Infanticide is a gruesome topic, but two of the week’s leading news stories in different ways deal with this sickening reality.
On Tuesday, Northern Territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris told Lindy Chamberlain and her former husband Michael she had found a dingo did indeed kill their baby daughter Azaria in 1980. This brought an end to a 32-year struggle that had scarred the Australian psyche.
Lindy was jailed for the murder of Azaria, and Michael was given a suspended sentence for being an accessory after the fact. After three years in jail, Lindy was released when new evidence emerged. In 1987, a royal commission inquiry exonerated both.
As a 14-year-old boy, I watched this real-life drama unfold on TV. The tragic death of a nine-week-old baby, which was claimed to be at the hands of her own mother, was difficult to comprehend.
Lindy and Michael’s total exoneration is a relief for them, of course, but the Coroner’s conclusion is a relief for us all. To be certain a young mother did not take the life of her own baby helps to restore our faith in human nature. If the young and helpless are not always protected among us, what kind of society do we belong to?
Ironically for some, we belong to the kind of society that awarded Australia’s highest civil honour to the philosopher Peter Singer on Monday. Singer has been made a Companion of Australia for “eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communicator of ideas in the areas of global poverty, animal welfare and the human condition”.
There is something naive about this catalogue of Singer’s achievements. Around the world, his name is synonymous with arguments that legitimise infanticide. He has been advocating this case since at least 1979, when he published his most influential book, Practical Ethics.
The revisions in last year’s edition do not include a retraction of his notorious views. He says: “A week-old baby is not a rational and self-aware being, and there are many non-human animals whose rationality, self-awareness, capacity to feel and so on, exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. If, for the reasons I have given, the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appears the newborn baby does not either.”
The world has gasped in horror at the murder of infants in Syrian atrocities. But Singer would not necessarily share our revulsion. When asked how we should react to Nazi soldiers killing helpless infants he calmly replied: “It is true infants appeal to us because they are small and helpless, and there are no doubt very good evolutionary reasons why we should instinctively feel protective towards them. It is also true that infants cannot be combatants, and killing infants in wartime is the clearest case of killing civilians, which is prohibited by international convention. None of this shows, however, that the death of an infant is as bad as the death of an (innocent) adult.”
To those of us who squirmed at the thought Azaria had been killed by another human, let alone her mother, Singer advised: “To think the lives of infants are of special value because infants are small and cute is on par with thinking a baby seal, with its soft white fur coat and large round eyes, deserves greater protection than a gorilla, who lacks these attributes.”
Mercifully, Singer is not an advocate of unrestricted infanticide. This should only be legalised under strict conditions, he recommends, because killing a child is a “terrible loss on those who love and cherish the child”.
An Order of Australia ought to reflect Australian values. Clearly, tolerance of infanticide is not one of them.
I am not writing to suggest Singer’s AC be revoked. But I do have a suggestion.
The Chamberlains ended their long journey with a revised copy of their daughter’s death certificate clearly stating that the cause of death was a dingo attack. The stain on their honour was expunged for ever.
My request is this. Can Australians who may feel like accessories after the fact to infanticide get a certificate of their own explicitly dissociating them from Singer’s repugnant views?
Amin Abboud lives in Sydney, Australia. He is a registered medical doctor, has a PhD in moral philosophy and is a Catholic priest. He is completing a book on Peter Singer’s moral philosophy, which will be published by Connor Court Publishing. This article was originally published in The Australian.