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Francesca Minerva and Matthew Flannagan on “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” on Radio

February 29th, 2012 by Madeleine

Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubilini‘s article “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” published in the Journal of Law, Ethics and Medicine is creating waves the world over. In a few hours, on the morning of Thursday 1 March, around 10:00am New Zealand time, Dr Minerva will be interviewed on this article on Radio Rhema’s Pat Brittenden Mornings. Shortly after Dr Matthew Flannagan, of this blog, arguably New Zealand’s most eminent Abortion Ethicist, will be interviewed in response.

The Abstract of “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” is as follows:

After Birth AbortionAbortion 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.

Matt’s articles on abortion rebutting most of the arguments used in “After-birth abortion” (they are very similar to arguments offered by Michael Tooley and Peter Singer) can be found by using the tags below – particularly see his:

Boonin and Sentience Criteria: A Critique Part I
Boonin and Sentience Criteria: A Critique Part II
(published in Ethics and Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics vol 25, issue 2, 2009, 95-106)
Sentience Part 1
Sentience Part 2 

UPDATE:
Dr Francesca Minerva’s interview on her and Alberto Giubilini’s article “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” is now available to download it as an MP3.

Dr Matthew Flannagan’s interview on Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubilini’s article “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” is now available to download it as an MP3.

FURTHER UPDATE
In response to Dr Minerva’s comments in her interview where she states that parents of disabled children do not read academic articles and later, academics who are capable of understanding the debate would not be offended by the position she was arguing for:

I am an academic, I am married to Matt who is also an academic.

Matt and I are the parents of four children, two of whom have disabilities, one whose diagnosis is Severe Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The severity of this diagnosis cannot be overstated. Our son cannot go to school, cannot be cared for by most people; and when his condition is not managed, regularly does actions that endanger himself and others that are the source of considerable stress – he gets into rages where he cannot value or appreciate the risks he is taking to his own life. We shape our lives around managing his care. It is hard. His condition causes significant impact to our financial, social and professional endeavours as well as our stress levels; just on Saturday he caused four Police Patrol cars and their respective officers to leave active duty to deal with him.

So we present a conundrum to Dr Minerva’s claims. We are academics, we are both capable of following and understanding the argument and contributing to it in a non-emotive way – in fact, both of us have contributed to this particular debate in this way. Further, we often read academic articles – most recently we have each read hers; we author them too. Contemporaneously, we are also parents of disabled children, one fairly seriously disabled child. So are we offended by her argument? Yes. The suggestion that our son, because he is a burden, could understandably and justifiably be killed provided he is of a biological state where he does not value or appreciate his life – or that had we known what we were in for we could just had killed him at birth, is offensive. An implication of this argument is that he is not as valuable as other human beings and I reject that.

As Matt pointed out in his interview, when your reasoning brings you to a conclusion of that magnitude you need to check your premises, not bite the bullet and shoot the baby.

Oh and by the way, abortion means termination of pregnancy it cannot, by definition, apply post-pregnancy. It is up there with talking about post-death homicide.

HERALD UPDATE:
The New Zealand Herald has run an article on the subject featuring Matt (only they wrongly imply he is on faculty at Auckland University): “Killing newborns: Paper stirs debate, death threats”

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  • Thanks Madeleine,
    I look forward to hearing the mp3. Ten years ago when we were saying that ethicists would move in this direction, pro-choice people kept saying, “No, people would never be so cruel…” People are naive of the depths of evil in the human heart (Jer. 17:9).

  • My goodness, I know people who really have suffered psychologically from having abortions as they stand now . There is real mental implications that could occur if this was allowed to happen. The mental impact on the mother for instance, has there been studies into those who have had abortions? Do you know of any analysis their psychological wellbeing in a follow up manner being done Matt? One would think that this process is free of strife, because no publications of the wellbeing of people is presented openly as far as I am aware. I would guess that there has been a real ethical dilemma within them causing all types of reactions.

    I can not help but ask about how secular society sees people in general from observation. I have noticed an increasing tread toward valuing a persons worth by the contribution they make to society. Their individual contribution seems to be important. I was talking the other day the someone who’s parents have developed a degenerating disease. His view was they were now “oxygen bandits”. In other words not much use to anyone. So what use has a new born. Well, sounds similar doesn’t it. What a sea-change since I was a boy. People valued other differently, they respected them more especially the elderly.

    This sounds like a similar situation the Christian church faced before within the Roman context where infanticide was practiced.
    Many children were save by Christians.

    This might also be a good lesson in the value of science to give sound answers to ethical questions. Science as a practice has no moral foundation. The people doing it do. Next thing we may see is aborted embryos being sold to us (who want to live forever) as ‘share parts’ in a nice way of course. The stem cells they have could be beneficial to improving life. The desire to help those in need is a commendable thing but to destroy one for the benefit of another seems obviously wrong. But, as Matt pointed out where do you draw the line when it comes to being ‘really’ human.

  • Well there seems to be a moderate degree of consistency in the essay*, it is just that the premises are evil.

    *less so about protecting the earth for future generations

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  • From Madeleine;
    ‘The suggestion that our son, because he is a burden, could understandably and justifiably be killed provided he is of a biological state where he does not value or appreciate his life – or that had we known what we were in for we could just had killed him at birth, is offensive.’

    Must moral philosophers not say anything that could be considered offense to someone? Thats a good way to shut them up.

    You seem to be very good on this blog at pointing out the logical conclusions of pro-abortion arguments and relying on your audience being disgusted with these consequences. You are not very good at putting forth your own ideas on what makes these arguments wrong. How about actually stating why you think killing is wrong? You rely on the ‘its a human life’ argument, please explain why killing human life is wrong.

    ‘As Matt pointed out in his interview, when your reasoning brings you to a conclusion of that magnitude you need to check your premises, not bite the bullet and shoot the baby.’
    Or you could check your intuitions and see if they are a reliable guide when reason states otherwise.

    How about some serious academic debate from now on?

  • Dicky P, you write

    “Or you could check your intuitions and see if they are a reliable guide when reason states otherwise.”

    But reason doesn’t say otherwise, the arguments for abortion which these authors rely on also rely at a base level on moral intiutions, ones which I think its arguable are far less secure that my inutition that its wrong to kill new born babies.

    You don’t get moral conclusions from “logic” or reason alone, you reason from premises which cotain moral judgements to other conclusions.

    Perhaps you can answer me this Dicky P: Do you think people should be allowed to kill new born babies for any reason that one could currently be allowed to abort it?

    Do you believe that when a infant is a “threat” to the finacial welfare of the family or society it can be put down?

    Or are these just supersitious intiutions which are discredited by “reason”

  • ‘Do you think people should be allowed to kill new born babies for any reason that one could currently be allowed to abort it?’

    Yes, if abortion is not wrong, as I do not believe that it is, then infanticide should also be permissible.

    ‘Do you believe that when a infant is a “threat” to the finacial welfare of the family or society it can be put down?’

    If it has no other use to the family or anyone. The family might be better off selling it and make some money. This might be a better alternative to abortion as it could be a far cheaper option than expensive abortion procedures.

  • Matt, could you please give an explanation of what is wrong with killing early human life?

  • Dicky, I don’t think anyone has come up with a correct answer to the question “why is it wrong to kill” in general. I think we know that its wrong to kill human beings and I think Don Marquis account that killing someone deprives them of a future of value is probably the best avalible, but even it I think is flawed.

    I don’t think you need to know why killing is wrong to know that its wrong. If we did only moral theorists would know killing wrong, and seeing they are in disagreement over the “why” question, no one would.

    But perhaps you can answer the relevant question:1 can you come up with a defensible reason why killing an infant is wrong and killing a fetus is not wrong.

    2. Can you know that its wrong to kill infants.

    If you can answer these two questions then you can answer the question at hand.

  • ‘1 can you come up with a defensible reason why killing an infant is wrong and killing a fetus is not wrong.’

    I’ve never made the distinction that killing an infant is wrong whilst killing a foetus is right, so there is no need for me to answer this question.

    If you agree with Marquis why don’t you invest some of your efforts into saving non-human animals? Would you allow for the killing of humans who do not have a ‘future like ours?’

  • Dicky P,

    Then I’d simply ask why you reject the strong intiution that is wrong to kill infants and accept the intuitions one which the arguments in favour of abortion and infanticide are based.

    As to Marquis, animals do not have a future like ours on Marquis view so his view does not entail that its wrong to kill animals.

    Similarly, because his account offers a sufficent as opposed to a necessary criteria for what makes it wrong to kill it does not entail that its ok to” kill of humans who do not have a ‘future like ours”.

    That said I think Marquis position has problems, so I would not go along with it completely, I just think its better than the alternatives.

  • “… Matthew Flannagan, of this blog, arguably New Zealand’s most eminent Abortion Ethicist … ”

    Have you ever considered setting up an anti-abortion consultancy practice in some cheap commercial space down some side road, just so you can add “Back Street Abortion Ethicist” to your CV? Just an idea.

  • “Dr Matthew Flannagan, an ethicist and theologist from Auckland University”
    A theologist from AU? Since when? Hah. Stupid media.

  • MF says “I think Don Marquis account that killing someone deprives them of a future of value is probably the best avalible, but even it I think is flawed.”

    If, according to (most?) Christian world views (especially the one advocated by WL Craig), aborted fetuses and killed infants go directly to the loving arms of Jesus, are we not providing them the future of the most possible value that is available to them, not depriving them of a future of value, as Don Marquis purports?

  • I’m no ethicist, but in my opinion, how can people justify the taking of a life that they didn’t create. How high and mighty they must think they are to argue that a human that God himself knit together in the womb isn’t a person. Nothing we say can sway them, but they will have to answer for this someday. It’s the same evil that led Herod to kill all first borns, it’s still alive and just as evil.

  • Michelle, if all you have is argument from ignorance (“I can’t believe some people think…”), and empty threats (i.e. threats that are unconvincing to unbelievers in regards to your particular chosen faith) of suffering for it in an afterlife, then you will continue to fail to convince others of your opinion. As it is, those who handle arguments for trying to convince others that a conceptus is an entity which has rights are routinely failing to be convincing to many who don’t have those beliefs (as are those who are arguing that a conceptus is no an entity that has rights failing in being routinely convincing to others).

  • @ David, we would tend to assume that God having given someone a viable His intention that they get to live it, not that another human deprives them of it. If your straight to heaven argument had any merit then actually living would be pointless.

  • David, writes

    If, according to (most?) Christian world views (especially the one advocated by WL Craig), aborted fetuses and killed infants go directly to the loving arms of Jesus, are we not providing them the future of the most possible value that is available to them, not depriving them of a future of value, as Don Marquis purports?

    I don’t think that argument works, and argued against this line in a paper I presented to the Systematic Theology association a couple of years ago. See http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/12/does-abortion-benefit-the-fetus-a-critique-of-himma-part-1.html

    Basically, it’s a mistake to claim that when you abort a fetus you benefit it, by causing it to have a valuable future. What you do is deprive it of its temporal future. God provides the being with a beneficial future. The conclusion pressed mistakenly makes moral agents responsible not only for the foreseeable of causal consquences of their actions but also the results of the foreseeable consequences of other peoples free reactions to theirs.

  • Thanks for the link above Matthew Flannagan. That one’s gonna take me a day or two to absorb.

  • @ Jeremy, your poorly formed sentences make little sense to me. Care to try again?

  • “Dicky, I don’t think anyone has come up with a correct answer to the question “why is it wrong to kill” in general.”

    Really?
    How could you be “arguably New Zealand’s most eminent Abortion Ethicist ” and not know why killing is wrong?

    So basically you know people have a right to life, you don’t know why?

    Surely it can’t be that hard, just ask yourself if someone was going to murder your wife unless you come up with a good essential reason why they shouldn’t – what would you say?

  • Rosjer
    If it was so easy then why is there so much disagreement and multiple different theories as to why killing is wrong in the literature. Much of it tied up with really tricky metaphysical questions of personal identity. I suggest your comments are those of someone who is unfamiliar with the question and grossly under estimates what’s involved.

    The issue of wether I could come up with a reason for why someone should not kill my wife is a different one. I might say “its wrong to kill” they could say “why” I could say “ because it harms her and takes her life” they could say “why is her life valuble” I suspect that most lay people would quite quickly find themselves unable to offer a defensible answer as the questions continued.

    This does not worry us because we know that its wrong to kill human adults and we know their lifes are valuble in some way and if someone sincerely claimed they did not think this we would probably assume they were a pscyopath and missing the obvious.

    Btw I never claimed to be NZ’s most “emininet abortion ethicist” Madeleine said that, I try not to make claims like that , my wife on the other hand does. Don’t assume that when she says something about me I put her up to it.

    I could take a stab and suggest that what ultimately makes killing wrong is that God prohibits it. I think I could argue that this answer is no worse than many secular answers to the question which claim that killing infants is wrong because the parents don’t like it, or society values infants, or because a fully informed rational person would desire there preservation, and so on. All of which are offered as serious candidates in the literature today.

  • “Don’t assume that when she says something about me I put her up to it.”

    I wouldn’t.

    Thanks for replying!

    “Much of it tied up with really tricky metaphysical questions of personal identity.”

    If everyone bar ‘psychopaths’ are intelligent enough to know Murder is wrong, surely a good percentage if not most are intelligent enough to know why…

    “I suspect that most lay people would quite quickly find themselves unable to offer a defensible answer as the questions continued.”

    Perhaps if they had not thought about it before.
    But surely it can’t take too long for them to say:
    “It is good that she exists”

    and I would suggest only a psychopath would ask why is goodness valuable…

  • If everyone bar ‘psychopaths’ are intelligent enough to know Murder is wrong, surely a good percentage if not most are intelligent enough to know why…

    That does not follow, the fact people can recognise that something is the case does not mean they can easily recognise why. Most people can recognise that the sun rises, throughout history very few people knew the physics of why it does.

    “It is good that she exists”
    and I would suggest only a psychopath would ask why is goodness valuable…

    If only if were that simple, we know its wrong to kill my wife, one points out this means her life is valuble. Then immediately issues arise, first , when we say her lifes valuble is does this mean her life is valuble to her, if so does this mean she actually has to value her life. If so then only beings who have the ability to value the future have a right to life and hence infanticide is permissible.

    Alternatively, it might be that when we say her life is valuble to her, we mean she will come to value the her life if she continues to exist.

    If this is true then in principle infants and foetuses can have valuable futures, providing of course the infant/ fetus is the same individual as the adult is, but this depends on wether the psychological account of personal identity or the bodily account of personal identity is true.

    Or it could mean that if she was fully informed and rational she would value her future, but if this is the case we still need to ask what how we cash this out. Does that mean its such that the desires she actually has would lead her to value it if she were given full information in which case only beings with actual desires have a right to life.

    Or is it rather merely that if she were fully informed and rational she would value it regardless of the desires she currently has. If so then non sentient beings can have a right to life if there future is such that they would value it if they were informed and rational.

    Moreover seeing different futures contain different amounts of goods, how does this fit with other claims such as people are equal so that killing one is not worse than kill another.
    Or what about people who have only a short time to live and hence a less valuble future.

    Alternatively, does saying her life is valuble mean something else, that she has dignity and must be treated as an end. If so in virtue of what does she have dignity
    And so on

  • Dicky P. It’s wrong to kill “ealry life” (as in “newborn babies”) because its uncivilised. Western societies proclaim ad-nauseum how civilised they are; yet the true measure of a civilised society is to measure how well that scoeity cares for its most vulnerable. Currently in Western Society, the most vulnerable, innocent and most in need of protection are disabled babies. Killing them, pre or post natally, is a primitive, animal reaction. I thought we’d moved on from this. I thought we were civilised?

  • Matt, how does the ol’ Golden Rule figure into this discourse? Can we ask the question “what would I want done to me” in the case of considering abortions? It seems like a good starting place for articulating what is right about our intuitions against infanticide. We can think “I won’t do that to an fetus/infant because I would not have wanted that to have been done to me”.

    My own relatively uninformed thoughts on this issue are along these lines: It seems that we couldn’t rationally affirm such actions that we would not want to be done to ourselves since the considerations in favor of doing it to the other are not the same as those for NOT having it done to ourselves.

  • Prayer After Birth (Acknowledgements and Apologies to Louis MacNeice).

    I am now born: please hear me,
    Let not the debt collectors,
    Or the rights protectors,
    Or the seditious insurrectors come near me.

    I am now born, comfort me,
    Else I fear that the human-folk may:
    With clever lies debase me,
    With bad science un-race me,
    And with strong drugs erase me.

    I am now born: please bestow me,
    Among the dancing grass, babbling brooks,
    Swaying trees and singing rooks,
    Undiminished bright light of grace and truth,
    To restore me.

    I am now born, with lullabies lull me,
    With warm cuddles mull me,
    With deep love sustain me, and,
    With silence, not gainsay me.

  • I’m gonna try to combine two threads here.

    MF seems to be saying that killing a conceptus is wrong. He seems to be saying that the act itself is wrong, that the wrongness of the act somehow arises from something intrinsic to the act itself. Saying , in effect, that the act itself, removed from its intentions and its consequences, is wrong. One may argue that the act of killing a conceptus may be brought about because of savory intentions (e.g. to save life of mother) or unsavory intentions (e.g. not desiring to have an unwelcome mouth to feed) or may also have fortunate consequences (e.g. delivering a conceptus straight to the loving arms of Jesus) or unfortunate consequences (e.g. depriving a conceptus of a earthly existence). But MF seems to be saying it is neither the intentions leading to, nor the consequences that result from, an action which makes it morally wrong. He seems to be suggesting an action has an essence which makes it wrong, an essence which necessitates there being a divine command which makes it wrong, or something.

    But, also, in a Facebook thread, MF is asking us to consider, regarding a passage in Numbers 5, that JesusGod has lied (allowed deception, perpetuated a ruse) so as to bring about better consequences. The situation in Numbers 5 is a trial by ordeal instituted by JesusGod whereby a jealous husband brings a wife suspected of adultery to the priest to imbibe a concoction that would cause a display (a women’s abdomen swelling and “thigh falling out”) to the priest and husband from which a verdict of guilty or not guilty could be determined. MF asks us to imagine that such a deception by JesusGod (or perhaps the deception is carried out by the priest and allowed by JesusGod) is okay because the results of such a deception is that fewer women would be killed by means of older customs. (I.e. the trial by ordeal custom, though a ruse, had better consequences/outcomes than previous cultural practices, which may have included stoning or drowning suspected female adulterers). MF seems to be asking us to consider that such deception is okay because of it’s allowing for a bringing about of better outcomes.

    Might someone offer some thoughts about how such argumentation by MF might be remedied so as not to appear contradictory.

  • David, not sure what the contradiction you refer to it.

    First, I don’t recall saying that the act of killing a human being is wrong intrinsically removed from all its intentions and consquences are wrong. Obviously for example the fact killing someone has the consequence of rendering them dead, as opposed to bringing about a regeneration whereby there life is enhanced makes a significant difference to its wrong status. What I have argued is that I don’t think there is a relevant moral difference between infanticide and feticide. So that if the former is wrong the latter must be as well.

    Second, I didn’t claim deception was ok merely because it had “better outcomes” I suggested that the prohibition on deception is not absolute and that its permissible to lie to save other peoples lives. This is not the same as saying one can lie whenever the outcomes are better.

    It seems to me you are stuck in a consequentialist paradigm. Whereby actions are right and wrong determined by their consquences and either can’t see the alternatives to this or interpret every non-absolutist position as consquentialist.

    I am not a consequentialist. Nor do I need to be: One could for example simply approach lying the way one approaches killing.
    It’s generally wrong to kill, and there is a moral rule against killing, which one needs to follow even if the perceived of killing consequences are good: So for example we don’t kill innocent people and harvest there organs to save the lives of many.

    Similarly with lying, it’s generally wrong and there is a rule against it which holds even if the consequences are better.

    However there are situation in which killing is permissible such as self-defence or to protect others from violent attack. A persons can’t hide behind the rule against killing, if he himself is breaking it. In such a situation the immunity from violence does not apply. Similarly with deception it’s permissible to lie or deceive when an innocent person is being attacked.

  • “…That does not follow, the fact people can recognise that something is the case does not mean they can easily recognise why. Most people can recognise that the sun rises, throughout history very few people knew the physics of why it does.”

    First I didn’t mean it as an Imperative Deduction hence the words “good percentage if not most” Secondly your example is not that good as people throughout history did know why the sun rises, they just didn’t know ‘how’ which is what physics tells us.

    “If only if were that simple, we know it’s wrong to kill my wife, one points out this means her life is valuable. Then immediately issues arise, first, when we say her life’s valuable is does this mean her life is valuable to her, if so does this mean she actually has to value her life. If so then only beings that have the ability to value the future have a right to life and hence infanticide is permissible.”

    It is that simple, why jump back to your valuable point, when my goodness point is better:
    “It is good that she exists.”
    Is it good for her? -> Yes
    Is it good objectively? -> Yes

    “If this is true then in principle infants and foetuses can have valuable futures, providing of course the infant/ fetus is the same individual as the adult is, but this depends on wether the psychological account of personal identity or the bodily account of personal identity is true.”

    Really? It’s pretty simple.
    Were you ever a baby? -> Yes, My auntie reminds me all the time “I knew you when you were just a baby.”
    Only a psycho would deny that they were essentially/substantially a different person when they were younger.

    “Alternatively, does saying her life is valuable mean something else, that she has dignity and must be treated as an end. If so in virtue of what does she have dignity.”
    This one is worth addressing.

    She has dignity in virtue of her inherent goodness.
    She is irreplaceable.
    She is utterly unique.

  • Matt
    Are you aware of the event coming up at Laidlaw that you might be interested in?

  • Nick, no, I seem to be out of the loop about events at Laidlaw. What event are you referring to?

  • Really? It’s pretty simple.
    Were you ever a baby? -> Yes, My auntie reminds me all the time “I knew you when you were just a baby.”
    Only a psycho would deny that they were essentially/substantially a different person when they were younger.

    In fact one of the standard positions on personal identity, the neo-Lockean view, does deny that we were ever babies. I agree that this is absurd, but plenty of intelligent, non-Psycho people argue the opposite and give quite technical reasons for doing so.

  • Hi Matt
    Laidlaw are having Dr Dirk Jongkind from Tyndale House, Cambridge giving two lectures one about NT manuscripts and the other on canonical Gospel formation. They are on Tuesday 20th March 7.30-9.30 and Thursday 22nd 7.30-9.30. You can get details from their website.

  • Matt,

    Away for a while. No more facebook account. I figure anything I want I can either get, or get linked to, at phaser’s place or mandm.

    Anyway, where is the strongest case against abortion to be found? Is it your dissertation? And is that going to be published? I’d like to take a look at it, if possible. Sorry if I’m behind the curve and you’ve already covered this.

    And there’s several huge self-referential issues here. One is that inherent goodness is already built into the discussion itself—and not just because one preferentially carries out that activity with those who differ instead of say killing them or ignoring them as valueless—but because that built-in and already-assumed goodness is, among other things, known and assumed as a set of universals rules of intellectual operations. Any denial of this, or even mere discussion of it, assumes its own goodness, a goodness about the adjudication of goodness itself, which in turn assumes some value in the participating minds who do the adjudicating.

    Self-referential errors are like a type of clothing called fat-hiders: the only kind that would ever work would kill the wearer.

  • Bit by bit, secular pro-death people have chipped away at life. And bit by bit, they seem to succeed. Hopefully, the horror of this concept will finally resonate with the public and generate some much-needed backlash.

  • Hi Matt and Madeline ,
    My post is a little bit out of place here, but im hoping you may be able to assist me.

    I was reading the news article linked to this blog and was curious if the journalist’s quotes were correct and if so where they were quoted from. I have listened to the radio links twice and have been unable to locate the origins if the quotes.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Samantha , the reporter for the herald interviewed me over the phone and took notes, the quotes are relatively accurate though the context, of some of the statements is unclear, for example I make a comment about people suffering from depression, before i made that comment I had explained that the Giubilini and Minerva had contended infanticide/abortion was permissible because infants and fetuses don’t value there own future existence, and offered the depression example as one of several counter example to that criterion of personhood.

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