As ‘After-birth Abortion’ spread around the world and gained wide publicity ​— ​that damned Internet ​— ​non-ethicists greeted it with derision or shock or worse. The authors and the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics were themselves shocked at the response. As their inboxes flooded with hate mail, the authors composed an apology of sorts that non-ethicists will find more revealing even than the original paper.

‘We are really sorry that many people, who do not share the background of the intended audience for this article, felt offended, outraged, or even threatened,’ they wrote. ‘The article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments.’ It was a thought experiment. After all, among medical ethicists ‘this debate’ ​— ​about when it’s proper to kill babies ​— ‘has been going on for 40 years.’

Andrew Ferguson. I think Ferguson might make even more of this than he does. The editors are saying, quite straightforwardly, We do not expect or want the people who could be affected by our recommendations to see those recommendations, or how we arrive at them. This is the classic behavior of what Coleridge called the “clerisy,” the self-appointed intellectual custodians of society: Run along, now, little ones, while your betters make decisions on your behalf. To call this attitude “contemptible” would be too kind by half.