Infanticide article in JME
  • SimonSimon March 2012
    I'm really struggling with how people have responded to this article see:

    and for the actual article (might need a subscription):

    It's seems the ludicrous American polemics machine has jumped all over this in the way they have with the evolution discussion and turned a perfectly respectable and useful discussion into rants, over reactions and death threats! Because "Abortion" is seen as a right vs left, republican vs democrats issue the most vocal of Americans are unable to think straight in favour of manning their ramparts and firing volleys into each other.

    For those of us on the more sensible side of the fence, the article is nothing new and, if anything, is more about what constitutes a person. Indeed if "personhood" (in the sense of being self-determining) is viewed as what make people valuable, it is entirely logical not to distinguish between a foetus and a new-born (or indeed a few month old baby, the mentally disabled etc.). However very few people hold the faculty of self-determination as the unique or valuable quality of people. As a result although the argument about infanticide is logical, the premises are flawed and thus it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. 

    Examining such arguments is precisely the purpose of academics and journals so articles like this should be applauded. This pathetic outcry is a painful indictment of quite how little some people understand the process of carefully examining arguments and goes a long way to showing perhaps how little those making the outcry have actually thought through their own position (and yes I am mostly blaming American politics for this!).

    (rant over)
  • exchemist April 2012
    Well, it's interesting. I understand your point of course, and the reaction against the article is certainly emotional rather than rational. But in a way, I suspect that is the key to this issue. Society values new-born life and we are emotionally programmed to show tenderness and care (dare I say, love?) towards babies - for obvious biological reasons. Society does not show the same care, or not equally consistently, to unborn babies, probably for no better reason than that they cannot yet be seen (ultrasound images alter this somewhat). However, ask any woman who has had a miscarriage and you will find plenty of love for what has been lost. This was only an academic article exploring the ethical issue logically, but clearly social emotions and taboos also, perhaps rightly, play a role when it comes to determining public policy. 

    Also I feel sure the authors must have known that their article would set the cat among the pigeons. Perhaps their purpose was to show that society's stance towards abortion, compared to that towards infanticide, is hypocritical. That seems one conclusion one could draw - though perhaps only in relation to very late abortions (see below).

    Slightly tangentially, I must say I think the position of some churches on abortion is dodgy. To use the difficulty of assigning a moment when the foetus becomes human as an excuse to extrapolate back to conception, via some concept of "potential" humanity, strikes me as contorted. It is plain that nature itself regularly aborts foetuses that are defective (many older would-be mothers know this from bitter experience), so it seems to me ludicrous that we should be encouraged to see each instance as a catastrophe, sad though it undoubtedly is for the mother. Conversely, when we abort a foetus with such a defect, early on, I can't see we are doing more than nature itself does. But it does strike me as reasonable that the closer to term the foetus is, the more human we should consider it and the harder we should try to avoid aborting it. Perhaps this would be the rejoinder to the article: there is a continuum of development, from which the authors have picked two points that lie very close together, so it is not surprising they see little if any ethical distinction. The real ethical conundrum lies upstream.      

  • SimonSimon April 2012
    Hi exchemist - yes it is a difficult and hugely emotive subject. The problem is because it is so emotive, many people cannot think rationally about it (oh gosh I sound like David now!!). The danger occurs when people think their gut feeling is right because it feels right rather than stopping to ask why they have the gut feeling in the first place. Sadly when not too bright people get stirred into a frenzy based on gut thinking terrible things are bound to happen. That's not to say that people cannot also go to the other extreme and ignore emotional responses  - something maybe these authors are guilty of - however being guilty of ignoring taboos/widespread social emotions is no reason to receive the treatment that these authors have.

    Incidentally my approach to this issue is based on empathy. I think as soon as someone has empathy for a foetus it gains a new status. As a result abortions could be permitted at very different times in a pregnancy depending on the person HOWEVER I don't think the decision is solely up to the mother. If a doctor has empathy for the foetus they should be allowed to refuse to play any role in an abortion.