The intentional killing of infants in the human race
Infanticide (or infant homicide) is the intentional killing of infants. In many legal systems it is treated differently from the murder of older people.
- The offence is what is improperly called the death of an infant, who has ceased to be, before knowing what existence is, — a result of a nature not to give the slightest inquietude to the most timid imagination; and which can cause no regrets but to the very person who, through a sentiment of shame and pity, has refused to prolong a life begun under the auspices of misery.
- Jeremy Bentham, Traités de legislation civile et pénale, 1802 (ed. E. Dumont, transl. 1864 as Theory of Legislation); "Theory of legislation" (Volume 1), The Penal Code, p. 33.
- I have little sympathy with the idea that infanticide is just another form of murder. Persons who are already functionally persons in the full sense have more important rights even than infants. Infanticide can be wrong without being fully comparable to the killing of persons in the full sense.
- Charles Hartshorne, “Concerning Abortion: An Attempt at a Rational View,” The Christian Century, 21 January 1981, 42-45.
- The Spaniards in Mexico and Peru used to baptize Indian infants and then immediately dash their brains out: by this means they secured these infants went to Heaven.
- Bertrand Russell Why I Am Not a Christian (6 March 1927).
- 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... 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.
- When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.
- Singer is right that on the basis of his premises there is no relevant difference between abortion and the killing of “severely disabled infants.” But why does he confine the comparison to newborn infants who are severely disabled? He certainly does not confine abortion to severely disabled fetuses. If newborns, like unborn children, are not persons, and it is permissible to abort unborn children regardless of whether they are afflicted or healthy, then newborns, afflicted or healthy, should be subject to killing too, provided of course that “on balance, and taking into account the interests of everyone affected,” their killing will increase the total amount of happiness or satisfied preferences in the world. Singer certainly offers no good utilitarian reason to confine the killing to severely disabled newborns.
- Peter Berkowitz, “Other People’s Mothers,” New Republic, 10 January 2000.
- In response, Singer wrote: Most parents, fortunately, love their children and would be horrified by the idea of killing it. And that’s a good thing, of course. We want to encourage parents to care for their children, and help them to do so. Moreover, although a normal newborn baby has no sense of the future, and therefore is not a person, that does not mean that it is all right to kill such a baby. It only means that the wrong done to the infant is not as great as the wrong that would be done to a person who was killed. But in our society there are many couples who would be very happy to love and care for that child. Hence even if the parents do not want their own child, it would be wrong to kill it.