Defending Infanticide

Well, not me, but there are people doing just that. Let me explain.

When a college classmate was in med school in the early 80’s, she was horrified to hear a lecture advocating what he called “extra-uterial abortions.”  For those playing at home, that’s infanticide.

Telling me about the lecture, she said that there were two speakers at the front of the lecture hall. The ob/gyn who was describing the procedure and an attorney who clarified for these future doctors what was and was not currently legal.

What brought this to mind is an essay by Michael Scaperlanda at the law blog site, Mirror of Justice (It is not surprising that Peter Singer is no longer alone in advocating infanticide). He writes on a “peer reviewed article advocating legalization of infanticide.” According to the abstract from the article “what we [the authors] 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.”

Scaperlanda continues by saying that this isn’t “really surprising.” He quotes from “an editorial [that] appeared in California Medicine, a publication of the Western Journal of Medicine” some 30 years ago. The writer argues that

The traditional Western ethic has always placed great emphasis on the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its stage or condition. This ethic has had the blessing of the Judeo-Christian heritage and has been the basis for most of our laws and much of our social policy. … This traditional ethic is still clearly dominant, but there is much to suggest that it is being eroded at its core and may eventually even be abandoned. This of course will produce profound changes … in Western society.

[In the new ethic, which] will of necessity violate and ultimately destroy the traditional Western ethic … [i]t will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives, … This is quite distinctly at variance with the Judeo-Christian ethic and carries serious philosophical, social, economic, and political implications for Western society and perhaps for world society.

Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. … It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.

One may anticipate further development … as the problems of birth control and birth selection are extended inevitably to death selection and death control whether by the individual or by society, and further public and professional determinations of when and when not to use scarce resources.

While this no doubt will not earn me friends for saying it, I think that Pope Paul VI was right. Once if we separate the uniative and procreative aspects of human sexuality from each other and from marriage we don’t liberate women but condemn ourselves.

As a graduate student in theology studying Humanae Vitae, I remember the professor summarizing Paul VI’s argument that the acceptance of artificial contraception as morally legitimate places into the hands of governments a powerful weapon for social control. What today becomes a right, tomorrow becomes an obligation.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that just as Pope Paul VI was right, so too was Pope John Paul II his condemnation of the “culture of death.” Likewise, the Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, spoke wisely and prophetically about the dictatorship of relativism.

The article defending infanticide has elicited very strong negative including, according to the journal’s editor, anonymous threats against the lives of the authors and their families. Such threats are, so there is no mistake, wrong. But as different as these threats are in tone, they are morally no different in substance then the articles argument in favor of infanticide. It is simply wrong to advocate on behalf for the taking of an innocent life and this doesn’t change whether the motivation is anger or a supposed therapeutic or social good.

But what is most interesting, to me at least, is the journal editor’s response:

What the response to this article reveals, through the microscope of the web, is the deep disorder of the modern world. Not that people would give arguments in favour of infanticide, but the deep opposition that exists now to liberal values and fanatical opposition to any kind of reasoned engagement (read the whole thing here).

This response is chilling. We can argue for infanticide—we can call for the killing of children—but we cannot stifle debate about the killing of children.

What the journal editor and the article authors seem to overlook is that hateful the response of their critics, their own work is every bit as hate. It is even more hateful precisely because it is cast in the cool and detached tones of scholarship and science.

How stupid we all are and how fortunate it is that the journal editor took the time to point out our moral shortcomings.  Imagine, someone advocates killing your child and you don’t understand that YOU are the bad guy for getting angry.

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it! The Tempest (V, i)

Or not.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dale-Steinacker/100000116023777 Dale Steinacker

    I just completed Jeffrey Bell;s new book – The Case for Polarized Politics and I am recommending it to everyone interested in why we are moving to Huxley’s Brave New World. Despite the title, it has a lot about views of humanity and how we got where we are.

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