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If you are an editor of a journal you might worry about publishing a paper that discusses killing babies. The latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics has an article by two academics arguing academically the following:
" A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human."
They go on to discuss how, if family circumstances are such that it puts intolerable strain on the family to look after a baby with a profound disability- then you should be able to have a very late abortion.....i.e. after the baby is born....
Now one might have predicated the outcry- few articles in the Journal of medical ethics have 250 comments and although the authors say "it happens in the Netherlands" where doctors can actively "terminate" the life of a baby with a terrible prognosis- this article doesn't end up as an arguement about moral equivalence of baby versus fetus (the authors argue when does a baby become a person?) but an ethics discusison of limited interest unless you look at it in more real terms when it becomes morally repugnant.
So should some ethical discussions just be cut off before they become three or so pages of arguement or should we allow for free speech?
Hate mail so far has included: "Right now I think these two devils in human skin need to be delivered for immediate execution under their code of ‘after birth abortions’ they want to commit murder – that is all it is! MURDER!!!”.
The editor of the journal who advocated publishing this wrote on the journal's website:
".....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.
Of course for that debate to take place in the Journal of Medical Ethics, many of whose readers, doctors and health care workers as well as philosophers, may well disagree, perhaps strongly, with the paper’s arguments, we needed first to make sure that the paper, like any other submitted to the Journal, was of sufficient academic quality for us to publish; and the normal way in which we determine this is to invite academics in relevant disciplines to review the paper critically for us, so that we can eventually make an informed decision about whether or not to publish it, either in its original or (as in this case) a form revised in the light of the reviewers’ reports.
Satisfied by the reviewers’ reports and my further editorial review that the paper was of sufficient academic quality to be published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, and being charged with making the decision as an Editor with no conflict of interest in the matter, since unlike my fellow-editors in the relatively small world of international academic medical ethics I have never met the authors, and indeed personally do not agree with the conclusions of their paper, I decided that it was appropriate to publish it in the interest of academic freedom of debate.
So should we have published it?