First of all, take a deep breath.
Secondly, recognize this for what it is: An academic exercise. I’ve heard ethicists trying to justify the Holocaust but that doesn’t mean they favor it. This is what ethicists do for a living; they ask questions.
By seeking to expand or limit the definition of a “person,” their arguments clarify other real life ethical situations. Not that babies already out of the womb should be murdered. Again, they are not arguing that position. But rather, they are presenting hypothetical arguments for discussion that might apply to other ethical decisions. This is about form, not content. It’s about the shape of ethical arguments, not their substance.
In this case, it’s a silly game played by those who aren’t much interested in academic freedom as much as they are in their own personal aggrandizement. I can’t believe that the authors of the paper didn’t realize the firestorm of controversy that would erupt. They easily could have taken a different hypothetical to illustrate the form of their arguments. The fact is, they have needlessly offended millions of people — as those ethicists who have created exercises justifying other horrific events have done in the past.
Here’s an hysterical overreaction by by the National Catholic Register. The gentleman obviously doesn’t understand the field of medical ethics and how those ethics are derived in a world that is incredibly complex. The melding of technology, knowledge, and personal morality in medicine have put enormous burdens on doctors and other health care providers that strain the limits of our capacity to act ethically. When does life begin? When does life end? What is “quality of life?” These are not simple questions, despite what some on both sides of the issue believe. In the real world, doctors have to define those answers every single day. Each patient is different. Each case demands an individual evaluation. They look to the work of ethicists not so much for answers, but rather as a way to make their own judgments regarding life and death.
I understand the depth of feeling this exercise has evoked. But it is not evidence of a “slippery slope” for the simple reason that no one is arguing the position that, in the real world, babies already born have no absolute right to life. It is a terrible hypothetical — much like the way some view the famous Quantum Mechanics hypothetical of Schrodinger’s cat. But it has no practical application outside of how the hypothetical is argued — not what it is arguing.
Making an effort to understand why ethicists would ask such a question — and rightly criticizing the authors of the paper for their insensitivity — is what is needed here. Not over the top hellfire and damnation for academics who raise troubling questions about medicine in the 21st century.