For years, pro-life ethicists and activists have been told that citing prestigious scholars advocating for infanticide constitutes the slippery slope fallacy. After all, we were told, one can find an academic to advocate for nearly anything, but nobody actually takes them seriously. But if the history of the 20th century tells us anything, it is that crackpot intellectuals can give us mountains of cracked skulls.
In 2017, Dr. Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago complained that the residual effects of Christianity were holding Western civilization back. How? It was Christian ethics, he said, that were preventing legal infanticide from making a comeback.
“The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think that comes from religion, in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul,” he wrote. “It’s the same mindset that, in many places, won’t allow abortion of fetuses that have severe deformities. When religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.”
Many philosophers share Coyne’s views. Princeton bio-ethicist Peter Singer argues that only religious superstition is keeping us from killing infants, a practice he believes to be perfectly ethical. As he wrote in Practical Ethics: “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.” For Singer, the baby-killing of our bloody pagan past is a source of nostalgia rather than horror.
Canadian cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker of MIT doesn’t go quite as far as Singer, but likely shares his views. In 1997, Pinker wrote in the New York Times that laws against infanticide were difficult to defend:
To a biologist, birth is as arbitrary a milestone as any other. No, the right to life must come, the moral philosophers say, from morally significant traits that we humans happen to possess. One such trait is having a unique sequence of experiences that defines us as individuals and connects us to other people. Other traits include an ability to reflect upon ourselves as a continuous locus of consciousness, to form and savor plans for the future, to dread death and to express the choice not to die. And there’s the rub: our immature neonates don’t possess these traits any more than mice do.
In his test balloon essay, Pinker quotes the Michael Tooley’s 1972 essay “Abortion and Infanticide,” in which the professor of philosophy makes the case that personhood rather than humanity is what confers human rights, and that infanticide could be permitted “up to the time an organism learned how to use certain expression.” Tooley himself noted that he would establish “some period of time, such as a week after birth, as the interval during which infanticide will be permitted.”
Parents who find out that their child is ‘imperfect’ too late to procure an abortion should, in Tooley’s view, get another crack at it. He writes: “Most people would prefer to raise children who do not suffer from gross deformities or from severe physical, emotional, or intellectual handicaps. If it could be shown that there is no moral objection to infanticide, the happiness of society could be significantly and justifiably increased.” The happiness of the rejected infants, of course, is of no consequence.
Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution, also proposes a change in policy. He implied that it is only because of Christianity that we are squeamish about infanticide. It is time we got over such superstition:
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. Although discussing the topic seems verboten now, I believe some day the practice will be widespread, and it will be for the better. After all, we euthanize our dogs and cats when to prolong their lives would be torture, so why not extend that to humans? Dogs and cats, like newborns, can’t make such a decision, and so their caregivers take the responsibility.