To say the least, I am very pleased that Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of three first-degree murders (among other crimes) for the slaughter of three babies born alive after botched abortions. But this clear victory for justice should not blind us to the societal context in which these crimes occurred.
Infanticide has been actively promoted as moral and ethical for years among the world’s most famous bioethicists, most notoriously by Princeton’s Peter Singer. Indeed, absent the sanitation issues, fetal body parts in jars, and method of killing, I am not sure exactly how Gosnell’s acts differed in kind from “after-birth abortion,” advocacy for which takes place regularly in the world’s most prominent and influential medical and bioethics journals.
Indeed, the Oxford-based Journal of Medical Ethics just published a special issue dedicated to debating the pros and cons of infanticide. Once an issue is deemed “debatable,” by definition, it has become respectable. Think about it: Would any prominent policy journal ever debate the pros and cons of racism? Not on a bet because defending racism is beyond the pale. That the same disdain isn’t applied in these journals toward infanticide is cause for tremendous concern.
The infanticide of terminally ill and seriously disabled babies occurs regularly in Netherlands as an offshoot of that country’s legalized euthanasia policy. According to two studies published in The Lancet, 8 percent of all babies who die in the Netherlands are euthanized by doctors. And, while infanticide remains technically murder under Dutch law, euthanizing babies has become so societally respectable that a doctor openly published a bureaucratic check list for use by pediatric wards in determining which babies can be killed ethically. Known as the Groningen Protocol, the document was also published with all due respect in the New England Journal of Medicine.
So, justice was done in Philadelphia. The question, however, is whether infanticide will continue to remain beyond the legal pale when it already receives such prominent support among some of society’s most influential public intellectuals.