Infanticide Becomes Justifiable

Over the last few decades, some of the world’s foremost bioethicists have considered baby killing worthy of respectable debate.

Singer has repeatedly argued that since both late-term fetuses and newborn infants lack the cognition required to attain the status of “person,” infanticide should be permitted under the same circumstances in which society permits the abortion of viable fetuses. He is far from alone in tying the morality of infanticide to the ethics of late-term abortion.

 

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote that bioethicists “professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on the way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as unexceptionable.” After the events of the last few weeks, the same could be said of liberal politicians.

Infanticide was once “unthinkable.” But over the last few decades, some of the world’s foremost bioethicists have considered baby killing worthy of respectable debate.

Princeton University’s Peter Singer is the most famous such advocate. A crass utilitarian, he argues that “being human” doesn’t have any moral import. The question of value rather depends on whether an individual exhibits the cognitive traits of a “person” over time, such as self-awareness. In this view, some human beings are non-persons—an invidious category that includes the unborn, infants, the profoundly cognitively disabled, and those who have lost their personhood through illness or injury.

Non-persons do not possess the right to life. In Rethinking Life and Death, Singer explicitly compares human non-persons to mackerel: “Since neither a newborn infant nor a fish is a person, the wrongness of killing such beings is not as great as the wrongness of killing a person.” He opines in Practical Ethics:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

Singer has repeatedly argued that since both late-term fetuses and newborn infants lack the cognition required to attain the status of “person,” infanticide should be permitted under the same circumstances in which society permits the abortion of viable fetuses.

Singer is far from alone in tying the morality of infanticide to the ethics of late-term abortion. Several years ago, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an infanticide advocacy piece asserting that whatever justifies abortion also supports the right of parents to have unwanted infants killed:

In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice “after-birth abortion”, rather than “infanticide”, to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which “abortions” in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.

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