The Case For Infanticide

Pro-lifers have long argued that it is a slippery slope from abortion to infanticide; in the case of partial-birth abortion, the distinction is slim at best. Ridiculous, liberals have long replied. Who could confuse abortion with infanticide?

Ethicists, maybe. No, this is not a parody: “Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say.”

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born. …

The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.

They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. …

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

The authors therefore concluded that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”.

They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that “only the 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing.

Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote. “To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practiced.

They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.

So there you have it–the paranoid fears of pro-lifers, realized. A few additional thoughts come to mind. First, if babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life,” then why is it only their parents who are entitled to kill them? Shouldn’t they be fair game for anyone? In particular, as the authors note, the state has a legitimate interest in the cost of dealing with disabilities. So does the state have a right to mandate an “after-birth abortion?” If not, why not?

Second, what exactly is a “newborn?” How old does a child have to be before he or she becomes a “person?” Not all disabilities are apparent at birth. What if a child is three years old, say, when his parents realize that he has a disability of some sort? Or what if the child is ten, and the state finds out that she has a hitherto-undiscovered condition that will require expensive medical treatment? Is it too late to kill the child, or not? And what about mentally disabled infants? Do the mentally disabled ever become “persons?”

Perhaps such questions are answered in the article in the Journal of Medical Ethics; if so, I doubt that our readers would find the answers reassuring.

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