Infanticide, Grief, and Hate Speech

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I recently read an article written by two ethicists out of Oxford concerning the moral validity of infanticide (the killing of babies after they have already been born) that disgusted me and caused great alarm within my soul. Being the academic minded man that I am, after my initial grief and anger I processed the content of the article and began to reason against what these men had said. I will not go into the specifics of their argument in this post, but I did want to discuss the reactions of many that have read and heard about this article and those who then judge the reactions of the disgusted masses.

If you do an internet search for this article or the names of the professors you will find well-researched and gracious ethical responses to what these gentlemen have proposed, but you will also find references to death threats, slanderous words, and other violent language that has been directed towards these two Oxford scholars. There are those in the academic and medical community that agree with these men and have agreed with them for some time now. This is not a “new” concept as scholars such as Peter Singer were writing books validating infanticide back in the 90’s and earlier. The “extreme” hateful sounding reactions have normally come from those who have not been worn down by the subject over the years of study and argument in academic environments that will not stand for violent responses to most subjects (except for possibly war and discrimination). However, the majority of humanity does not live in the “academic” environment, but instead live in a land of moral consistency and shared values. The lands obviously change over the years in what they approve of and value, but they work on the notion that they all share a common understanding of what is not acceptable, of what is not good. So when people from these lands (who are more connected to the academic land than ever before) hear of such notions as the acceptable killing of babies after they have already been born, well, they are shocked, disgusted, and angry.

However, no one wants to feel that they or their friends or “set” are deserving of hate speech, so they must quickly move to vilify those who are vilifying them. This is not a conscionably hard thing for many progressives in the academic and media sets to do because they have already placed such people in a category of incompetence concerning areas of science and “true” morality. I do not mean to demonize all progressives or academics but I must be honest in my assessment of some within those sub-cultures. I have talked with them over the years and many of them are my friends. So I feel I have observed them in their natural setting and I have heard their slanderous references concerning the “common” man. I have listened to them speak of “f___ing idiots” that don’t understand progress, toleration, and science. In turn, I must admit that I have heard conservatives speak of these “progressive” minded individuals in the same way. It is all ugly. However, there are times when I agree with initial angry reactions to people and ideas. Biblical images come to mind of the Israelite who had seen the “people of God” fall to the level of practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism and in response he rips his clothing and throws ashes on himself as he wails in the streets for his people. Humans grieve in many different ways but often our grief takes the form of disgust and anger. We don’t rip our clothes in the streets anymore here in America (and when we did it was to celebrate our favorite rock star), rather many allow hateful words to slip from their lips and show forth from their blogs. Others simply choose to hold even tighter to their community of agreement while they still can…while consistent morality and shared values can still be had.

I do not condone the ugly responses of those who express their grief in a way that Christ would not condone, but I do question my subdued academic response to many of these tragic ideas. There certainly are ideas that come forth from the mind of sinful man that deserve our disgust and wailing in the streets. Yes, there are some very confusing ethical dilemmas out there that deserve very patient debate on the part of everyone involved, but there are also lines and beliefs that should never be crossed because they protrude from the very fabric of what makes us humans. One of those beliefs is the value of all human life; in the womb or outside, functional or debilitated. Let us grieve in our hearts at the sight of truth suppressed and begin again the process of expressing that which is good, holy, and right.


  1. My friend Ben Wall (Resident scholar up at the Collegeville Institute at St. John’s University in MN) posted the following response to my blog post on my Facebook wall. I asked if I could share it here for the benefit of those who are not connected with me on Facebook:

    “I think your reflection is needed b/c it exposes the current trajectory of the way in which most persons have been thinking about this infanticide article. Most persons can only speak from the point of disgust, which (as you allude) results in cultivating a culture of hate and fear.

    I think the articles I have provided critique another dimension of public critique, in general, that is, those who push beyond the feelings of disgust and hate speech, but only seem to reflect on the periphery issues rather than the internal logic within the proposal/article. For me, this is a bit more telling than the article itself, that is, the majority of those who oppose it cannot articulate respectfully (as you point out) and/or at all the actually logical contentions lurking behind the article. And the inadequacy to do so may indirectly propel the fruition of the article’s proposal/purpose.

    I find it interesting that most of my friends have only said things like, “I can’t believe this” and offer similar reactions. But it stops there. They don’t really understand what is being proposed, that is an amoral status for humans who are “potential persons”. It’s the same argument (but in a reverse manner) scientists are making about attributing non-human “personhood” rights to dolphins. Both arguments are the same insofar as they both seek to either strip “personhood” and/or “human” designations from “human persons” and/or attribute these same designations to “non-human/non-persons”.

    And the greater reality is, is that this debate lives within the realm of academia until an election cycle. I am not saying people don’t talk about these things. But public debate on these issues often arises more intensely within a “national” register during election cycles. This further exacerbates the problems concerning these issues b/c often, in the great ole USA, those who think peripherally (per se) end up equating “right to life” to “rights” to life in which the term “rights” is inextricably linked to American rights more so than inherent “human” rights concerning every person (not just newborns/fetus).

    Just my one cent worth.”

    Ben Wall, 3/4/2012

  2. Tacklin’ it in a more personal way, I’d say that I wouldn’t want to live with certain handicaps, both physical and mental. If suddenly laid low by late-onset congenital syphilis (that’s a joke!), I don’t know if I’d have the courage to take my own life (, but I certainly can’t imagine being especially happy or fulfilled, though I ‘spose it’s possible. If I knew my own child was going to be disabled in some extraordinarily painful or limiting way, and had the option to deny him or her that life, it’s possible I would choose to do so.

    I read an article recently, and I wish I could find the link, where a mother wrote about the suffering her baby son endures and had she known to what extent that would be before his birth, she would have aborted him. I don’t think allowing or disallowing a child life is an especially easy choice to make nor do I think one side has any particularly more elevated moral high ground to stand on than the other. Do I think handicapped people aren’t persons or some such thing? No! Are many of them happy or content or fun or loving? Yes! Do I want to bring somebody into this world with debilitating pains or impairments? I don’t want to do that, no. If on the news tomorrow I saw where a woman had suffocated her six-year-old son who had I’malwaysinexcruciatingpainandIwanttodiepleasemommydisease, I could hardly villaify her or even question her, frankly, because it’s conceivable I might do the same thing in such a horrible situation. That’s not applicable to someone happily functioning with Down syndrome or something, but I would hope anyone reading this can see that.

    I could go on listing my reactions to different scenarios, but I think my general point is relatively clear. The point being that from my perspective, and the perspective of others, we aren’t denying a person life, we’re protecting them from it. Can you extrapolate that and put it on a slippery slope? You sure can! BUT then we’re getting away from my argument.

  3. Oh! And one mo’ thang, before someone (perhaps) says it. I think it’s as arrogant, or authoritarian, or tyrannical, or whatever word you’d like to use, to say, “I’ve decided you’re going to be born with this-or-that disease and live with it,” as it is to say, “I’ve decided you’re not going to be born at all.” Gah! There’s always buts! “BUUUT in this case” ad infinitum. So I’ll stop now!

    1. Jamie,

      Thank you so much for your interaction concerning this topic. It certainly is not an easy topic to discuss or to take a firm footing on. I understand the argument you are presenting and I can agree that there are circumstances where life is simply painful and horrific for individuals and they wish they were dead or had never been born. However, that is not the foundational issue at hand. The issue concerns who has the authority to decide those persons (whether in the womb or outside of it) should live or die based on unnatural means. For the sake of simplification, I am not suggesting that there are not moments when an person who is dying of natural causes should not be allowed to die by withholding extraordinary measures that would keep them alive. The position I am promoting is founded on the belief that there is a higher metaphysical authority that should be respected as the giver and taker of life. If a person is conceived, then they are already under the authority of this higher power and therefore, no matter how much pain they find themselves in, we should not quicken the death of the person by killing him/her.

      Your argument, though compelling on an emotional level, is just that; emotional. It states that subjective emotional responses and subjective notions of potential quality of life should be the determining factors in whether the person/community/parent/doctor should be allowed to kill a person. Again, I see where you are coming from on this issue but cannot validate it as consistent with a proper respect of persons in light of the authority of the creator who made them. Thanks again for your response.

      J. Truett

  4. I’m assuming you like to debate stuff! So, if you’re like “STOP DOING THIS, JAMIE!” I will do that! Ahem.

    “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemie.” Jesus’ own words I do believe. When I read that I can’t help but to intuit that he’s referring to intention? And I certainly think my intentions in a hypothetical scenario would not be, uh, intended evilly? They would be done with the intention of procuring someone from pain and harm. There are some caveats here in that first of all there isn’t any biblical teaching that says when a soul is deposited in an unborn fetus? I suppose conception is an easy answer, and certainly maybe a safe answer, but for argument’s sake, there’s no evidence supporting it as the correct answer. A soul dropping in to a zygote is as much a shot in the dark as a baby gulping one in with its first breath?

    Is it not conceivable then that a sincere Christian could argue that the soul doesn’t enter the fetus until five months, when the baby can exist outside the womb? I think it is. With that in mind, abortions could be morally acceptable from even the perspective of (that) Christian faith?

    Even if not for some reason, and going back to the beginning of this comment, you might then say that regardless of intention murder is murder. Of course, that’s not the case even biblically, even in the New Testament. Capital punishment, legal wars, etc, are not condemned and in some cases implied to be okay things. You’re a biblical scholar so I doubt I have to point them out individually to you. Now, bearing that in mind, I also have to point out Jesus’ teaching that “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?” Clearly, not working on the sabbath is a commandment that can be interpreted in more than one way. The right way, to apparently, is to use good judgement. I see not reason why using that same logic, it would not in some cases be permissable to end someone’s suffering, or keep them from suffering at all?

    God did not intend for abnormality and pain and disease, we brought it upon ourselves and I think to say that we can’t choose to deny (or take) a painful and diseased life because he’s allowed that potential for life to exist, is wrong! He ‘allows’ natural disasters! We run away when they strike though. We build shelters and store food to protect ourselves from them. We, everyday, are fighting that which God allows and that which is in his domain. I think that’s a pretty good Christian argument for pro-choice, if I do say so myself, Mr. Glen!

    1. Jamie, I’m glad you are thoroughly interacting with the Bible on this issue. Although I certainly qualify intentions as being that which can be identified as evil, I would not say that your lack of ill intent in ending someone’s life validates the action as moral. You are still dealing with a sovereignty issue here (Here is a link that talks about ignorance and sin: I have listed just a few scriptures that will help you understand what sovereignty issue I am referring to:

      I Sam. 2:6
      Job 1:21
      Ps. 139:13-14
      Ps. 139:15
      Ps. 139:16

      The point of these verses is to suggest that God is fully aware of our painful lives and yet is still sovereign over them. It is simply not within our moral parameters to decide when a person should live and die when they are not guilty of a crime against humanity deserving of death.

      As far as your concerns about the timing of the soul interring the body, I would have to say that you are thinking on a completely different field than I am. The above scripture, Psalm 139:16, is an informative testimony concerning when God begins to consider us a “person.” The answer is, of course, that He has always known every human being to be the person that they were and still are, in some way or another. He knew us even when we had not yet been physically actualized. Take also into consideration that you are using dualistic terms to describe a human by suggesting that the soul is popped in this flesh bag when it is ripe. Although there is certainly terminology in the Bible to suggest that we are more than our bodies, there is no proof to suggest that our souls are not intermingled within our physicality. Some have suggested that our personhood is written in our DNA, and thus is present within the physical body from conception. I’m not saying that I am personally landing on that view, but rather to suggest to you that your arguments are lacking in imagination in the face of Biblical and even scientific evidence of when a person comes into existence. But again, I appreciate the continued conversation. I can’t always spend so much time in the back in forth during the semester, but during the summer I should be much more flexible to write back and forth. Then there is always the notion of meeting for coffee to talk over these things in person. Just let me know if you are ever interested in hanging out.

      Mr. Glen

      1. Definitely! Lets do it sometime. I still think my argument against animal rights was correct, by the way! Unorthodox, certainly, but correct in the sense that if the basis for morality is society, then by society’s actions, cruelty upon animals is an allowable, tolerated, and neccessary thing! I certainly did try to demonstrate the horror of what we do to animals, but only to make a distinction between us saying animals have a right and us acting like animals have a right.

        Ahem. Anyhoo.

        Sovereignty! What is within our moral parameters? If our hearts go bad, are we defying God by getting heart transplants? You said it’s “not within our moral parameters to decide when a person should live and die”, but aren’t we deciding just that very thing when we actively save someone’s life when their body fails in a catastrophic way? Without our intervention, without our decision to save their life, they would die? Is that decision against God’s will?

        “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Now, “Your eyes saw my unformed body” to me sounds like a poetic reference to a soul or a reference to omniscience and knowing the future. Being as how it goes on to speak of days before they came to be, I would imagine it’s much closer to the latter reference. If however, you want to read it that former way, I suppose the proof that our souls are not dependent upon a body is within that very same biblical passage, that our personhood is not defined by our physicality. And if our souls are not separate and distinct from our bodies, then I can’t see how our corpses can be here on Earth and yet our spirits also have a presence in Heaven? Unless, you believe in the doctrine of RIP and all the dead are literally resting until Judgement Day, BUT, am I mistaken when I remember biblical reference to spiritual bodies (souls?) in Heaven? As far as scientific evidence for “persoonhood” and whatever that might imply, I think that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame than the one discussion of souls is playing in?

        I guess I’m saying that an intermingled soul is itself a topic that I have no doubt is something not agreed upon within the Christian community for (at the very least) the reasons I’ve already stated? I’m not exactly digging into the scripture looking for loopholes here, I’m treating it as a legitimate authority and I think I’m interpreting it fairly? So, I think its within reason for a Christian to interpret it the same way as I have?

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