As readers of The Catholic Thing are well aware, the Journal of Medical Ethics, a periodical to which I have contributed, recently published the controversial article, “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?”, written by the philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.Throughout the article, the authors refer to fetuses and newborns as “potential persons,” which, I am sure, sounds like an odd neologism for those uninitiated in contemporary moral philosophy. It is, however, a phrase that has been used in the bioethics literature for over four decades.
According to Giubilini and Minerva, “fetuses and newborns. . .are potential persons because they can develop, thanks to their own biological mechanisms, those properties which will make them ‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’: that is, the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life.”
This is why, argue the authors, it is morally permissible to kill fetuses and newborns. They are only potential persons, not actual persons.