The Short Trip from Abortion to Post-Birth Infanticide
February 24, 2010
I’ve recently spent a fair about of time arguing that the intentional killing of an innocent human life [before or after birth] should always be illegal. This morning, I stumbled across something very interesting and relevant to the point.
It seems that controversial Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer has addressed a relevant part of the issue. Singer is a utilitarian and he takes the common step of arguing that not all human beings are “persons,” and it is only wrong to kill “persons” (where the interest of the person killing outweighs the interest of the non-person). However, he is extremely honest about the implications of his position:
I use the term “person” to refer to a being who is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future. As I have said in answer to the previous question, I think that it is generally a greater wrong to kill such a being than it is to kill a being that has no sense of existing over time. Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do. It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.
Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment. That will often ensure that the baby dies. My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection – but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.
Moreover, Singer addresses the common argument that an unborn baby is neither “alive” nor “human” for the justification of abortion:
[The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being’s life.
That is the rational result of splitting “personhood” from mere human life. One can engage in the “fiction” that an unborn child is neither human nor living—a fiction that an apparently infanticidal Princeton professor claims is unsupportable despite having every reason for accepting it if he could—or one can accept occasional infanticide in a utilitarian package deal. That is a serious commitment to abortion.
Peter Singer is right, unborn human beings are both human and alive, and his argument is further evidence, at least to me, that splitting “human life” from the (wholly invented) concept of “personhood” is a grave wrong (and yet another work of fiction) that leads to such pleasantries as infanticide, not to mention slavery, eugenics, and genocide, where utilitarian ideals would permit that such measures be taken. Those ugly-sounding practices aren’t so far off if one is able to take “personhood” from a living human being, for whatever reason.
Also note, Peter Singer is no slouch professor throwing out some controversial ideas. He was integral to the establishment of the International Association for Bioethics and served as its first president. One can hardly dismiss his argument as the rantings of a hack professor. The man knows what he is talking about. He is wrong to adopt utilitarianism, but he is right in taking the concept to its conclusion. Those who believe in the transcendent principle that the intentional taking of innocent human life is always wrong and should always be illegal can avoid such illusions altogether.