The Journal of Medical Ethics recently published an article by philosophers Guibilini and Minerva (1) arguing that the intentional killing of newborn infants was justified if the continued existence of the child represented ‘an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children’, as well as if there were excessive economic burdens or disability. They argued that both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, since they lack self-awareness. Hence the destruction of a newborn life is morally justified if it is in the best interests of existing people. Although the position of Guibilini and Minerva is supported by several other prominent philosophers, including Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, I will argue that it is fatally flawed.
It is incoherent to argue that conscious self-awareness is necessary criterion for life to have intrinsic value,
The argument strikes at the heart of the central belief enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that all human beings possess inherent moral worth solely in virtue of their membership of the human species, and irrespective of their functional abilities,
Since self-awareness as an agent probably does not start to appear before 18 months of age, and may not be secure until the fourth year of life, the argument imperils not just newborns but a large proportion of the paediatric population!
Reference Giubilini, A, Minerva F, J Med Ethics epub 3 Feb 2012.