Should Infanticide be Legal?

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In a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, promote the idea that regions where abortion is legal should also allow the killing of newborn children. The Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer put forth a similar argument a number of years ago. Singer reasons that beings that do not have “self-consciousness” may justifiably be killed for any reason including mosquitoes, people with severe cognitive disabilities, unborn humans, and newborn babies.

In their article, “After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?,” Giubilini and Minerva argue that because the line between an unborn fetus and a newborn child is arbitrary, there is no reason why parents or others should not be allowed to put to death a newborn infant for any reason.

This reasoning is a logical step from any country that allows abortion on demand, and demonstrates abortion’s chilling effect on the value of human life. Obviously, as Christians, we need to keep standing firmly on the principle that human life and personhood begins at conception. Any other position takes one down this slope toward “after-birth abortion,” Giubilini and Minerva’s cover-up for the term “infanticide.”

The reasoning of both Singer and the authors of this article brings special concern to people with disabilities. For example, although Giubilini and Minerva say that “after-birth abortion” should be allowed for any reason, they give several circumstances in which it may be especially desirable, most having to do with disabilities of the newborn child. For example, they say, “Euthanasia in infants has been proposed by philosophers for children with severe abnormalities whose lives can be expected to be not worth living and who are experiencing unbearable suffering.”

But who decides that a life is not worth living? The brilliant physicist and author, Stephen Hawking, has lived with severe limitations from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) for decades. But even if someone with disabilities is not “productive” in the sense that she or he is working, that would not automatically imply that his or her life is not worth living. In fact, as Christians, we argue that every human life is worth living because every human is made in the image of God.

Peter Singer says that valuing human life over the lives of other creatures that possess self-consciousness is inappropriate, and he names this bias “speciesism.” So instead of dividing lives via the human/non-human divide he chooses to divide life by the self-conscious/non-self-conscious divide. Yet, by introducing this distinction, he creates a bias against any human who does not possess self-consciousness including unborn and newborn children and people who have severe intellectual disabilities. This too is a bias which has a name: ableism. Ableism declares that certain abilities are of greater value than others (in Singer’s case, self-consciousness), and therefore any creature possessing that ability has greater value than those that do not possess that ability.

When we move away from biblical values, humans naturally tend toward devaluing the lives of people with disabilities. Hitler’s “Final Solution” began by exterminating people with disabilities before he began his systematic attempt to kill all Jews. Singer, Giubilini, and Minerva all move in the same direction.

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Great article. The slippery slope argument is generally not convincing to most. But the devil really is in the details.  When you really think about it, what is the  difference between an infant in the womb and one newly birthed? Could we say that the one is physically tied to the mother and is an extension of her life while the newborn has an independent life?  The newborn is still completely tied to the mother, if not physically, then in every other way.  The infant is as dependent on the mother for food, protection and nurture as it ever was. If the mother doesn't have the right to withhold these necessities to the baby after (we'd call that neglect or child abuse), why should she be encouraged to consider doing so before?  Whether in the womb or out, the child's consciousness or sense of self-awareness is not really that different either. Yet kill a newborn baby and most will agree you've done something agregious.  Kill an unborn child and we call it choice.  If we acknowledge that the difference between born and unborn child is not significant, then maybe people can see that abortion is not that different from killing a newborn. 

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I'm a bit surprised that this article in Journal of Medical Ethics hasn't gotten some more jaw-dropping attention from the denomination (Banner and such).  Maybe it will -- I hope so.

Besides arguing that which is what I've said for decades is entirely consistent with most pro-abortion arguments (that infanticide should be allowed because it is essentially the same as abortion), these JME article authors are also bold enough to openly talk about "human and non-human persons."  Essentially, they open the discussion to further exploring their working assumption that some animals should be treated like humans and vice-versa.  This is PETA talk in a serious medical publication and that should concern us.  Among other things, this sort of thinking and talking pretty much puts the very lives of all "disabled" humans at risk.

So thank you, Mark, for taking the time to write about and discuss this JME article.

One more thought: we in the CRC need to really start thinking about how much we might be influenced by the sort of thinking in this JME article.  For example, I was rather dumb founded to read in the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report how is was important that we, as Christians, get to the point where we are really "respecting worms" (the report's word) in order to be true stewards of God's creation.  Huh?  I may incredibly admire God's handiwork by observing all live (and non-life), but the suggestion that I must "respect worms" is at minimum a use of English words that is much too close to positing the categories of "human and non-human persons."

For multiple reasons, CRC'ers need to keep straight the distinctions between people, made in God's image, and non-human creation (animal, vegetative and non-life).

Guide

Benjamin and Doug, thanks for your comments. One would hope, as Benjamin argues, that articles like the JME article would sway people against abortion, seeing it as ending of the same human life that would happen if one waited till the child was born then killing her.

Doug, if you would like to see something about this in the Banner, I encourage you to send them a note as a News Tip or a Letter to the Editor.

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Mark: Thanks for the tip as to the news tip (I didn't know that existed).  I used it.  :-) 

Guide

My pleasure. It's helpful when you aren't interested in sending a letter to the editor but want to get in touch with the staff.