Possibly the most controversial bioethics article of the 21st century was published online at the Journal of Medical Ethics website on February 23, 2012. The authors were Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, ethicists associated with the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. “After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” was the provocative title of their paper.

 

In this article the authors argue that, “… when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth …”, ” … after-birth abortion should be considered a permissible option for women … “.  This claim is a logical extension of their non-libertarian theory of personhood, which they state in the following manner: A person is,

… 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.

Thus, they assert that fetuses and newborns are morally equivalent non-persons — because they are incapable of attributing value to their existence — and therefore have no rights and can be justifiably killed. It is not hard to understand why this paper provoked unjust reactions (multiple anonymous death threats), for one does not need to be an anarchist to recognize the parallels between this philosophy and the dehumanizing State philosophy of war, the consequences of which are brilliantly described in the following excerpt from Norman Mailer’s World War II novel The Naked and the Dead,

The killing lost all dimension, bothered the men far less than discovering some ants in their bedding.

 

Two common objections to the Giubilini/Minerva theory of personhood are reviewed in an article entitled “Concern for Our Vulnerable and Neonatal Children: A Brief Reply to Giubilini and Minerva” by Charles Camosy, Assistant Professor of Theology at Fordham University. First, Camosy notes that the logic of the Giubilini/Minerva argument means,

… that those holding Giubilini and Minerva’s position on child-killing would be forced to defend the practice well into the second or even third year of life, depending on how one defined rationality and self-awareness.

In other words, according to the Giubilini/Minerva theory of personhood, humans do not become persons until age two or three, so humans younger than two or three are not persons and have no rights and can be justifiably killed. Second, Camosy asserts that Giubilini/Minerva oppose the idea that,

… persons remain kinds of things that subsist over time whether (1) we are currently expressing specific traits like rationality or self-awareness, or (2) those traits are currently unexpressed or frustrated as a result of disease, immaturity, intoxication, unconsciousness, brain injury, and so on.”

In other words, if one logically extends the Giubilini/Minerva theory of personhood, then humans greater than 2 or 3 years of age who have exhibited rationality and self-awareness in the past BUT are not currently employing rationality and self-awareness also are not persons and have no rights and can be justifiably killed.

 

What is the libertarian bioethical analysis of after-birth abortion? Libertarian bioethics, in my formulation, deems after-birth abortion an unjustifiable action. Why? The libertarian theory of personhood I advocate (based on an amalgamation of ideas expressed by bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere and philosopher Hans Hermann-Hoppe) is the following: Any being with the minimum amount of mental equipment, biological or otherwise, necessary to engage in reason is a person whether or not this capacity is ever employed. Humans develop the minimum amount of mental equipment necessary to engage in reason whether or not it is ever employed prior to birth at approximately 24-25 weeks post-fertilization when bilaterally synchronous EEG functional brain activity emerges. Thus, personhood emerges at 24-25 weeks post-fertilization, which logically entails that newborns are also persons. Persons are rights-bearing beings. Rights-bearing beings can only be justifiably killed in self-defense. Newborns do not engage in acts of aggression against their guardians (typically biological parents); thus, there is no need to kill newborns in self-defense. Ergo, after-birth abortion is the unjustified killing — otherwise known as murder — of a rights-bearing being.

 

In conclusion, libertarian definition of personhood eliminates after-birth abortion as a justifiable action. The alternative definition of personhood proffered by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva in their controversial paper would, if true, justify the killing of all humans at vulnerable points in time. After-birth abortion is murder.