Should infanticide be legal?

Infanticide, the killing of newborns, was practiced in some cultures. Should it be legal?

Some legal regimes, such as the one of the U.K., make infanticide lesser crime than murder. However, the motion under discussion is not "infanticide should be a lesser crime than murder" but rather if "infanticide should be legal".

The main purpose of the question is to examine the argument space. By doing so, we can learn something about reasoning about morality and legality in general. By testing or examining arguments on a more extreme case, we can learn something about them that we would not learn on a practically useful one. It also helps better understand cultures which accept such practice.

Infanticide should be legalEdit

Arguments forEdit

  •   Argument for Killing a newborn is not socially dangerous (i.e, a mother who killed her newborn is not a dangerous criminal with a risk of further harm to other people). A mother who killed her newborn was probably in a desperate psychological or economic situation; she is a person to be pitied, not to be criminalized. Infact, it was her own child, and it was a difficult decision for her to make after all.
  •   Argument for Killing a newborn is likely to be based on an instinct created by Darwinian evolution by natural selection [citation needed]. From the point of view of the gene, the mother has to decide whether it is better to keep the baby or put it away. Thus, the mother does not act out of deliberate ill intent but rather instinctively.
    •   Objection That may be an argument for a reduced punishment, but not for making infanticide legal.
    •   Objection There may be an instinct in men to wage wars over natural resources or access to women and there may be a good evolutionary explanation for that instinct, but that does not justify acting on that instinct in any way. In general, all human behavior has some causal explanation, but that explanation does not produce justification, or else all deeds would be justified.
  •   Argument for Killing a newborn is not murder since a newborn is not aware of itself as a moral entity. Such awareness only develops later [citation needed].
    •   Objection If we accept the argument, then any stranger should be able to kill the newborn as an entity that is not yet moral.
  •   Argument for In a sense, the newborn is a property and project of the parents, and they should be able to end the project if they wish or need to. No one should be forced to raise a newborn if they do not want to. This does not mean that a child can be killed, only newborn (age limit should be discussed).
    •   Objection However, if they put it for adoption they do not need to raise the newborn.
    •   Objection In our legislation, we recognize the concept of human rights. And one of the human rights is to be not murdered by another. A newborn is a human, not property or non-human animal, and is thus protected.
  •   Argument for Whether killing a newborn is acceptable depends on the scoping of the notion of person provided. Some see the start of the person at about the end of the first trimester, others at some time after birth. If we think in terms of personhood, the birth as the boundary is not morally significant to decide not to commite infanticide. A discussion of personhood seems more relevant and birth is an insignificant event in that determination: the degree of consciousness before birth and after birth is similar.
    •   Objection The point in time in which a non-person changes to a person is necessarily to some extent arbitrary. It can then conventionally be chosen at the point of birth. The birth is a moment at which the newborn gains bodily autonomy, so it is morally significant.
      •   Objection Still, birth is not an obviously significant event in the moment of cognitive development. The end of first trimester has a better claim of being significant. It seems that if we reject infanticide, then we should at least also reject late-term abortion.
      •   Objection The fact that it is arbitrary does not make birth the ideal cut-off point. Making the point later increases the mother's autonomy over keeping or not the child. Thus, if it is a person that is protected and not human, a child with severe birth defects that would only lead to a short, miserable life can be spared the pain. Avoiding suffering of a child with little or no hope of improvement would in fact seem humane or kind.
        •   Objection Legalizing killing newborns would not only cover the cases of birth defects; it would cover perfectly healthy cases as well.
          •   Objection This issue can be addresed in the legislation, or the decision be delegated to the mothers.
    •   Objection This assumes that we should define immoral killing in terms of person rather than human without explaining why. This is not a strong argument, since we speak of human rights, not of person rights.
      •   Objection It is because what makes humans more morally significant than animals is not their animal body (which are very similar) but their personhood, which animals lack.
  •   Argument for The notion that the protection should be driven by membership in a species is a case of speciesism and categorical or binary thinking. In binary thinking, each act is either moral, or immoral. Each individual either belongs to the species, or it does not. The notion of morally wrong is not a binary notion (ex: murdering 10 people is more morally wrong than murdering a single person). And species are not either protected or unprotected; rather, non-human animals are somewhat protected, e.g. from wanton torture. Instead of the binary human vs. non-human, we should switch to person and that is non-binary. A newborn is more of a person than a fetus, and a 3-year-old is more of a person than a newborn.
    •   Objection First trimester could well be artificial boundary where the degree of personhood crosses the 0.5 threshold (or some other threshold), and the above does not say why not. Nonetheless, the emphasis on fuzziness and relational character of person and morally wrong seem to add value to the discussion.
    •   Objection As said in response to some of the above, we may make killing of a newborn illegal while at the same time treating the mother with compassion and not putting her in prison / reduce prison sentence. That is in line with the relational/fuzzy thinking.

Arguments againstEdit

  •   Argument against Killing a newborn by its mother or other person is a murder and therefore should be illegal.
    •   Objection If we accept euthanasia, a merciful killing of someone with suffering, the criteria are still incomplete: a person asking for euthanasia is an innocent human in a civilian context.
    •   Objection It is not that simple and it depends on scoping of the notion of murder. Saying "it is a murder" alone does not help us further. An initial definition of murder may be as an intentional killing of a human, but it may not be that way (Ex: We realize that an execution is not murder and killing an enemy combatant is not murder). It is therefore at least initially plausible to consider excluding killing of a newborn from murder.
      •   Objection A newborn is innocent; however a person executed maybe not so, and an enemy combatant can also kill us. On the other hand, a person killed as collateral damage was not intentionally killed, as it is the newborn.
    •   Objection Legally speaking, infanticide is illegal yet not murder in some jurisdictions.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit