain) but in my experience none are without serious difficulty. The same is true here: Unfortunately, the authors make no attempt to argue on the details of their "killing line." In other words : when does a human being start to be able to attribute self-worth to themselves and how do we know this has happened? When they tell us it is so? And then the slope becomes more slippery: what of those who lose track of this self-value via depression or other mental disorders? It opens a whole new door to assisted suicide based on the victims' perceptions of self-worth...do we really want to lose track of the possibility that at least SOME human value exists outside of oneself? Can we say that?
Well the authors certainly touch on this when they suggest that a mother may (if she so chooses) attribute moral value to the life of a newborn 9or a fetus therefore based on the arguments), but this is "only a projected moral status." (Read it again: this is "only a projected moral status.") And so they bring the point home: any sense we may have of a real and objective moral value to life must originate in the ironically subjective view of the potentially valued life subject in question. That being overtly present, then - and only then - can we grant that someone is the "subject of a moral right to life."
Nice. But here's the stumbling block: granting the overall point of view, there is then NO SUCH THING AS AN OBJECTIVE MORAL RIGHT TO LIFE. Ever. In fact, there is NOTHING in the way of moral status except that which is being projected from somewhere/one else. In other words, they have some very serious circular reasoning going on here by drawing some distinction between a mother projecting moral value to a baby and a mother projecting moral value to herself and THEN society arbitrarily projecting moral status ONLY to the latter.
Moral status is ALWAYS projected, it cannot be otherwise. The paper's authors argue, without any justification, that a moral sense of right to life which is being projected from within ourselves is the only one of objective value. I would suggest this has no more objective value than it being projected from another person. Furthermore I'd go so far as to suggest the radical idea that the moral value PROJECTED upon ALL of us by a Creator is the only criterion by which we may call any moral value ascribed to human life objective. Outside of this context, we are free to make all manner of odd arguments for killing our babies, our sick, our infirmed, and those who for whatever reason fail to see their own value. What a sad, frightening, and brave new world we are fashioning in which people argue about the value of human life with all the same criteria and logic of kids arguing about which is better: chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 6:03 AM [+]