by Dean Wallraff
begin at conception? At birth? As a matter of public morality,
no one argues for earlier (twinkle in the eye stage) or later, but infanticide
was and is practiced in ancient cultures such as Greece, and modern ones
like China. We don’t condone it now in western cultures, partly
because we’ve become so sentimental about children, but also because
we need a rigid standard that determines who has rights as a human being,
one that provides no slippery slope down which one group can push another
group it doesn’t like.
As the animal rights folks are fond of
pointing out, a mature chimpanzee, or even a dog, is more advanced in
every way than a baby. If we don’t have a religion that gives a
soul to the baby, but not to the chimp, on what philosophical grounds
will we insist on full human status for the baby? I’d argue against
it. Seen through the lens of societal utility and fitness, which I think
is the real basis for public morality, a human being’s value increases
in a more or less linear fashion from conception to around ten years of
age. There is a bit of a step function at birth, because it’s risky
and expensive, but having the baby outside rather than inside the mother
is hardly an explosion in utility, though it may be a physical explosion
for the mother and an explosion in trouble for the parents.
I think our society is taking the right position:
babies are people with full rights, and fetuses aren’t people, and
have no rights. But from my personal moral point of view, I can’t
see that killing a month-old baby is much worse than killing a fetus that
will be born in a month.
The traditional method of infanticide is exposure
– leaving the baby outside where it will eventually die on its own,
but has a chance of being saved by piteous strangers. Busy marketplace
town squares were popular for this in ancient Greece and modern China.
It’s not seen as murder, but rather leaving the baby to its fate.
In myth and folklore, the babies are mostly found and saved, as were Moses
and Paris. In real life, they mostly aren’t.
Copyright © 2000 - 2008 by Dean Wallraff.
All rights reserved.