Infanticide: Why Not?

By Dave Andrusko

Peter Singer

With the occasional exception of “bioethicists” such as Peter Singer, very few proponents of unlimited abortion are willing to explicitly say they support infanticide. They aren’t willing to concede that there is no emergency brake to their logic—that the same reasoning that takes dead bead on unborn babies can race pass the “birth barrier” to wipe out babies who have been born.

Until last week the closest I’ve recently come was an account of a ”Battle of Ideas” festival in London last year on the topic of “Abortion: how late is too late?”

I would not put words in her mouth because I don’t know the exact position of Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service on infanticide. But I do know that she looked at a chart outlining fetal development provided by her debating partner and then said she was glad it was made available. Why? Furedi said,

”Because for Will[Saletan], what this does is indicate that there are firm points at which things morally and practically change in the abortion debate. But for me, what this does is actually illustrate my argument that there isn’t any profound point at which you can say there is a difference between one kind of fetus and another.”

My guess is any opposition to infanticide you might be able to wrest from her would be a very weak reed to lean on. And the reason is obvious: besides breathing on her own, what developmental breakthrough occurs when the baby leaves the womb? Nothing.

In “Ethicists give thumbs-up to infanticide,” we read about an article written by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva that appeared last week in the prestigious Journal of Medical Ethics. The title is, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” and darned if they can find a reason.

They write

“Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue 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.”


“If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”

Connect the dots. If it’s good enough to take the life of an unborn child, it’s good enough to take the life of newborn for some [unspecified] period of time. And having raced through that stop light, it’s on to the next category of victims.

Wesley Smith addressed the article over the weekend. What Wesley provides is the context for what this kind of moral free-fall is already paving the way for:

“Heck, if the baby’s life is worth so little, let’s harvest her organs and give them to those babies whose parents want them to live.

“As just one other example of many I could give, the Journal of Medical Ethics also published an article claiming that scientists should be able to remove the kidneys from people diagnosed with PVS-–denigrated as merely “living cadavers”–-and transplant in pig organs in the place of their own organs to test the safety of pig-to-human xenotransplantation.  And it isn’t ‘just’ the Journal of Medical Ethics.  Look at all the ‘respectable’ bioethics journals that have published outright advocacy to allow doctors to kill for organs.

Finally, there is this telling quote from the Journal of Medical Ethics article:

“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.”

This is the point of entry for much of Singer’s arguments. You have all these “potential” people whom Singer is perfectly at ease sacrificing, on the one hand. On the other hand there are all those people who once may have merited protection but because they are a ‘drain” on their families, on a strict cost/benefit analysis it’s okay (for example) to withdraw food and fluids.

As it was once put decades ago, birth would eventually come to be seen “as somewhat like a state border, which an officer of one jurisdiction may disregard if he is following a fugitive in hot pursuit.” Only now the list of “fugitives” grows and grows and grows.

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