Is Infanticide the Next Logical Step Beyond Abortion?

Several days ago, The Journal of Medical Ethics, which is an international peer-reviewed journal for health professionals and researchers in medical ethics, published a new article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.  In this paper, Giubilini and Minerva advance four major lines of argument, regarding the right of societies to abort newly born infants:

  1. As a society, we have endorsed the moral acceptability of abortion even in circumstances where the fetus’ health is not at risk.
  2. Because the fetus and the newborn infant both lack cognitive awareness, they do not share the same moral status as actual persons.
  3. Any potential to develop into an actual person is irrelevant as their current cognitive development does not permit them to understand their own potential and thus they are not capable of experiencing a sense of loss in terms of their own future potential.
  4. Adoption is “not always in the best interest of actual people.”

Therefore, Giubilini and Minerva find themselves in the position of advocating a stance long held by highly influential Peter Singer,[1] who is most famous for once having argued:

“Human babies are not born self-aware or capable of grasping that they exist over time.  They are not persons.  Therefore, the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”[2]

So what do you think?  Is there a moral difference between aborting a fetus in utero and taking the life of a newborn infant?  And if so, what is that difference?

[1] Peter Singer is an animal rights activist who serves as the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and the Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

[2] Singer, Peter, Practical Ethics (Cambridge University Press, London: 2011).  This book was first published in 1979.

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12 Responses to Is Infanticide the Next Logical Step Beyond Abortion?

  1. Richard Armour says:

    President Obama does not see a difference. He voted as such 3 times as an Illinois Senator. That alone is a disqualifier for my vote. Sad thing is he probably got millions of votes from pro-life people.

    • To clarify, the authors of this article are not merely talking about taking the life of a child who survived an abortion. These authors are arguing that a parent can “change his/her mind” up to the point of “cognition.” So we’re talking weeks, months …? Hard to say.

      P.S. Thanks for linking to the article in your comments. I always appreciate people taking the time to support their assertions.

      • Richard Armour says:

        I know, and that of course is even more alarming. I just thought it was interesting that the bridge is already being built to the “brave new world” you are talking about. We won’t get across chasm to killing without cognition without intrim steps like killing those born alive after botched abortions.

  2. Josh The Younger says:

    I don’t know how these people define cognition, but the dictionary defines it as “the act or process of knowing; perception” ( Ok, maybe fetuses can’t reason or imagine (and be honest here, we don’t really know), but they can feel pain at around 20 weeks of development, and they certainly hold the potential to become “actual persons” with full reasoning abilities. Saying that just because they can’t understand their potential gives an excuse to take it away is simply ridiculous.

    Why is the life of an infant a second after birth more important that that of an infant a second before birth? Can it reason any better? Is it more useful to society? No. The only difference is that one is outside the mother’s body and the other is inside. One has a face and a voice, the other doesn’t.

    • And your latter point is exactly what these folks are arguing, Josh. What is the difference save for location? In terms of functional ability, very little.

      As to your earlier point regarding pain, I think that’s a great point. Michael Vick goes to jail on the grounds of making animals fight – animals that feel pain. But when it comes to infants, pain isn’t in the discussion. Why is that?

  3. David Jones says:

    I do not see how their argument is logical. First, how can they say that the typcial baby lacks “cognitive awareness” or “self-awareness”? How do they know that? How do they define those terms? At best, all they can say is that a baby’s awareness might not be as developed as that of an adult (but given enough time, it will). But when does it cross over? How would society know when a child actually becomes a person? Also, what if an adult lost awareness due to an accident or a disease? Does that man or woman suddenly forfeit personhood? Does personhood fluctuate with self-awareness? If I’m in a coma for a month, am I no longer a person? If I come out of the coma, do I regain my personhood? Do I lose personhood when I sleep? Second, who even said that personhood is based on awareness alone and not other factors? Their argument assumes that belief but does not prove it. Third, how does a baby lack personhood simply because that child does not “understand their own potential” or “experience a sense of loss”? We understand their potential and we experience a sense of loss when a child dies. Parents who have lost an infant understand this acutely. Some women who have aborted a child also know it. Is personhood granted on the basis of ontology (who we are) or function (what we do)?

    This is both infuriating and morbidly chilling at the same time. If this thinking takes root in our society, it is game over for anyone who is not up to the standard set by society, whether young, old, disabled, learning disadvantaged–whatever. One of the strategies employed by those who want to commit genocide is to deny the personhood of the targeted group. It makes it easier to kill them once the genocide begins. It is my understanding that Peter Singer is the son of Holocaust survivors. He should know better than this.

    • I think your questions regarding ontology vs. functionally are at the very center of this debate. We have a friend of ours who gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome. They hadn’t done any of the early testing, and thus were completely surprised when she was born. In talking to them, I have learned of things that absolutely terrify me in terms of where we’re at as a society. At a time when children with Down Syndrome are experiencing unbelievable growth in terms of lifestyle and life expectancy, fewer and fewer are being born. At present, approximately 92% of pregnant mothers opt to abort if the early tests reveal that their child has Down Syndrone. So as a society, we seem to be moving towards a place where functionality determines worth; and that opens up a whole host of issues both at the front end and back end of life.

      For that matter, how far is leap to saying that a poor person doesn’t contribute positively to society’s overall progress, and thus isn’t worthy of societal support? While many secularists may flinch at this, it’s really not that great a leap. Singer himself is a utilitarianist who has argued that “the greatest good of the greatest number” is the only measure of good or ethical behaviour. So if it could be demonstrated that society was being unduly drained by its support of the impoverished, we would have a right to do away with that class of people.

      • David Jones says:

        The arrogance of it all is staggering. The thought that one person gets to determine the personhood–and by implication the existence–of another is the height of conceit. Frightening!

  4. bob bryant says:

    Very sick and just plain evil. My question is how are these people defining ethics in the health professional world? What ever happened to do no harm?

  5. Herbert Verbeke says:

    I think that a new born baby and even a fetus have an illusion of self-consciousness in some grade and in their own environment, like all other beings with brains. Of course, this illusion is changing and growing constantly with growing and changing contact with the outer world. Therefore I make more objection against the criminal abortion of a sound fetus before being born, than against killing a new born baby with clear and serious handicaps, which make further life a misery for this human being, other persons and the society. Note that there isn’t such thing as a self-consciousness.

  6. Noah Kim says:

    The authors of this article are only seeing the scientific value of a life. Sure, scientifically all that might be true. But a life I far more than just science. Even if the baby is disabled now, it could grow up to be an amazing person later. There are disabled people all over the world who achieved more than a completely able person. Killing the baby doesn’t just kill that moment of life. It kills all the hope of what he or she could’ve become in the future.

  7. lamehousewife says:

    Both are morally wrong because a person is a person as soon as he/she is conceived…I think John Paul II’s “The Gospel of Life” is pretty eloquent on the culture that wants to degrade persons to being mere instruments of usefulness. I pray that more doctors regain their consciences so that the “mad” scientists, the indifferent gaze, will not have so much power. Blessings brother.

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