WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: The content of the following essay may disturb some readers. The author does not take any responsibility for any negative side effects that may result from reading this article. This article is absolutely not suitable for children.
The Plot of an Upcoming Movie:
After finishing another long day of work, Jack was casually picking his five year old daughter Kim up from school, when he suddenly received a phone call from the hospital informing him that his wife Nina had gone into labour. Jack’s heart skipped a beat as he aggressively threw his car left towards the hospital. Bouncing on her seat, Kim couldn’t contain her excitement that she’ll finally get to meet her new baby brother.
Forgetting to lock his car, Jack raced to the reception desk. Without taking a breath he demanded directions to Nina’s room. Jack couldn’t keep up with a Kim so excited to be about to see her brother. A smiling Kim approached the room with her arms already outstretched to hug her mother.
Suddenly there was a gunshot. Jack rushed into the room to ensure the safety of his wife, daughter and newborn son. He entered just in time to see Kim collapse to the ground in tears to hide herself from the horror that had just unfolded before her eyes – Kim had just watched the doctor shoot her newborn brother at her mother’s wish.
Nina then remarked to Kim, “That parasite you saw get shot was not a person – you are just a fanatic who needs to come to your senses and accept this value. That thing was not capable of attributing to its own existence, and the deprivation of its existence represents no loss. This is widely accepted – the problem is that you are an intolerant fanatic.”
The Issues Being Debated:
It disturbed me to type those paragraphs. You will be glad to know that the inhumane plot outlined above is not the plot of any real movie. The situation is worse: that is the plot for reality. This is the situation that we are facing today. Last week, the Telegraph reported that a group of ethicists had published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” that advocated the killing of newborn babies from the precedent of abortion. The article can be read here:
I will never conceal my repulsion at the unjustified taking of any human life: this includes abortion and infanticide. Two of my previous works on abortion can be read here and here. In this essay, I will attempt to prove:
(a) In agreement with the medical journal, the legitimacy of the argument that a legalisation of abortion logically necessitates a legalisation of infanticide (b) In opposition to the medical journal, the immorality of both abortion and infanticide. If the premise of the medical journal is correct, then to support abortion is to support the inhumane plot scenario that I outlined above.
(a) The Argument:
The title of the Telegraph article accurately describes the argument “Killing babies no different from abortion.” I wholeheartedly agree with the premise. The argument presented in the journal is that “killing a newborn should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is” as “both foetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons.”
(b) Not Actual Persons:
To quote the Telegraph, the Journal of Medical Ethics asserts that “newborn babies are not ‘actual persons’ and do not have a ‘moral right to life’”. I will address the issue of absolute morality later in this essay.
My concern at the moment is the notion that newborn babies are not actual persons. My first question to the advocate of such a position is “At what time in the life cycle do we classify a person as a person?” If their answer in any way rejects personhood from conception, the abortion advocate must violate the law of biogenesis: that life cannot come from non-life whereby each living thing reproduces according to its own kind. If human life does not begin at conception, human life cannot scientifically begin at all. It will benefit you to keep this in mind as you continue to read.
The Journal stated “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a foetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” What properties do infants and foetus’ ‘both lack’ to disqualify them from the ‘attribution of a right to life’? They answered by saying “rather than being ‘actual persons’, newborns were ‘potential persons’ … ‘Both a foetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’”.
There is a glaring contradiction in that statement: how is a human being not an actual person, or how can a human being be a potential person in light of the law of biogenesis? Humans are either human or they are not. Moreover, how does a human being not have a moral right to life? Here the burden of proof rests on my opponent to justify the killing of a human being. If they cannot, that is to concede in admitting their advocacy of murder.
The journal answered such questions by saying that newborns, like foetus’ only become “‘persons’ in the sense of ‘subjects of a moral right to life’” at “the point at which they will be able to make aims and appreciate their own life.” This answer is fallacious, as the ability to make decisions does not alter the constitution of the human being.
The journal defined a person as “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.” Brain activity and breathing do attribute value to one’s own existence. If a newborn (or foetus) did not breathe and their brain was inactive, their body would not function. It is absurd to say “the loss of this life does not represent a loss”, as the fact that an action must occur to end a life presupposes that there is a life to lose, which continuation of is partially dependant on that individual. If the foetus did not attribute to their own existence at all, the abortion would not do anything. This is in opposition to the Journal’s assertion that infanticide should be legal because “for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X.”
Another attempt to defend the statement that newborns like foetuses are not actual people was that a condition of being an actual person is that “she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives.” I have already pointed out that such reasoning is fallacious because the ability to make decisions does not alter the constitution of the human being. That there is purposed brain activity and development in a newborn/foetus runs contrary to the assertion that newborns do not have aims, as without such purposed bodily functions, the newborn/foetus would not be alive.
A further argument raised to defend the notion that “merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life was that “many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, foetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.”
Firstly, that statement contains numerous unproven assumptions; most notably that embryos and foetuses do not have such a right to life. Secondly, the inclusion of criminals subject to capital punishment is in contradiction to the Journal’s definition of person, as the Journal defined a person as a human being who is “able to make aims and appreciate their own life”, in virtue of which they have a right to life. This is further proof that the legalisation of abortion not only logically necessitates the legalisation of infanticide, but it logically necessitates the legalisation of the killing of adults also. Thirdly, those who commit capital crimes do not lose their right to life in virtue of their humanity; they lose it in virtue of the crime they committed.
Such problems are compounded by statements such as “the different moral status does not spring from the fact that the first one is a ‘person’ and the other is not, which would be nonsense, given that they are identical.” How would such a definition take the right of life away from a person who has committed a capital crime? It cannot, because the DNA constitution of the person on death row is not altered by their crime – people do not cease to be human after they commit a capital crime. By extension, how can there be a different moral status for a foetus, a newborn or an adult? The essential humanity of the child must be rejected to support such a statement, in opposition to the law of biogenesis.
Such truths render most arguments presented meaningless. For example, it was argued that “‘if a potential person, like a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were foetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”
A foetus, like a newborn is a person. Regardless, it does not logically follow that the fact that a foetus does not grow up, means that “no harm occurred” – even by the articles own admission, there was the taking of a life. If there was no harm done at all, then the foetus/newborn would not be impacted by being killed. The argument collapses on such internal contradictions, the absence of a change in the constitution of the person, and the interrelated fact that babies are actual persons.
The Journal states “On these grounds, the fact that a foetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion.” If you are going to extend the validity of abortion to where a person is mostly dependant on others, then five year olds would not have the right to life either. How many people do not depend on another person at all to survive? The poor depend on the money provided by the rich to survive. The middle class depend on the employment provided by the rich to survive. Such an argument leads to worldwide genocide.
The point raised in the journal that if a foetus is not a person in virtue of dependency on others, then a newborn cannot be a person either is valid as far as it goes. However, as shown above, the logic goes much further, to also include everyone from toddlers to middle class adults. Where the Journal asserted that “merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence” they are wrong to call any human being a potential person unless they apply the term potential person to any person dependent on another. But such a redefinition would render ‘potential person’ and ‘actual person’ as synonyms, and therein collapse their argument and conclusion.
The Journal did attempt to defend itself against one counter argument. I quote, “This does not mean that the interests of actual people always over-ride any right of future generations, as we should certainly consider the well-being of people who will inhabit the planet in the future.” To begin, I will point out that the argument equivocates between discussing an individual as an individual, and discussing an individual as just one of humanity. If people are viewed individually, and everyone chose to abort their children, there would be no future generations. Future generations consist of individuals. As specific foetuses/newborns will constitute humanity in the future, they have failed to provide a rebuttal (to a low priority and peripheral objection).
They continued, “We are talking about particular individuals who might or might not become particular persons depending on our choice, and not about those who will certainly exist in the future but whose identity does not depend on what we choose now.” If every individual was aborted, how can there be certainly that there will be future generations? Some specific foetuses must certainly exist in the future for there to be any future generations.
Lastly, the writers of the Journal prepared themselves for the objection that adoption is a viable alternative. The Journal said, “We also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption.” In light of the previous statements, the Journal cannot make this counter argument.
The Journal stated elsewhere that “a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were foetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist.”
According to the Journal, the mother never had a child to be distressed over giving up, as “a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person”. By the standards of the article, the mother only ever knew her child as a potential person – never as an actual person. Weather the child was killed by infanticide or adopted, the mother would have lost only a potential person. By the logic of the proponents of infanticide, as the newborn is only a potential person, the mother is grieving over loosing nothing. The Journal failed to evidence that infanticide is better than adoption is any case, as in both scenarios the mother is only losing a potential person (by the Journal’s standards).
Also, that the mother might experience psychological distress does not speak to the morality of the issue. Having an out of control teenager can also cause psychological distress to a mother, yet the solution is not to kill your teenaged children.
(c) The Real Issue:
The lead of the article states “Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion.”
From the onset, we are faced with the crucial question: by what standard is something ‘morally irrelevant’? Until that question can be answered objectively and without begging the question, all that can be offered is opinion – no moral absolute is possible. If I said ‘the life of my fifteen year old daughter is morally irrelevant and I should be allowed to have her killed’, on what objective basis could you disagree with my subjective opinion? Why is your subjective opinion valid while mine is not? Or am I allowed to kill her, as after all she depends on me for food, water (to survive)?
The problem is that “parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are ‘morally irrelevant’” is nothing but a subjective opinion. If I were to present the rebuttal of “I disagree”, on what ground could the infanticide/abortion advocate say that their opinion is right, but my opinion is wrong? By what objective moral standard can the infanticide/abortion proponent prove that their position is correct? A subjective opinion is just that. By what objective standard should parents be allowed to have their newborn babies killed? The reason why you cannot think of an answer is because there is no answer. If God does not exist, then absolute morality cannot exist. If God does not exist, no one can prove that anything is moral or immoral; morality cannot exist, period.
Only if the God of Christianity who has revealed Himself in the Bible is presupposed, can objective morality exist. Morality expresses the holy and righteous nature of God. Something is moral because it is in conformity to the character of God. Something is immoral because it is not in conformity to the character of God. God’s commands are in conformity to His character. So, according to God, are abortion and infanticide moral or immoral?
A baby is a person from conception (Psalm 51:5 139:13-16). Therefore, a baby is in the image of God from conception (James 3:9). What does God say about shedding the blood of a person in God's image (Genesis 9:6)? God has revealed that abortion and infanticide are acts of murder. By God’s standard, the only objective standard, abortion is murder. That is the objective truth.
(d) The Other Arguments Considered:
The journal stated a few other immoral arguments, which I will briefly refute. As you read the arguments, note how all the arguments are in the structure of “this situation might occur, therefore X is should be legal”. None of the arguments provide a moral justification for the killing (action) itself.
(i) “Parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.”
The disability is a constant, regardless of age. This is an argument that anyone has the right to kill any disabled person who is dependent on them.
(ii) “A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human foetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human.”
The condition will not only be present as a foetus and as a newborn. The condition is a constant. Therefore, if this argument for abortion is valid, it would not only be an argument for infanticide, it would be an argument to legalise the killing of any person with such conditions, regardless of age. It would provide a basis to kill many thirty year olds.
(iii) “A disabled child would represent a risk to her mental health.”
A disabled sixteen year old child would also represent a risk to the mother’s mental health. If this is a reason why infanticide should be legalised, it is also a reason why it should be legal for the parent to kill their sixteen year old child with the corresponding condition.
(iv) “Having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children.”
Having a newborn child can be a burden for the psychological health of the woman or for already existing children. But, having an out of control teenager can also be a burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her other children. If the ‘burden argument’ is a reason why abortion should be legal, it does follow that it is logically also a reason why infanticide should be legal: but, if such is a reason why abortion should be legal, it is also a reason why it should be legal for a parent to kill their psychologically challenging teenagers.
(v) “To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”
How do you know that the person will be a burden in every way? I know many teenagers who are burdens on their family and will probably be burdens on the state too; would you recommend a similar solution? Why does every benefit have to be financial – how many parents have children because they think they will financially profit from them? Here is a newsflash: having children will cost you both time and money. Should we apply this solution to everyone who is am economic burden for the state?
(vi) “Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.”
A person’s well-being could be threatened by any of their children, regardless of age. Why shouldn’t you kill your fourteen year old son, and keep your newborn baby instead? Both of them require energy, money and care - which after all, are ‘in short supply’. This argument also provides a justification for killing any dependent, regardless of their age.
(vii) “If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the foetus 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.”
If social, psychological and economic factors justify abortion, it does follow that they would also justify infanticide. But, as I have continually demonstrated above, there are likewise such benefits to not having any children. If these arguments justify abortion, they must logically also justify not only infanticide – but the killing of any child.
(viii) “If economical, social or psychological circumstances change such that taking care of the offspring becomes an unbearable burden on someone, then people should be given the chance of not being forced to do something they cannot afford.”
Economic, social and psychological circumstances can make taking care of newborn offspring burdensome, but they can also make taking care of teenaged offspring burdensome. If these are valid arguments for abortion and infanticide, they must also be arguments to allow such parents to kill their teenaged offspring.
(ix) Prof. Savulescu of Oxford University said, “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”
Why are widely accepted premises right? Many decades ago, that abortion is murder was a ‘widely accepted premise’, does Savulescu accept this premise? The validity of racism, the morality of slavery, and that the earth is the centre of the universe were all ‘widely accepted premises’ in the past. Does Savulescu accept these premises, and the exact opposite premises to each of these in virtue of that they were/are ‘widely accepted’? Otherwise, by what standard does he know that the premises against the humanity of the foetus are valid?
(e) A Dose of Irony:
The Telegraph commented that “The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article's authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.
I am not encouraging people to take the law into their own hands or send death threats. However, there is a hypocritical irony in complaining about receiving death threats for advocating infanticide (murder), when murder is precisely what the authors are promoting in statements such as “killing a newborn should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is”.
(f) Final Remarks:
The Medical Journal titled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” concluded 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”, as “there was no difference to abortion as already practised” because “the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a foetus”.
To that conclusion I wholeheartedly agree: if abortion should be legal, infanticide should be legal too. But, that only answers an ’if, then’ in relation to the pro-abortion arguments: it does not answer if the situation should be ‘because abortion, therefore infanticide’ or ‘because not infanticide, therefore not abortion’. The basic limitations of the paper are that it does not prove that the pro-abortion arguments are valid to make the logical positive inference that the legalisation of abortion necessitates the legalisation of infanticide, and it does not answer the morality of the issue. To answer the legitimacy of the inference and the morality of the issue, we must search God’s word.
The inference that “ending newborns lives is no different to abortion” is correct. But it does not go far enough. Unjustifiably ending the life of a newborn is no more murder than unjustifiably ending the life of not just a foetus, but any person regardless of situation or age. This is because all people are in the image of God from conception. The command not to murder is grounded in the fact that all people are made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). Infanticide is murder just as much as abortion is and just as much as shooting another person is. God commands us not to murder (Exodus 20:13).
(g) First Things Last:
I began this essay with a rather disturbing overview of a hypothetical movie. If you were repulsed by the storyline, yet advocate abortion and/or infanticide, you are being inconsistent even by the standards of those who advocate abortion and infanticide. If you viewed the shooting of the newborn as immoral, you must logically oppose both infanticide and abortion. Would it be immoral for the doctor to shoot Kim too? If you think that shooting would be immoral, you must logically also oppose abortion and infanticide.
But, according to liberals, if you were repulsed by the storyline, then you like Kim, are a fanatic who needs to come to your senses and accept that there was nothing wrong with the mothers or the doctors actions. According to liberals, murder is not murder. According to God, human life is valuable.
© Jonathan Williams, March 2012.