Is advocating infanticide "madness"?

Xavier Symons
4 May 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Not everyone in the "pro-life" camp is singing from the same song sheet in the controversy over infanticide. In this month's Journal of Medical Ethics two leading foes of abortion debate the reasonableness of arguments for infanticide.

One, the well known American legal philosopher Robert P. George, of Princeton University, describes Giublini and Minerva's argument as "moral madness". The other, controversial Catholic theologian Charles Camosy, of Fordham University, argues that the authors make not only reasonable but strong arguments. He dismisses George's claim as "unchristian". The debate was sparked by George's comments in the blog Mirror of Justice last year.

In his article, "Infanticide and Madness", George appeals to a fundamental intuition that killing an unwanted newborn is evil. To argue against this intuition, is outrageous.

"Whatever errors of fact and judgment are made possible by the complexities of human development or a prenatal child's hiddenness in the womb - though in the age of the sonogram, the child is hidden only from those who wish to avert their gaze - it should be plain to see that killing an infant because he or she is unwanted is evil. The advocacy of that, or of its moral permissibility, is what should take one aback, not a declaration by me or anyone else that such advocacy should be denounced as moral madness."

George goes on to condemn those who sent threatening mail to the authors following the publication of the article.

Charles Camosy, author of the 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, takes a more conciliatory approach. Camosy contends that without a Judeo-Christian ethical background it is difficult to see that pre-rational human beings are still persons. It is not unreasonable for secularists to argue for infanticide:

"if it is not madness to claim that 'a non-rational human being is a non-person' before birth, then neither is it madness to make the same claim about human beings after birth." (See 'Concern for our vulnerable pre-natal and neo-natal children' in the same JME issue).

Interestingly, Camosy does not engage with George's appeal to a fundamental human, rather than simply Christian intuition, namely that the killing of an unwanted infant is morally depraved. Camosy is perhaps aiming only at a theological critique of the matter.