Something that is right must not always be good. The debate about the rights of unborn babies and infants tells us why
Several months ago, philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva published an article in the “Journal of Medical Ethics”, in which they argued for the permissibility of killing newly born infants under certain conditions by comparing it to the abortion of unborn babies.
The argument roughly goes like this: Unborn babies and newborns haven’t acquired the moral status of a “person” yet. They are not yet “subjects of a moral right to life,” which the authors tie to the definition of a person as “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.”
The two philosophers believe that a clear definition, a few additional premises, and logical reasoning will lead to the conclusion that no right to life exists for newborns and unborn babies, and that it thus becomes ethically permissible to kill one or the other under certain conditions. I don’t want to discuss the premises of their argument, the original definition of personhood, or the process of logical deduction. Instead, I want to call attention to the conception of morality and ethics that lies at the core of their argument. Evidently, the authors believe that both can be reduced to a few fundamental facts and premises, whose correctness (not their moral acceptability) can be discussed, and from which we can deduce moral judgments through pure reason. Neither the premises nor the conclusions are submitted to the test of whether they are good or bad. The only question posed by the authors is whether they are right (or wrong) and correct (or false).
But morality goes far beyond that. To illustrate that point, we can draw on a thought experiment mentioned in the article. Giubilini and Minerva write about a (hypothetical) woman who is pregnant with identical twins. They suffer from a genetic defect, and the woman has two options available to her: One fetus can be cured if the other fetus is deliberately killed to be used for therapeutic purposes.