Ever heard of the Journal of Medical Ethics ?

6 March 2012

Outside of its particular academic field, most of us probably hadn’t, until a few days ago.

The Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) describes itself as “a leading international journal that reflects the whole field of medical ethics. The journal seeks to promote ethical reflection and conduct in scientific research and medical practice”.

Well, it did somewhat more than promote “ethical reflection” when it recently published an article by 2 Melbourne academics on the subject of After-Birth Abortion: why should the baby live?

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It created a storm of controversy, as you might expect from views such as the following:

  • newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”
  • a ‘person’ (is taken to be) 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
  • it is “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.
The editor of JME has justified publication of the article on the basis that “the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view.  It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”

You don’t need to be a devotee of Andrew Bolt or a card carrying member of the lunatic fringe (you can find a nice selection of their views HERE) to find the proposition morally reprehensible, as the pages of comments on the JME site and the 2201 comments on the Telegraph site testify.

But I don’t really object to the JME actually publishing such an article (although I appreciate a lot of people do*).  As a member of JME’s

The cute newborn featured in newspaper articles here and the UK

editorial board explained it:

…..I know that arguing strongly for a position with which many people will disagree and some even find offensive, is something that philosophers are often willing, and may even feel they have a duty, to do, in order that their arguments may be tested in the crucible of debate with other philosophers who are equally willing to argue strongly against them.

Never mind what other philosophers might think.  This argument has been well and truly tested in the crucible of public debate and soundly melted down.

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*  A common view about the merits of publishing such an article and the Journal’s defence thereof is  that

Savulescu (the editor)  is correct, our society gets overly hysterical and can’t handle intellectual discussion on moral ethics. I long for a society where you could freely and calmly discuss genocide. Like, say, Germany 1933.

 

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