Dead is dead: A coldblooded academic exercise in “fetal reduction”

By Dave Andrusko

Photo: ©Nevit Dilmen

Even before I came to National Right to Life, lo these many years ago, I knew that by and large the bioethics set was composed of some strange characters. There were, of course, notable exceptions. You think of Gilbert Meilaender and J. David Bleich and Wesley J. Smith and John Keown, but they are few and far between.

Most bioethicists will tell you that member of their ever-expanding pool of victims are better off dead (those with various degrees of cognitive injuries) or never really existed at all (the unborn and the newborn) because they lack the necessary qualities deemed by bioethicist to qualify as a “person.”

I thought of this when I read a post at the University of Oxford’s “Practical Ethics” blog.

Roger Crisp, the co-author, is a high mucky-muck in the bioethics-sphere. He is a fellow and tutor in philosophy at St. Anne’s College, Oxford and a Findlay visiting professor at the Department of Philosophy at Boston University.

Along with his co-author, Crisp is pondering “Fetal Reduction in a Multiple Pregnancy: the Case of Identical Twins.” The question is, at least for them, whether there any difference between aborting a single baby (a “singleton”), and “fetal reduction” (aka “selective reduction”) when a mom is carrying more than one baby and “selectively” aborts one or more babies. (They pay virtually no attention to the variable they add in the title”: that the twins are identical. Interesting.)

Couple of points. First, they avoid the whole topic of sex-selective abortions where the reason to abort either a “singleton” or one of multiple babies is precisely because the baby is female. But, I understand, that is a separate topic.

Second, granted these are bioethicists, but the way they construct their argument is massively confusing. But the bottom line isn’t. It’s straightforward.

The mother shouldn’t be thinking she is “playing God,” nor should the surviving baby feel guilty.

In our view, the mother has no reason to be especially distressed, since, other things being equal, fetal reduction is ethically equivalent to a standard singleton abortion. To the extent that fetal reduction involves playing God, so does a singleton abortion. It is true that fetal reduction may involve a choice about which fetus is to survive, but singleton abortion involves a choice about whether or not a fetus is to survive, and these choices seem to be on a moral par.

So (a) if you abort one baby, you’re “playing God” no more or no less than aborting one of two twins which means (b)the mother shouldn’t feel “especially stressed.”

To put it bluntly, dead is dead.

And the mother also “has no reason to be especially distressed” based on how the death decision is made: whether choosing “the less healthy fetus”; or because one of the babies is “easier” to remove; or the decision is left to the abortionist; or “is decided by the toss of a coin.”

Such is the detached, bloodless decision-making process courtesy of the academic Mt. Olympus.