Is infanticide ‘madness’?

Vadim Ghirda AP “The pro-choice position for infanticide appears to be here to stay,” writes Charles Camosy. A recent article … Continued

Vadim Ghirda

AP

“The pro-choice position for infanticide appears to be here to stay,” writes Charles Camosy.

A recent article in the prestigious Journal of Medical Ethics titled “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” caused quite a stir. Two ethicists associated with the University of Oxford essentially claimed that many of the arguments currently used to justify abortion also justify infanticide—even going so far as to say that “economical, social or psychological circumstances” create burdens which could count as acceptable reasons to kill a newborn child. 

Because this deliberatively provocative article was accessible free online (unlike most academic articles), the blogosphere erupted in outrage—and even some more traditional media treated it as a news story. Julian Savulescu, editor of the journal, noted that both he and the authors received death threats. The reaction to the article was so strong that even normally measured voices like Robert George (himself the object of hate speech and death threats for his pro-life views) referred to the argument as “madness.”

I believe we should put infanticide in both its ancient and relatively recent historical context.  The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all defended the sanctity of life against ancient cultures which accepted infanticide as a matter of course. Indeed, the Catholic Church has been making these kinds of logical connections between abortion and infanticide for the better part of 2000 years. The Didache, one of the earliest Christian manuals for converts, specifically mentions them together: “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.” Even in the modern era when infanticide is not a clear public policy issue, we still find the church making this connection. The Second Vatican Council claimed, for instance, that “from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care” and in the next breath that “abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.” Interestingly, the authors of “After-Birth Abortion” share a similar understanding to that of the Catholic Church with regard to the issues and logical reasoning in play. Both agree that certain arguments which permit abortion also permit infanticide.

Several philosophers I talked to could not understand this kind of public outcry—and, indeed, some even thought that the article’s argument was not sufficiently original to be published in the first place. After all, especially as the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition has waned in the developed West, pro-choice arguments for infanticide have become increasingly common. The thinkers who have made such arguments often point out that our culture has rejected a religious respect for the sanctity of human life given our broad acceptance of abortion; instead, we locate the right to life in having morally valuable traits like rationality and self-awareness. Since a newly born child is not rational and self-aware, so the argument goes, one should be able to commit infanticide for many of the same reasons one may now have an abortion. 

This is logical, consistent reasoning.

And the pro-choice position for infanticide appears to be here to stay. In a move which will confuse those who think of this position as something new, Savulescu is planning a special issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics devoted to infanticide which will have contributions from many of its defenders over the past forty years—including himself, Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Jeff McMahon, and more. To his credit, Savulescu is also inviting pro-lifers like myself, Robert George, and John Finnis to contribute diverse and opposing views as well.

How should pro-lifers respond to the debate over infanticide?  I have tried to convince public pro-life figures like George to resist using language like “madness” to describe the arguments of our opponents.  For if one throws out the sanctity of life ethic as one’s moral guide—as we have already done in many aspects of our culture in the developed West—it seems perfectly reasonable to be pro-choice for both abortion and infanticide.  In resisting this shift in defense of the sanctity of life, however, the correct strategy is not to insult or call names (or, God forbid, make threats of violence and murder), but instead we should respectfully engage pro-choice arguments for infanticide. 

Indeed, such arguments provide pro-lifers an important opportunity.  When I first posted the “After Birth Abortion” article to my Facebook wall, several of my pro-choice friends insisted that it was actually written by stealth pro-lifers trying to discredit arguments in favor of abortion.

It was not written by pro-lifers, but based on the pro-life-friendly reactions the article has produced it might as well have been.  Forty years ago the debate over infanticide might have been limited to obscure philosophers, but with the help of today’s digital age the debate has now spilled over into the public sphere—with the result that those who support choice for abortion are now challenged to explain why they do not support choice for infanticide.

Charles C. Camosy is Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University in New York City.  His just-released book is titled “Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization.”    

  • haveaheart

    “the pro-choice position for infanticide appears to be here to stay.”

    This is an irresponsible statement, since the authors of the article specifically reject the use of the term “infanticide” to describe their proposal. They say:

    “We propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise 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.”

    So, this imaginary “pro-choice position for infanticide” is actually a strawman that Mr. Camosy has created for the purposes of furthering his own argument.

    Disingenuous at best.

  • persiflage

    ‘The Second Vatican Council claimed, for instance, that “from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care” and in the next breath that “abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.”’

    If the Catholic Church had the common sense to support conventional contraception globally, they’d have a leg to stand on.
    Inflexible ideology is always their own undoing.

    And despite all the dramatic hand-wringing, in the real world the failure to employ accessible, convenient, and affordable contraceptive methods means a dramatic increase in both abortions and tragically, the murder of infants.

  • cricket44

    Had *no* idea who the author was and I’m reading through thinking “WHAT logic….what on *earth* is this idiot babbling about…” finally reach where he spills his anti-choice cult membership and realize “ooohhhhh, no *wonder* this made no sense whatsoever!”

    Madness = a multi-paragraph rant, er, “article,” supposedly about abortion and not one mention of women and their concerns.

    Typical hyperbolic anti-choice hysteria…fact-free and irrelevant.

  • DavidJ9

    Hasn’t Benedict made it clear that he is rejecting everything the Second Vatican Counsel did and intends to continue to roll the RCC backward?

  • DavidJ9

    It is certainly much easier to repeat inflexible assertions as “moral guidance” than to bother to make the effort to try to understand what is moral, what is not, and how we have arrived at that position today. Clearly morality has evolved over known history. Even within Western religious traditions morality has evolved.

    Few people are willing to let a few rich, powerful old men who refuse to treat women as anything better than chattel and never have to deal with them as spouses claim to be arbiters of morality — particularly when it comes to the rights of women to be treated as equals in society.

  • Kingofkings1

    Infanticide is madness of the worst kind: to prevail over the most defenseless

  • Joel Hardman

    I think you failed to give the article a fair reading. To what specifically are you objecting?

  • Joel Hardman

    I don’t think that the author’s use of the term infanticide renders the article a straw man. Is he bound to use the terms the authors of one article prefer? Infanticide is the common term for killing a new born and its use is appropriate here.

  • persiflage

    ‘All that would be well and good if abortion were not murder.

    How would you set about criminalizing abortion and what would be your recommended penalties?

    There must be some way to work the Old Testament into this archaic formula for civil justice. Kind of like a Christian Sharia Law.

  • persiflage

    ‘Therefore, the Bible is correct in that regard as well, and abortion is just another term for infanticide….’

    Where exactly does the bible say anything about abortion? I can’t recall Jesus addressing the issue. In fact, wasn’t one his best friends a harlot?

    He didn’t discriminate among people, whereas most of his followers do nothing but discriminate and make subjective judgements without end.

  • cricket44

    Infanticide has NOTHING to do with abortion, except to the wilfully ignorant.

  • cricket44

    Joel, the tone, the lies, the assertions based on what the author wants to believe:

    I could write an article about how being anti-choice logically leads to bombing health clinics and shooting doctors. That’s about how this “article” shakes out.

    I know you like the piece, Scott: Lies, irrelevance and fact-free…like your post.

  • cricket44

    Sure, when discussing actual infanticide. Not in *any* discussion trying to add in the topic of abortion. Irrelevant and unconnected.

  • persiflage

    ‘If so, that is human life you are murdering for convenience’

    Scott, have you written that letter of complaint to the Supreme Court yet?

  • cricket44

    “convenience” I, Scott, don’t know *anything * about your personal circumstances but *dang* it, you had sex and somehow “got yourself” pregnant so that makes me mad because wimmin ain’t people but eggs iz so therefore it’s all conveeeeenience.

    Yeah, that’s about it. Ignorant is your shtick.

  • persiflage

    Jesus was no bible thumper…….

  • persiflage

    ‘Laws punishing murder are already on the books’

    My point is for you to spell out your judgement of women who elect to have abortions – what shall be their legal fate? If ScottinVA were in charge, we have to presume that these women would be imprisoned and bound over for trial.

    Would the charge be 1st or 2nd degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter? Of course, a single mother with other children see those children put up for adoption while she served her long sentence.

    What sayeth you?

  • persiflage

    Scott biggest problem is being born several hundred years too late, and the arrow of time only moves in one direction.

  • Catken1

    “Tell me: Is that unique human DNA inside the womb? Are there metabolic processes going on? If so, that is human life you are murdering for convenience.”

    Tell me, is the womb itself a part of the being inside, or the being outside? Does the pregnant woman lack unique human DNA, or metabolic processes? Is one human ever allowed to sustain its life off of another’s internal organs and physical resources without that person’s continuing consent? Is one human ever allowed to treat another human being’s body parts as property, even to save their own life?

    If your body is not the property of anyone who needs it to survive, even someone you’ve injured, even your own child, then neither is a woman’s.

    And Natural Law says that those who do the work and provide the resources for the giving of life are the ones who ought to decide when and how that work shall be done and those resources given. Natural Law does not give you the right to co-opt anyone’s body for anyone else’s use, no matter what your opinion is of the relative value of the human beings in question.

  • Catken1

    “”If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows,”

    “Yet no harm follows” – i.e. even if the child is born prematurely (miscarried, or too young to survive), there is no harm done. Interesting.

    And no, sacrificing an independently-existing child to a god, even your god, is not the equivalent of abortion, any more than sacrificing you for religious purposes is the equivalent of saying no if you need my kidney to survive. Again, you completely dismiss the fact that the unborn child IS LIVING INSIDE SOMEONE ELSE AND USING HER RESOURCES. Not unusual, though, since you and those who think like you deem an adult, thinking, feeling, independently existing woman to be mere soulless property to be used and used for others’ good until she breaks and can be disposed of, not humans to be considered, respected, and honored.

  • Catken1

    “She believes that a woman’s convenience trumps the life of another, even if it was that woman’s irresponsibility that placed the other in his environment inside her womb. ”

    And if your irresponsibility, say while driving, put another in a life-threatening situation, your body and body parts would be yours to give or withhold as you saw fit still, not the other person’s property. If you found it “inconvenient” to give that person so little as a pint of blood, your convenience would trump their life.

    But of course, what passes for logic in your mind is whatever you say is logical. No sources that support your assertion that you have the right to own and control your body in every situation, no matter how irresponsible, careless, or selfish your choices, but that women do not. No sources or logic to back your assertion that pregnancy is a mere “inconvenience”, when every woman who’s been through it can tell you that’s a lie. No sources or logic to back your assertion that the price of sex – any sex, even rape – ought to be nine months of being treated as property and used, regardless of the consequences for your life, well-being, or existing family – but only if you’re female. No sources or logic to back your argument that killing an independently-existing child is just the same as withholding your body parts, internal organs, and blood supply from someone who needs them to live – but again, only if you’re female.

  • Catken1

    And Scott, are you prepared to take the same penalty if you choose your convenience, and your sovereign right to refuse the use of your body to another, over someone else’s life? Are you prepared to give up your right to choose when it conflicts with someone else’s right to life, and have government decide when and how your blood supply and internal organs shall be used, rather than yourself?

    Or are you a murderer, and a condoner of murder, when it’s men doing it?

  • haveaheart

    ScottinVA asks: “When inconvenience is pitted against life, which ought to prevail?”

    What life? Any life? Does that mean he believes that the convenience of grabbing a ham sandwich from the corner QuickeeMart should NOT prevail over the sanctity of the pig’s life?

    If this is divine teaching, then don’t you need to apply it to all sentient beings?

  • persiflage

    ‘stop acting like a brain-damaged idiot who is not accountable for her actions.’

    You can almost feel the Christ-like kindness rolling off in waves…

  • cricket44

    It’s fear and contempt, persiflage. Women scare Scott..

  • cricket44

    So very ignorant, Scott, and you choose to remain that way. That’s all anyone needs to see to know you have no arguments, just flailing.

  • persiflage

    ‘That would relieve you and the rest of humanity from the possibility that you would replicate your genetic idiocy’

    Is that the kind of thing you learned from Jesus? Scott, sooner or later you’re going to have to admit that you’re a failed Christian but a committed ideolog……thoughts and deeds are completey secondary to beliefs in your world.

  • persiflage

    Amen to that , cricket….

  • Catken1

    “You say that there are only two options — woman is human or unborn child is human — when it is obvious that both are human. ”

    And when one human is dependent on another human’s body to survive, it is always the choice of the person whose body is being used to give or withhold. Always.

    And “being responsible for one’s actions” does not translate to “being someone else’s property, to be used without concern for what happens to you or what you wish. ”

    It’s easy enough to charge women with having no “accountability” when the “accountability” you demand from them is something that will never, and can never, be asked of you. It’s easy to save precious lives by co-opting someone else’s work, someone else’s body, someone else’s pain. But only if you dismiss the person you’re co-opting as unimportant, selfish, “bad”, worthy of being treated as a “thing”.

  • persiflage

    The king of ad hominum and master of tought love is whining because the ladies opened up a can of whupazz on his royal self…..poor old Scottie. You’d make a good Hutterite……

  • persiflage

    Scott, your attempts at rationalizing your comments as ‘descriptions’ rather than personal assaults is downright pitiful -brimming with hubris.

    Your commentary is full of personal sideswipes at every other poster’s ‘character’ flaws i.e. those that disagree with the ScottinVA worldview, and your characterizations of those in disagreement with you are virtually dripping with righteous invective.

    Besides, you should be proud of your own emotional committment to your ideology – no one will accuse you of being effeminate! Histrionic is not the same thing at all…………

    As far as human life beginning with embryos, no one disputes that. This is why there’s a legal limit on when that fledging life can be terminated – before the third trimester and before fetal viability has been reached. Nature eliminates many more fetuses on a continuing basis, when compared to human decisions to do the same.

    So my question to you remains unaswered – how shall we penalize women who voluntarily terminate a pregnancy?

  • persiflage

    ‘Feminist, abortionist, Leftist, irresponsible, and murderer. ‘

    All are applied in a negative/pejorative manner – as if these highly subjective classifications had any actual meaning. This name-calling amounts to sputtering wildly and incoherently, without actually making a valid point.

  • Kingofkings1

    The title of this article reminded me of a question someone recently asked me (note: this person is a resindent of a shelered facility):
    Is feces not an appropriate item on a dinner menu?

  • larryclyons

    funny I remember hearing a similar question being asked at a frat house.

  • persiflage

    Scott, virtually all your comments are ad hominem in nature, because they’re informed by a subjective, emotional committment to your beliefs – which simply run counter to the opposition. The fact that you put personalize your criticisms toward individual posters in a most negative fashion is the key to your ad hominem status.

    On the other hand, most honest posters here ( myself included) don’t shun the ad hominem descriptive. If one is any thing but completely neutral, one always risks a trip to the ad hominem zone. Personally, I don’t mind, because that’s where honesty will take you every time.

    ‘I have not, to my knowledge, used those terms to describe any individual unless their statements specifically described the terms applied.’

    Your really need to go back and read your replys – tone is everything. If you talked that way to your wife, you’d be a single man by now.

  • Kingofkings1

    Women are human and should be allowed to choose what they do.

    Individuals who wish to kill others should should not be allowed to carry out their wishes.

    Therefore, while acknowledging women’s humanness, we are not obligated to allow them to kill other humans, even those inside their body

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