Decriminalizing the Unthinkable, by Wesley J. Smith

In ancient Rome, babies born with disabilities or serious illnesses were often exposed on hills, a barbaric practice that was eventually stopped when (and because) Christianity became the Empire’s official religion. Alas, killing babies born with birth defects is making a comeback in our Post Christian times. Indeed, support for infanticide is not only gaining respectability among the bioethics and medical intelligentsia—it is becoming positively trendy. Princeton University’s Peter Singer deserves much of the blame for this change. Back when infanticide support was still an anathema, Singer began advocating for the right of parents to kill unwanted newborns. He didn’t put it that starkly, of course. He always used the example of babies born with serious disabilities such as Down syndrome. Thus, he wrote on page 213 of 1994 his book Rethinking Life and Death:

To have a child with Down syndrome is to have a different experience from having a normal child…For some parents, none of this matters. They find bringing up a child with Down syndrome a rewarding experience in a thousand different ways. But for other parents, it is devastating.Both for the sake of ‘our children,’ then, and for our own sake, we may not want a child to start life’s uncertain voyage if the prospects are clouded. When this is known at a very early stage of the voyage we may still have a chance to make a fresh start. This means detaching ourselves from the infant who has been born, cutting ourselves free before the ties that have already begun to bind us to our child have become irresistible. Instead of going forward and putting all our efforts into making the best of the situation, we can still say no, and start again from the beginning.

Singer is a master of using passive language and euphemisms to mask the brutality of what he advocates. But make no mistake, his phrases, “detaching ourselves,” and choosing to “start again from the beginning,” refer to baby killing.Alas, Peter Singer is no longer alone. After doctors from Groningen University Medical Center in the Netherlands admitted in 2004 that they euthanized dying and profoundly disabled babies under what has come to be called the “Groningen Protocol,” support for infanticide appeared in some of this country’s most prestigious professional journals and newspapers. Unsurprisingly, the charge was led by Singer, who defended the Protocol in the Los Angeles Times. (”Pulling Back the Curtain on the Mercy Killing of Newborns,” March 11, 2005)But it didn’t stop there. On March 19, 2005, the New York Times carried a highly sympathetic report about the Protocol, “A Crusade Born of a Suffering Infant’s Cry,” a puff profile of one of the leaders of the Dutch infanticide movement, Dr. Eduard Verhagen, “a father of three who spent years tending to sick children in underdeveloped countries.” The article laments, “For his efforts to end what he calls their unbearable and incurable suffering, Dr. Verhagen has been called Dr. Death, a second Hitler and worse — mostly by American opponents of euthanasia.” Poor baby.

On March 10, 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine lent its prestige to two Dutch doctors, allowing them to explain dispassionately to Journal readers how the Groningen Protocol seeks “to develop norms” for infanticide.

And now in “Ending the Life of a Newborn,” the Hastings Center Report—the most important bioethics journal in the world—has just published another pro Groningen Protocol article, granting even greater support for Dutch infanticide among the bioethics intelligentsia. Not only do the authors, a Dutch and an American bioethicist, support lethally injecting dying babies, but also those who are disabled, writing, “Critics charge that the protocol does not successfully identify which babies will die. But it is precisely those babies who could continue to live, but whose lives would be wretched in the extreme, who stand in most need of the interventions for which the protocol offers guidance.”

The article assumes that guidelines will protect against abuse, but infanticide is by definition abuse. Moreover, even if undertaken in good faith, Dutch euthanasia guidelines for adults and teenagers have continually been violated without legal consequence for decades, and so why would any rational observer expect anything different from infanticide regulations? Even the authors understand that mistakes will happen and, typical of the mindset, assume that if murder of the helpless is committed in front of an open window it is somehow more acceptable:

Determining in an instant case whether the protocol is applicable will always require judgment, and because the stakes are inordinately high no matter what is decided, the judgment must be made with fear and trembling. That said, however, we believe that transparency in the deliberations concerning the ending of an infant’s life–which is just as important as it is in the deliberations concerning euthanasia in adults–is adequately promoted by the protocol’s requirements.

It wasn’t many years ago that almost everyone accepted that infanticide is intrinsically and inherently wrong. Clearly, this is no longer true. With growth of personhood theory that denies the intrinsic value of human life, and with the invidiously discriminatory “quality of life” utilitarian ethic permeating the highest levels of the medical and bioethical thinking, we are moving toward a medical system in which babies are put down like dogs and killing is redefined as a caring act.But bigotry is bigotry and murder is murder—even if you spell it c.o.m.p.a.s.s.i.o.n.

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