Oxbridge death threats over infanticide article

Anthie Karavaggelis -News Reporter 8 March 2012

A controversial article defending infanticide, written by former Oxford University research associate Francesca Minerva, and Dr Alberto Giubilini, a former visiting student at Cambridge University, has prompted death threats.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, argues that “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a foetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

They argue that newborns are simply “potential persons” – their definition of person being “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.”

Defending the decision to publish the article, director of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Professor Julian Savelesu pointed out that, “Infanticide is currently legal in the Netherlands.

The Gronigen Protocol allows doctors to kill neonates at the request of their parents if they are experiencing unbearable suffering.

The active withdrawal of medical care, an intentional act that kills, is a standard part of the care of newborns with severe disability and suffering in the most parts of the world, including the UK and US. This is sometimes called passive euthanasia.

Giubilini and Minerva argue that if both a foetus and a neonate have the same moral status and capacity, the interest of “actual people overrides the interest of merely potential people” and on this basis infanticide should be permissible for social reasons.

The article has lead to a furious response culminating in death threats to the authors. Comments posted on web forums called the writers “evil, pure evil”, some calling for their “immediate execution.”

Professor Savelesu criticised the “hostile, abusive, threatening responses”, calling the critics “disturbing” and adding that the journal supports “sound rational argument and freedom of ethical expression”.

Anthie Karavaggelis -News Reporter