01/03/2012 11:15 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

'Killing Newborn Babies No Different To Abortion?" Academic Argues

Death threats for doctor who said killing newborns is no worse than abortion Getty

A researcher who claimed that killing newborn babies is no worse than abortion has been subjected to death threats.

Francesca Minerva from the University of Melbourne wrote the paper with Alberto Giubilini, a university teaching assistant. They posed the question: After-birth Abortion: Why should the baby live?

The authors suggest that newborns do not have a 'moral right to life' as they are not 'actual persons' and 'lack those proprieties that justify the attribution of a right to life of an individual'.

Babies could, therefore, theoretically be killed if the mother was unable to look after them, or if adoption would be psychologically distressing for the mother. The paper also suggested it could be appropriate if the parents discovered, after birth, that the child is disabled.

The paper was deemed a 'pure academic, theoretical discussion' piece by Dr Minerva, who said "This is not a political paper, this is not a proposal for a law."

Dr Minerva - who is also a Research Associate at Oxford University - said the past four days had been the worst of her life, and called for the public to understand the perspective of her work, saying it was based on 30 years of medical ethics discussions. She said she had not been expecting such a negative reaction to the paper because of its academic and theoretical context.

She writes in the paper:

"Both a foetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons but neither is a 'person' in the sense of a 'subject of a moral right to life'."

"We take 'person' to mean 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."

"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."

Speaking about the death threats made against her, Dr Minerva said that most of them came from pro-Life and religious groups groups. She said the threats seemed to be a 'misuse of religion', adding: "I thought religion was about compassion and love. I must be wrong."

Julian Savulescu, editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics who published the report, defended its publication and criticised the mainly anonymous abuse directed at its authors. He wrote on his blog:

"This article has elicited personally abusive correspondence to the authors, threatening their lives and personal safety. The Journal has received a string abusive emails for its decision to publish this article."

"The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world."

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