One problem with situational ethics (the ethics that most commonly underlines current thinking in the public square) is that it is so often logically inconsistent.
We have had, here in Australia, a very distressing case recently of a mother who has been convicted, for the sake of continuing her sporting career, of killing her newborn babies immediately after birth. This phenomena of “neonaticide”, as it is called, is apparently more widespread than has previously been appreciated, and is leading the states to consider ”baby safe haven” laws which – for the sake of the life of the child – would allow mothers in such distress to anonymously abandon their newborns at hospitals, or police and fire stations, without fear of criminal prosecution.
It is a move that I think should be considered, although there needs to be a lot of thought given to just how it would be implemented.
In the Sunday Age on the weekend, John Elder had two articles on this matter: Victorian moves to protect newborns and Sins of the Mother: the tragedgy of neonaticide. Both articles are worth reading, but I discern a deep logical and ethical disconnect behind the sentiments and ideas expressed in both articles and in the thinking behind the suggestion of such “baby safe haven” laws.
The “Sins of the Mother” article begins like this:
THE day you are born is the day you are most likely to be the victim of homicide. This cheerless statistic holds true whether you live in Stockholm or South Yarra. The perpetrator will almost certainly be your mother.
This statistic is true because, during the rest of life, the moment of death is rather more randomnly scattered – statistically speaking – throughout all the other thousands of days of a persons life. Nevertheless, if we were to extend the question beyond an actual 24 hour period and ask “In which nine months of a person’s life would he or she be most statistically likely to be killed?”, the answer would, without a doubt, be the nine month period before birth.
And hence the logical disconnect in this kind of situational ethics. It totally ignores the statistics and widespread practice of abortion. In fact, the word “abortion” does not occur anywhere in either of these two articles. There is something very strange going on in a society that cringes at the notion of neonaticide, and yet “celebrates” (as one commentator put it recently) a woman’s right to procure an abortion at any stage in pregnancy before the actual birth of the baby. No where in these articles is it pointed out that “simple solution” (of course, it is no “solution” at all, but would mean that the mothers in question would be condemned by neither the law nor by society if they were to take this action) would be for mothers who did not want their babies to have their babies aborted before birth rather than kill them after birth.
Few “ethicists” – other than Peter Singer and the Catholic Church – are entirely consistent on this matter. Singer says that if abortion is okay, neonaticide should be regarded as okay. The Catholic Church, of course, condemns both. At least both Singer and the Church are consistent. But a society that considers the one action to be acceptable and the other to be reprehensible is – at the very least – not consistent in its ethical thinking.
In the “Sins of the Mother”, Elder quotes the associate professor at the University of New England’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, Dr John Scott, as saying:
it is easy to dispose of an ”object” that we have no emotional links with. Moreover, he says, if the object threatens to block social opportunities, crime becomes a viable option.
”It is easier to kill animals because they are not ‘human’. At what stage does an infant become ‘human’? Not an easy answer here and [it] is likely to vary between individuals and cultures,” he says in an email.
…”Part of being human is having a social identity and part of this identity is formed from the onset of the pregnancy being made public. If this status is not made public, is it possible for a social identity to adequately develop? If this identity is less developed, it may be easier to commit the crime.”
These statements seem to me to throw as much light on the question of abortion as on the questin of neonaticide.
It is because our society recognises that a new-born baby is “human” that it condemns (both legally and ethically) acts of neonaticide. What can we do to raise the awareness that the human dignity of the unborn is equal to that of the newly born?