Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ethical infanticide

Two ethicists in Australia have argued, in an international journal of medicine, that it is acceptable to kill a newborn baby soon after birth. Some of you may have seen this already, but for those who haven't, click here. If you just threw up in your mouth a little bit, I understand, Go spit it out and get a glass of water. I'll wait.

Ready? Ok.

They admit that a baby, even a fetus, is both a "human being" and a "potential person." But a newborn baby is NOT a "person," because a person is someone who "is capable of attributing to her existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her." In short, to be considered a person, and thus to merit "a moral right to life," you must possess the cognitive function to be aware of your existence and to attach value to that existence.

So newborns are not people. If the continued existence of the child would cause hardship to the parents or society (for instance, if the child had Downs syndrome),  then the "actual personhood" of the parents, or society as a whole, would override the "potential personhood" of the newborn baby. There is, therefore, no reason to keep the baby alive: the most sensible option is to kill him or her to eliminate the inconvenience to the "actual" people.

So here's another thing that isn't explicitly pointed out in the article: This type of reasoning is not limited to babies with birth defects. All newborns are merely "potential people"... and they remain potential people for a long time, until they develop the cognitive skills to assign value to their existence. So you could choose to kill your child just because it would cause you economic hardship. Because it would inconvenience you. As to adoption, the researchers state that here, once again, the rights of "actual people" supersede those of "potential people": they say that the natural mother suffers psychological distress from giving up her child to someone else--the natural solution being, of course, to merely kill the child out of hand.

Now here's the really important thing: Once you accept the moral goodness (or at least ambiguity) of abortion, you have no ground for arguing against this. This is the logical next step for those who support abortion. If a child who has not been born does not deserve life, then surely a child who has been just born does not deserve life. What is the difference between a child seconds before being born and a child seconds after being born? And what is the difference between a child seconds after being born and a child one year old? As the National Catholic Register has pointed out;

"Once you say all human life is not sacred, the rest is just drawing random lines in the sand."

Random lines. This is the next logical step... but it is not the last. If merely being human does not give you an inherent right to live, then what does? For now, the line has been drawn at being aware of the value of existence. But it is an arbitrary line, and it cannot ever be more than that. Where will the arbitrary line be drawn next? Mental retardation? A minimum IQ level? Once you accept that "personhood" is something that can be defined and redefined at will, there is no logical defense against moving that line still further. I cannot stress this enough. If you support abortion, then you support this kind of reasoning. Think it through. Try and find some logical, consistent way to justify killing unborn children and defending the lives of the newborn.

I'm angry, and sad, and disgusted and horrified right now. I can only say that this is the future secularism has led us too: It is the only path secularism can take, could ever take, and it will progress further and further down it until it destroys itself... or until God comes to make all things new.

EDIT: The ethicists have since done a radio interview to clarify their position, which is summarized here. I just want to post one excerpt: "She notes that after-birth abortions should be permitted if parents decide that they want to prevent their child from having a difficult or painful life. One of the reasons many people abort fetuses, she notes, is due to diseases or other deformities. But, some of these disorders are not detected while the child is in the womb. In cases such as this, Minerva and Giubilini argue in their paper, termination of the newborn should be allowed. This sentiment should also apply then to healthy newborns, she says, because some people abort perfectly health fetuses for a variety of personal reasons as well." Indeed they do... and none of them right.


  1. There are a thousand things I wan to say, wish i could say. But words fail me.

  2. I know what you mean. I felt sick after finishing this, like I was going to throw up. I sat there for ten minutes before writing those last two sentences.