Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

University of Chicago Professor: If Abortion Is Allowed, Why Not Infanticide?


Jerry Coyne, a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, has taken the arguments for abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide to the next level ― defending the infanticide of sick babies.

Should one be allowed to euthanize severely deformed or doomed newborns?,” the first of a pair of blog posts, received so much attention that Coyne wrote a follow-up article responding to critics yesterday. Both articles refer to the arguments of notorious Princeton University “moral” philosopher Peter Singer, who has previously made the case for infanticide:

The question of whether one should be able to euthanize newborns who have horrible conditions or deformities, or are doomed to a life that cannot by any reasonable light afford happiness, has sparked heated debate. Philosopher Peter Singer has argued that euthanasia is the merciful action in such cases, and I agree with him.

According to Coyne, the morality of infanticide can be established on the same grounds that the acceptableness of abortion is:

If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?  I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral.

Coyne does have a point here. Why do many who think that unborn babies can be killed up to the third trimester decide to draw the line at birth? Since there is really no difference besides location of a fully developed fetus inside its mother’s womb and a recently born baby in its mother’s arms, from a scientific point of view it makes no sense to justify killing one and not the other.

To take that logic further, though, why does Coyne limit his defense of infanticide to just killing disabled or deformed babies? Since abortion is legal for any reason, would Coyne also legalize infanticide for any reason? To rephrase the question which he poses, “If you are allowed to abort a fetus, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?” Of course, saying that he saw “no substantive difference” between those two circumstances would likely draw more criticism than even Coyne could take. It is easier to convince the public of his views on infanticide if he begins by adding qualifications to the type of babies he thinks doctors should be able to kill.

Coyne’s justification of infanticide stems from his premise that newborn babies “don’t know about death and thus don’t fear it.” He therefore equates killing a baby to euthanizing pets:

After all, we euthanize our dogs and cats when to prolong their lives would be torture, so why not extend that to humans? Dogs and cats, like newborns, can’t make such a decision, and so their caregivers take the responsibility.

Here again, Coyne’s conclusion is logical, but it is based on the false presumption that animal and human life are of equal worth. If Coyne truly believes that, would he also justify cannibalism? Coyne does not address such implications of diminishing the value of human life to that of animal life, but he quickly moves on to blame religion for spreading the belief in the superiority of human life:

The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion—in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul.

However, Coyne is hopeful that “when” — not “if” — religion vanishes, “so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.” He points to recently changing public views on adult euthanasia and assisted suicide as evidence of “a tide of increasing morality in our world” which will someday accept the practice of infanticide as well.

There is no “morality” in deliberately ending an innocent human life, however. Even if a baby suffers from a severe life-threatening genetic disease, he or she should never be intentionally killed. In some difficult cases, parents may have to make the heartbreaking decision whether or not to continue the administration of extraordinary life-sustaining treatment which would prolong the process of dying. But they must never deliberately kill their child by a lethal injection or any other means.

Though based on inherently flawed presuppositions showing a complete disregard of the dignity of human life, Coyne’s conclusion is logical. If one accepts abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide, nothing should keep him from also justifying infanticide. Although initially limited to only sick babies, just as abortion is now permitted under any circumstances, this slippery slope’s unavoidable destination is the justification of infanticide “on demand without apology.” One hopes the public will realize this before society reaches that destination.

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Andrea Moury

Andrea Moury is a regular contributor to

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