Friday, July 27, 2012

Killing Newborn Babies

According to this article, a paper has argued that “newborn babies are not ‘actual persons’ and do not have a ‘moral right to life’”. Their line of argument appears to be that babies are not appreciably different from foetuses, and therefore since it is acceptable to abort foetuses, it is similarly morally acceptable to kill babies.

The argument is interesting, though not particularly novel. Often there is no clear distinction between a state where an action is morally tolerable, and another state where the same action is clearly immoral. At what point does a baby acquire sufficient relevant properties such that becomes a human (which is immoral for us to terminate)?

However, I think that there are morally relevant characteristics between a baby and a foetus. Consider the “bodily rights” argument, where the right to abort is justified by the mother’s rights over her body; the foetus does not have a right to force the mother to carry it. However, we should note that this particular argument does not apply to the baby! The right to abortion should not be interpreted as the right to kill the foetus; the death of the foetus occurs as an undesirable side-effect. Therefore, a strict equivalence would not be to kill a baby, but instead to leave it unattended (and presumably perish).

However, one important distinction still exists. Most people find the death of the foetus to be regrettable, even those in support of abortion. The key is that abortion inevitably results in the death of the foetus. Abortion may be morally justifiable if the rights of the woman to her body are adjudged to be of greater importance than the foetus’ right to life. In the case of an infant, though, no such counterbalancing right exists to justify the taking of the infant’s right to life.

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