In a recent blogpost, University of Chicago Professor Jerry Coyne contends that if abortion is morally acceptable there is no reason to condemn infanticide.
If you are allowed to abort a fetus, Coyne argues, “then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?”
“I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral,” he writes.
Of course, Coyne adds qualifiers, speaking specifically of a child with “a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on,” but the core of his logic does not depend on this. The fact remains, if one may abort a fetus for whatever the reason may be, then why not a newborn baby? The only thing that changes as far as the baby is concerned is her environment (mother’s womb or crib).
Atheist author Richard Dawkins has referred to Coyne’s work to bolster his claim that an unborn baby with Down syndrome should be aborted because it would be “immoral to bring it into the world.”
According to Coyne, who teaches in UC’s department of ecology and human evolution, killing an unborn fetus does not differ morally from killing a newborn infant, since their level of sentience and awareness of the world is virtually identical and interchangeable.
“After all,” he writes, “newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments.”
The question then becomes, what motivation might justify the killing of an infant. Here Coyne states that it “makes little sense to keep alive a suffering child who is doomed to die or suffer life in a vegetative or horribly painful state.” Euthanasia by lethal injection is a better option, he proposes.
And yet one may well wonder why such an extreme situation is morally required in order to take the life of an infant. If one may legally abort a fetus up until childbirth for any reason whatsoever, why must there be a higher moral bar for justifying infanticide? Why aren’t parents or doctors morally justified in taking the life of an infant born into poverty, or as the child as a single teenager, or simply because the child has come at an inconvenient time?
According to Coyne’s logic, it should make no difference.
“It’s time to add to the discussion the euthanasia of newborns, who have no ability or faculties to decide whether to end their lives,” Coyne proposes. “Although discussing the topic seems verboten now, I believe some day the practice will be widespread, and it will be for the better.”
Although some people may find Coyne’s conclusions to be abhorrent, his basic logic is airtight. If we accept the moral justification for abortion, it makes no sense not to allow infanticide as well.
Which should lead right-thinking people to ask not whether infanticide might be a morally acceptable procedure, but whether abortion itself has any moral justification other than the logic of raw power over those unable to speak or defend themselves.
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