In February 2012, The Journal of Medical Ethics prepublished electronically an article by two academics from an Australian Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. Their paper had the title: "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" It developed arguments that many considered to legitimise infanticide for handicapped children. A vigorous debate ensued, with strong criticisms of the paper and its authors. The journal was also criticized for giving a platform to such views, which appeared to add so little to previous cases of advocacy of infanticide. Its editor, Julian Savulescu, contributed this on 28 February 2012:
"As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion. The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide - the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer - but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands."
Consequently, on 2 March 2012, an "open letter" was produced by the authors that was intended to dampen down the flames:
"the article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments. [. . .] We started from the definition of person introduced by Michael Tooley in 1975 and we tried to draw the logical conclusions deriving from this premise. It was meant to be a pure exercise of logic: if X, then Y. We expected that other bioethicists would challenge either the premise or the logical pattern we followed, because this is what happens in academic debates. [. . .] However, we never meant to suggest that after-birth abortion should become legal. This was not made clear enough in the paper. Laws are not just about rational ethical arguments, because there are many practical, emotional, social aspects that are relevant in policy making (such as respecting the plurality of ethical views, people's emotional reactions etc). But we are not policy makers, we are philosophers, and we deal with concepts, not with legal policy."
Moving to the present, the article has now been formally published in an issue of the journal wholly devoted to the debate. Papers are included that present different views on the issues. Professor Udo Schuklenk authored a paper on academic freedom, from the perspective of one who is also an editor of a bioethics journal. In this paper, he expresses concerns about the flak that "academic bioethicists and academic bioethics journals are subjected to by political activists applying pressure from outside of the academy." He identifies two activists that he considers to be abusing academic freedom. The first is Wesley J. Smith, who writes the Human Exceptionalism Blog. The second is Michael Cook, editor of BioEdge. The main complaint appears to be that they are reading articles in academic journals but critiquing them in the public square. Defences of this practice have been made, along with corrections of misinformation, by Wesley J. Smith and by Michael Cook. However, there is also a criticism of the two authors of the controversial academic paper. He does not like their attempt to distinguish a philosophical argument from public policy:
"It is reasonable to demand that those who suggest that this is a purely academic exercise ask themselves why they came up with very practical conclusionsÃ¢â‚¬â€that now somehow they don't mean us (and their many critics) to take very seriously. [. . .] Still, bioethics analyses offering practical conclusions are not theoretical games. Michael Tooley and Peter Singer who have defended similar views for decades can undoubtedly tell many a story about harsh criticism and threats to their persons, but until today - to the best of my knowledge - they have not declared their views a mere thought experiment, undertaken for the sake of it, not really meant to be taken seriously, etc. They do take responsibility for views they hold, and they are right in doing so. Respect for free speech has a flipside, requiring of us to take responsibility for the views that we defend. On what other grounds could we expect our views to be taken seriously. What kind of debate could we reasonably have with discussants who - when cornered - will say 'I didn't really mean it'?" (page 305)
There is therefore some common ground here: it is entirely reasonable to infer that ethical stances lead directly to policy implications. This connection would appear to be clearly implied in the workplace of the two authors: the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. However, there are divergences of view over the issue of academic freedom.
"When all is said and done, this is an academic freedom issue. It has to do with ensuring both that we are able to ask difficult questions, and that we are able to defend conclusions that most people will disagree with. For what it is worth, the infanticide debate is not even a paradigmatic example of the culture wars between the religious and the secularists. Secular bioethicists such as the late Mary Anne Warren have been highly critical of the utilitarian rationale offered in this context. To her birth is a crucial marker event conferring moral standing to the newborn. Academics have always challenged assumptions taken for granted by the mainstream." (pages 305-306)
Academic freedom and academic responsibility go together. We do not have freedom to ignore views that we think are taboo. Anyone discussing issues of abortion and infanticide should take seriously reasons why people affirm the sanctity of life. This requires grappling with issues like mankind being made in the image of God. It is not a case of expecting ethicists to agree with these views, but they need to understand the arguments and engage with them. If they are expunged from academic discourse because these views are "religious", then the result is an imposition on the scope of discussion. This is a denial of academic freedom on upholders of the sanctity of human life who are not allowed to bring such arguments into their academic work. However, the words "sanctity" and "image" are lacking in these papers.
The root problem is that academic ethicists have absorbed a secularised worldview. Over a decade ago, Wesley J. Smith described it in this way:
"Mainstream bioethics reached a consensus long ago that religious values are divisive in a pluralistic society and thus have little place in the formulation of public policy. Those who believe in abortion rights but also hold that all born humans are equally endowed with moral worth, along with those who subscribe to the "do no harm" ethos of the Hippocratic oath, have little impact, since mainstream bioethics rejects Hippocratic medicine as paternalistic and shrugs off equal human moral worth as a relic of the West's religious past."
In this academic ethicists have adopted the philosophical naturalism of academia in general. This turns science into scientism and humans into molecular machines. Everything about humanity has to be portrayed through the reductionist filter of scientism. Our consciousness, our values and our sense of free agency must all be 'explained' via material causation. This straitjacket is illustrated in a recent article (in the Wall Street Journal)on the views of Dr Leon Kass, who has often found himself in a minority among bioethicists when it comes to abortion, euthanasia, embryonic research, cloning and other right-to-life questions.
"Take the concept of human dignity. In a 2008 essay highly critical of Dr. Kass's work on the Bush bioethics council, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker questioned the value of dignity as a moral guide. "Dignity is a phenomenon of human perception," Mr. Pinker wrote. "Certain signals in the world trigger an attribution in the perceiver." The perception of human dignity, Mr. Pinker went on, is no different from how "converging lines in a drawing are a cue for the perception of depth." That such an outlook is both blinkered and dangerous, Dr. Kass thinks, should be obvious to anyone who has ever been in love or felt other great emotions. "There's no doubt that the human experience of love," he says, is mirrored by "events that are measurable in the brain. But anybody who has ever fallen in love knows that love is not just an elevated level of some peptide in the hypothalamus.""
Academics adopting the secular materialist worldview will always find themselves demolishing traditional values. They have failed to develop any ethical principles based on secular materialist foundations and they end up as pragmatists, postmodernists or social constructivists. Their conclusions about infanticide are entirely predictable. What is controversial is not that they say such things, but that they are so hostile to philosophical theism appearing in the pages of their academic journals. This is the crunch issue for academic freedom that has yet to be recognised.
After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?
Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minerva
Journal of Medical Ethics, 2013; 39(5), 261-263 | doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100411
Abstract: Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call 'after-birth abortion' (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
In defence of academic freedom: bioethics journals under siege
Journal of Medical Ethics, May 2013, 39(5), 303-306 | doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100801
Abstract: This article analyses, from a bioethics journal editor's perspective, the threats to academic freedom and freedom of expression that academic bioethicists and academic bioethics journals are subjected to by political activists applying pressure from outside of the academy. I defend bioethicists' academic freedom to reach and defend conclusions many find offensive and 'wrong'. However, I also support the view that academics arguing controversial matters such as, for instance, the moral legitimacy of infanticide should take clear responsibility for the views they defend and should not try to hide behind analytical philosophers' rationales such as wanting to test an argument for the sake of testing an argument. This article proposes that bioethics journals establish higher-quality requirements and more stringent mechanisms of peer review than usual for iconoclastic articles.
Klinghoffer, D. What Darwin's Enforcers Will Say About Darwin's Doubt: A Prediction (Evolution News & Views, 8 May 2013)
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