Infanticide and Euthanasia

Recently, Chris Haynes presented a very helpful paper in the Round Table in Ethics that dealt with infanticide and euthanasia. A clear understanding of the sanctity of life is something every Christian needs to know in order to strengthen his own faith and be equipped to help others see God in the world and society. Chris’s paper is a great resource to that end.

Infanticide and Euthanasia
Roundtable 2013

Overview of Infanticide
The infant is an innocent human being, and it is morally wrong to intentionally murder an innocent human being. Human beings are made in the image of God, Gen 1:26-28 and therefore have value. God is sovereign over life, Job 1:21.

What is Infanticide?
Infanticide refers to the killing of an infant human being after birth.

  • Active infanticide involves a procedure that actually takes the life of the infant
  • Passive Infanticide simply allows an infant to die by withholding needed treatments.

Historical Examples
“Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunters and gatherers to high civilization, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, it has been the rule.”[1]

Seen in cultures around the world:

  • Greece: abandonment of weak and deformed infants was not uncommon.
  • Sparta: it was required by law.
  • Plato’s Republic: “design for the ideal state, the philosopher recommends that infants with defective limbs be buried in some obscure place.”[2]
  • Aristotle urged: “nothing imperfect or maimed”[3] should be brought up.
  • Rome: the Twelve Tablets forbade the rearing of deformed children.[4]
  • India & China: at least 60 million females are missing, killed at birth.

Current Contextual Examples[5]

  • October 17, 2013- A 17-year-old girl is stopped at a Victoria’s Secret store in Manhattan for suspected shoplifting, and admits that in her bag she has the body of a baby that she gave birth to the day previous.
  • August 28, 2013 – A woman gives birth in a bar bathroom in Pennsylvania, stuffs the baby in the water tank of a toilet, and then returns to the bar to watch a fight on TV. The body was subsequently discovered by the bar owner.
  • August 7, 2013 – The body of a baby is discovered at hospital rest room in Texas.
  • July 9, 2013 – Police discover the body of a baby abandoned in a diaper box in the bushes at a public park in Roseville, California.
  • June 21, 2013 – The body of a small baby is found in a solid waste tank in a waste disposal plant just north of Montreal. Police say the baby was likely flushed down the toilet.
  • June 21, 2013 – The body of a newborn baby is discovered in a trashcan in Oildale, California.
  • June 20, 2013 – An Iraqi-born UK woman is found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm after stuffing her baby in a garbage bag and throwing her down a 44 ft. garbage chute.
  • June 12, 2013 – Brittany Cole is arrested in Altheimer, Arkansas, after dumping her infant son in the trashcan. She reportedly told police that she was tired of caring for the baby and could no longer do so.
  • June 5, 2013 – Twenty-seven-year-old Virginia resident Shavaughn Robinson is charged after allegedly giving birth in a toilet, then placing her daughter in a trash can, and then taking the garbage bag with the baby in it out of the can and tossing it in a dumpster.
  • May 30, 2013 – Police announce that charges will not be filed against a Kansas teen who gave birth and dumped the body of her baby in a trash can. The teen claimed the baby was stillborn.
  • May 27, 2013 – Video footage of firefighters in Jinhua, China, rescuing a baby who had become stuck in a sewage pipe, rockets around the globe. The baby’s mother apparently gave birth on the toilet, and by her own account “accidentally” flushed the baby down the toilet. The mom reportedly hid the pregnancy because the baby was not considered legal under China’s brutal One-Child Policy.
  • May 2, 2013 – Cherlie Lafleur, 19, is arrested in Pennsylvania after allegedly attempting to flush her newborn baby down the toilet at her school. When that didn’t work, she reportedly deposited the body in the trashcan.
  • Dec. 10, 2012 – The body of a newborn baby is discovered on the conveyor belt of a garbage sorting facility in La Puente, California.

Several Positions in Favor of Infanticide

Peter Singer: Homo Sapiens Not Superior
We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul. We should recognize, that in some cases the life of a dog or a pig could be more morally significant than that of the defective infant, because the dog or pig might possess superior powers of rationality and self-consciousness. Mere membership in the species homo sapiens is not necessarily morally significant.[6]

Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minera: Children Are Non-Persons
Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life.’ We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her. The condition depends on the level of her mental development, which in turn determines whether or not she is a ‘person.’[7]

Quality of Life of the Child or Caregiver
It is more merciful and morally permissible to kill a child than allow them to suffer if their quality of life will be poor. It is morally permissible to kill a child if that child is going to infringe on the quality of life of the parents, community, government, the medical field, and etc.[8]

My Position Against Infanticide: The Biblical Position
Biblically, all life is sacred and made in the image of God. Gen. 1:26-28.

An infant is a human being by human essence, not by accidental characteristic. Killing a child for any reason is murder, Gen 9:6, Ex. 20:13, other verses for life.[9]

Logically, I believe infants are persons. They have human DNA. They were born and look like their human parents. Singer doesn’t tell us why awareness belongs to the concept of personhood; he merely asserts that it does. In so doing, he espouses a doctrine known as functionalism, the belief that what defines human persons is what they can and cannot do. An infant is a human being that exhibits human actions, not a bundle of actions that, when collected, become a human being.

Legal Developments
Developments in the legal community have shown that it is illegal to kill or allow newborn infants to die. Under existing laws, a parent’s decision to refuse consent for a medical or surgical procedure necessary to maintain the life of a handicapped newborn falls with the bounds of homicide by omission.[10]

The Born-Alive Infant act states that any “person, human being, child and individual shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”[11] Born alive means “the complete expulsion or extraction from his or her mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after such expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.”[12]

Future model legislation from the Americans United for Life would also add

Section 4: A person shall not deny or deprive an infant of nourishment with the intent to cause or allow the death of the infant for any reason, including but not limited to:

  1. (1) The infant was born with a handicap;
  2. (2) The infant is not wanted by the parent(s) or guardian(s); or
  3. (3) The infant is born alive by natural or artificial means.

(b) A person shall not deprive an infant of medically appropriate and reasonable medical care and treatment or surgical care. [13]

Medical Breakthroughs, Quality of Life, and Cost
Medical breakthroughs in the field of neonatology have allowed premature infants born at 2.2 lbs. and less to survive. The overwhelming majority of survivors are normal, a small number have minor handicaps, and an even smaller number are severely handicapped. [14]

Quality of life is a subjective definition and it will have subjective results. It is wrong to assume that non-life is better than a life with suffering. In fact, good can result from suffering. Few enduring lessons in life are learned through pleasure. Suffering can produce good qualities such as patience, Rom. 5:3-4, James 1:2-4. The quality of life for such children and their parents can be quite satisfactory. Parents who have children with Down’s syndrome have actually been enriched by the experience. We have such a family in our church at Trinity Baptist in Norman, OK. We also have a moral duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Today, many of these children that are left to die have some type of handicap. Parents are heartbroken and have been dealt a crushing blow. I believe decisions made in the immediacy of such emotional stresses are unlikely to be objective and may easily be prejudicial to the interests of the handicapped newborn child, who is not be represented by a neutral party. It should also be realized, however, that medical prognoses are always probabilistic, and that physicians frequently disagree among themselves. Medical expertise does not guarantee that medical decisions will be morally sound ones.

Dr. C. Evert Koop said, “The physician’s proper task is to do whatever possible so that the patient can enjoy to the fullest whatever he or she determines is quality.”[15]

The cost to care for handicapped newborn children should also not be an issue at 3 billion annually.[16] Americans spend 61 billion a year on their pets,[17] and in 2011 spent 718 billion on defense.[18]

Concluding Thought
There is indeed a time to die, just as there is a time to be born (Eccl 3:2), and modern medicine must acknowledge its limitations. But the basic thrust of medicine should always be to choose life (Deut 30:19), because all human life is sacred to God who made it.

Overview of Euthanasia
The debate over euthanasia is basically a clash of worldviews. From a secular humanist perspective, euthanasia makes sense; within a Judeo-Christian context it is morally unacceptable. It is unacceptable because it rejects God’s sovereignty over human life. God is the creator and owner of all things (Gen 1:1, Ps 24:1). He made humans in his own image (Gen. 1:27), and because they are made in his image they are sacred. The medical practitioner is under the Hippocratic oath, which in its classical form, forbids doctors to kill.[19] The only time allowing a death can be justified is when we are withdrawing unnatural lifesaving mechanisms or for cases of irreversible disease.[20]

What Is Euthanasia?
The term euthanasia originated from the Greek word for “good death.” It is the act or practice of deliberately ending the life of a person either by lethal injection or the suspension of medical treatment.

Voluntary Euthanasia: when a competent person makes a voluntary and enduring request to be helped to die

Involuntary Euthanasia: to end a person’s life without their knowledge or consent, i.e. Terri Schiavo.

Active Euthanasia: to end a person’s life by use of drugs, whether by oneself or with the aid of a physician.

Passive Euthanasia: to end a person’s life by not taking the necessary and ordinary action to maintain life. This can be done by withdrawing water, food, drugs, and medical or surgical procedures.

Physician-Assisted Suicide: suicide accomplished with the aid of a medical doctor intentionally providing a person with an overdose of prescription medication.

Assisted Suicide: suicide accomplished with the aid of another person.

Current Examples

  • Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal and widely practiced in the Netherlands where about 9% of all deaths were a result of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia in 1990. [21]
  • Dutch doctors practice active euthanasia by lethal injections (96.6% of all deaths actively caused by physicians in 1990).[22]
  • Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2001. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012. It is currently considering extending this to children.[23]
  • In the U.S., the states of Oregon, Washington, and Vermont grant assisted suicide requests for residents aged 18 or over with a terminal illness. Montana has made it legal but yet without protocol in place. In 46 others states it is illegal.[24] There are no federal laws on Euthanasia.
  • Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who in the 1990s helped over 100 people die, spent 8 years in prison for second-degree murder.[25]
  • Terri Schiavo in 1990 suffered brain damage after her heart stopped. She was not on life support. She was not dying. All Terri was receiving was food and water. Her family wanted to keep working with her because they believed she could improve; her husband wanted all food and water removed. In 2002, a Florida trial court judge conducted six days of evidentiary hearings and ruled that the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state met the legal standard of “clear and convincing” evidence. Terri died on March 31; 13 days after her feeding tube had been removed.[26]
  • Paralyzed hunter Tim Bowers got to decide for himself whether he would live or die on Sunday, November 3, 2013. He fell 16 feet from a tree and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Doctors were keeping him alive on a ventilator and said he would be on it for life. Bowers chose no extra measures to stay alive. The ventilator was removed and Bowers died five hours later surrounded by friends and family.[27]

Some Arguments for Euthanasia[28]

1. There is a moral right to die with dignity. This is part of what it means to have a human kind of life. Proponents insist that it is a necessary means to guarantee a dignified death. Without it, we humans have no choice in our own destiny.

2. It is an act of mercy. We shoot horses trapped in burning barns to alleviate suffering. Why not be at least as humane with humans? Why must we perpetuate human misery? The most compassionate thing to do is put people out of their misery.

3. It relieves society of a great social burden. As medical cost sore, the elderly have a duty to die.

4. Autonomy argument. People have an autonomous right to make their own decisions in all areas and aspects of life.

Christian Arguments Against Euthanasia[29]

1. There is no moral right to kill an innocent human being. The Bible says you shall not kill in Exodus 20:13. Humankind is not sovereign over life.

2. It is not merciful to kill a sufferer. A merciful motive does not justify an objectively immoral act. Stealing money from a bank in order to show “mercy” to the poor is stealing just the same. The end does not justify the means.

3. There can be no price tag on human life. The argument of relief of financial strain is based on a fallacious premise that a price tag can be placed on human life. It wrongly assumes that we should protect and preserve life only if we can afford it. This is a materialist argument, not a moral one. (Mark 8:36, Matt 6:26.)

4. Response to autonomy. People do have a certain right to their own bodies, but this does not mean they have the right to do anything with it that they want. This argument overlooks God’s sovereignty over life. We are not the creator of our life, and it does not belong to us. (Acts 14:17, 17:24-25)

Concluding Thoughts

  • The legalization of euthanasia would put pressure on the terminally ill to “do away with themselves.”
  • Diagnoses of “terminal” illness can be mistaken.
  • Once it is agreed “that some individuals have a duty to consent to their own deaths, then it will be argued that those who fail to do their duty must be required by law to do it.”[30] What begins as a permission can turn into an obligation, even one coerced by the force of law.
  • Legalization of euthanasia would have a detrimental impact on the mentally disturbed and disabled.
  • The medical profession itself would be affected. The physician would assume the role of society’s executioner as well as its healer. This would weaken the element of trust between doctor and patient.
  • It is never right to take a life or to withhold ordinary life-sustaining means such as food, water, and air.
  • There are times when the use of unnatural means is a hindrance, not a help to the process of natural death. That is when extraordinary human efforts are really prolonging death rather than prolonging life. (Eccl 3:2, Heb. 9:27) At this point, palliative care, or therapeutic measures, is designed to increase the patient’s comfort and control pain. A personal example would be my grandmother who had liver cancer. She was diagnosed and chose not to undergo chemotherapy (extraordinary efforts). She lived three months and died peacefully at home with her family.
  • Cessation of useless means in truly terminal cases should in no way be confused with euthanasia, which involves an act of killing and the deliberate choice of death as a moral end.
  • There is no moral obligation to prolong artificially a truly terminal patient’s irreversible and imminent process of dying.

The euthanasia mentality sees man as the lord of his life; the Christian sees human life as a gift from God, to be held in trusteeship throughout man’s life on earth. Christians are to be shining lights to a world of darkness, which choose life for themselves and for others.

[1] Laila Williamson, anthropologist of the American Museum of Natural History. http://www.infanticide.org/history.htm, sourced November 2013.
[2] Plato Republic v. 460f, www.archive.org/stream/PlatosRepublicallanBloomTranslation/PlatosRepublictrans.Bloom_djvu.txt, sourced November 2013.
[3] Aristotle Politics vii. 16, http://www.constitution.org/ari/polit_07.htm, sourced November, 2013.
[4] Twelve Tables IV. 1, http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/12tables.html, sourced November, 2013.
[5] www.quinersdiner.com/2013/10/19/the-disturbing-rising-tide-of-infanticide/, sourced October 2013.
[6] Peter Singer, Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?, published in the American Journal of Pediatrics in 1983; sourced, nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2012/03/leading-bioethicists-conclude-infanticide-no-different-from-abortion/#.UozR6pFTjwI, October 2013.
[7] Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minera, After-birth abortion; why should the baby live? Journal of Medical Ethics, 2012
[8] Norman L Geisler, Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapids Michigan, Baker, 2010), pg 162.
[9] Did not the One who made me in the womb also make them? Did not the same God form us both in the womb? Job 31:15 (HCSB) The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4 (HCSB) You took me from the womb, making me secure while at my mother’s breast. I was given over to You at birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb. Psalm 22:9-10 (HCSB) Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, children, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. Such men will never be put to shame when they speak with [their] enemies at the city gate. Psalm 127:3-5 (HCSB)
[10] John A. Robertson, “Involuntary Euthanasia,” reprinted in Dennis J. Horan and David Mall, Death, Dying, and Euthanasia, p. 144.
[11] www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-107hr2175enr/pdf/BILLS-107hr2175enr.pdf
[12] www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-107hr2175enr/pdf/BILLS-107hr2175enr.pdf
[13] http://www.aul.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Born-Alive-Infant-Protection-Act-2013-LG.pdf, sourced November, 2013.
[14] “The Smallest Patients,” Medical World News, 14 September 1981, p. 28.
[15] Testimony of Dr. C. Everett Koop
[16] “Perinatal Statistics,” Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership., www.sisterlink.com
[17] www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/05/22/americans-spend-61-billion-on-pets-annually.
[18] www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts/
[19] www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_oath.html
[20] Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan Baker Publishing), 2010, p. 198, “There is no divine duty to use heroic or unnatural means to prolong human death. There is no duty to prolong misery or to fight mortality.” Hence, when sustenance of life is artificial and the process of death is irreversible, there is no moral obligation to prolong life by artificial means.
[21] www.euthanasia.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000132, sourced November, 2013.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24]www.euthanasia.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000132#legal_states. Sourced November, 2013.
[25] www.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/us/04kevorkian.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, sourced November, 2013.
[26] www.terrisfight.org/timeline, sourced November, 2013.
[27] www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/06/injured-hunter-chooses-death-over-paralysis/3461259, sourced November, 2013.
[28] Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan Baker Publishing), 2010, 165.
[29] Ibid., 167-69.
[30] Germain Grisez, “Suicide and Euthanasia,” in Death, Dying, and Euthanasia, p. 810.