Infanticide in Germany

A woman in Germany has been found guilty of killing five of her newborn babies because their existence would have endangered their lifestyle and standard of living. The news is here.

So what’s new? Around the world millions of children are killed for the same reasons. It’s just that they are killed before they are born.

What allows such horrors? It’s a philosophy called utilitarianism. This video clip shows a famous atheist (Richard Dawkins) and a famous utilitarian (Peter Singer) discussing infanticide quite calmly.

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Utilitarianism is the philosophy that works is good. It’s the daughter of atheism because in the absence of any higher authority, any afterlife, and eternal judgment or ultimate other worldly consequence of one’s actions, the only real standard for behavior is practicality. What works.

It doesn’t take much thought to figure out where utilitarianism leads: not only to abortion on demand, but by extension, infanticide and “assisted suicide” and finally euthanasia.

Given the assumptions of atheistic utilitarianism, why shouldn’t that German woman have killed her newborns? A few short weeks earlier she could’ve terminated them medically in a neat, clean clinic. That she killed them herself presumably saved her the cost of the abortions. She was just doing what worked.

If you think it will not come to assisted suicide and euthanasia, have a look at what’s already happening in the area of ‘do not resuscitate orders.’ With an aging population, improved health care and declining money to pay for it and people to look after them, we boomers had better buckle up and prepare for a bumpy ride.

For my essay on Utilitarianism go here.


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  • Dave Pearce

    Utilitarianism is not by definition atheistic. In his seminal essay Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill makes a clear argument that utilitarianism is congruent with philosophies that incorporate a deity as the giver of morality.

    Furthermore, I believe this post mischaracterises utilitarianism as being a philosophy that has at its goal the maximisation of happiness of the individual. This is most definitely not the case. Utilitarianism posits the greatest happiness or good for the community in which one lives, or even for all of humanity, as the goal in any moral decision.

    I believe the post essentially describes a straw man version of utilitarianism as an individualistic philosophy, which most definitely is not. Certainly, utilitarianism does not solve all moral and ethical dilemmas (moral philosophers would be out of a job if it did!) but it is a useful philosophical framework that guides actions that increase the good and happiness of others, not a mandate for individualist, self serving actions as is suggested in the post. As a result, athiests who are utilitarian (and the two groups are not supersets of each other, ie there are non-utilitarian atheists, and utilitarian theists) are likely to be people who act with goodness and dignity toward their fellow human beings.

  • Matthew

    What way does Richard Dawkins want it? When I heard him speak during his tour of New Zealand, he said he was a “scientific Darwinist”, but not a “social Darwinist”. He said that the principles of evolutionary biology could not be applied to human societies, although he didn’t explain why. It is just so. Yet here in this video he is saying the complete opposite: if an infant has a “defect”, dispose of him or her.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I didn’t say all atheists were utilitarian or that all utilitarians were atheists. Some utilitarian principles are practical for all people, but when it is taken as the only good or the only moral compass it leads to great evils. Utilitarian–the greatest good for the greatest number relies upon someone deciding what that good is and enforcing it. This invariably demands totalitarianism of some kind, and the ‘greatest good’ for the greatest number’ invariably means a great evil for a smaller number. Stalinist Russia is a good example.

  • Dave Pearce

    Again, I believe you are positing a straw-man version of utilitarianism, and generalising from certain specific examples. Utilitarianism does not require ‘someone (if you mean by this one person) deciding what good is and enforcing it’. Communities develop common beliefs and standards that enable them to function as communities. Often nowadays this is done through democratic processes, and the establishment of both laws that govern the most severe forms of unacceptable behaviour, and social mores which guide people behaviour to that which is for the best of the community.

    Therefore, utilitarianism in the absence of a theocratic standard of morality does not ‘invariably demand totalitarianism’, nor lead to ‘a great evil for a smaller number.’ Most secular western liberal democracies today are counter-examples to Stalinist Russia, and in fact this is the first place that I have seen it suggested that the Soviet system was in any way operated on utilitarian principles (although it is regular cited as an example of what atheism leads to).

    Equally, there are plenty of examples of theocratic systems that have come to rely on totalitarianism, and ended badly. Throwing examples of failed societies or regimes around as tenuous justifications for arguing a philosophical point is rarely useful, as each side can quote numerous examples, often poorly drawn, and end up proving nothing.

  • Sus

    Unless I drop dead unexpectedly, there will come a time when I will not want to be resuscitated. We are not going to live forever, regardless of what medical advances there are. No one is going to escape death. I had cancer at 39. I’m very thankful I’m fine now. Through my illness, I ended up reading a lot about how people die and became very interested in the subject in general and personally.

    The majority of seniors die in the midst of very invasive medical interventions which cause a lot of pain. If the resuscitation is successful, there is little to no quality of life. Meaning, the person is in a bed unable to do anything like communicate. CPR is very violent on an older person. Most of the times, ribs are broken in the process. The person should have a choice whether or not to have a DNR. If I’m able to get my way, I want to die peaceably, in my own bed, with my loved ones around me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a person saying they have had enough medical interventions and let nature take its normal course.

    I comments above are not about financial cost in any way. Our constitution will protect us from death panels. Obama Care does not have any death panels in it. What it does have is providing access to palliative and hospice care. Both of which are really a God send and not a death sentence like people believe. As a hospice volunteer, I’ve never seen anyone forced into the program. Not one time.

    I also believe that if a person wants everything done no matter what, they should have that right.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I encourage you to read my essay on utilitarianism just posted as a link. What I am condemning could be called ‘totalitarian utilitarianism’–not only that ruled by a totalitarian government, but a philosophical outlook in which utilitarianism is the only guiding principle for both individuals and societies.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    The Catholic teaching on end of life issues is that those treating people at the end of their life do not need to use ‘heroic measures’ to save the life or keep the person alive forever. Medics do not have to resuscitate, and machines can be turned off. What is not permissible according to Catholic teaching is for anyone to take active measures to end a life.

  • Ashley

    I think it’s foolish to believe you can draw meaningful philosophical conclusions from a 200 or 300 word article on a horrific crime. You know almost nothing about the motives, psychological state, or the beliefs of the people involved and very little about the specifics of the crimes. Your claim that “What allows such horrors? It’s a philosophy called utilitarianism.” is patently ridiculous. Human beings have committed atrocities against one another, even against their own offspring, for millenia. These crimes require no fancy ethical philosophy or moralistic frameworks. They require only traits we all carry – fear, vanity, and greed.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Utilitarianism is the philosophy that an action is good simply if it offers a solution: “what is useful is good”. The German woman wanted to maintain her lifestyle. Children inhibited that. She killed them. That was a utilitarian solution. Whether she knew it or not or called herself a utilitarian is beside the point. The utilitarian solution may have been driven by fear, vanity and greed, but it was still the ‘useful’ thing to do.

  • Dave Pearce

    I have just read your essay. There are many points in it that I would argue are not an accurate portrayal of what many philosophers would consider utilitarianism to be, but here is not the place to try and rebut all of that.

    We are also going to have to agree to disagree about ‘totalitarian utilitarianism’ being the inevitable outcome of a society in which utilitarianism is the only guiding principle.

    I still believe that your post on the German case tries to portray utilitarianism as something that it is not, and would mislead someone unfamiliar with its premises. I strongly reject the idea that the German woman’s actions are in any way a result of utilitarianism, or can be justified through any utilitarian argument based on anything but the most superficial understanding of utilitarianism.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Let’s take the superficial reading then. Utilitarianism says what works is good–without any other moral standards. The German woman didn’t want anymore babies. What worked was killing them.

  • Dave Pearce

    That is exactly my point – I disagree that ‘what works is good’ is a description or definition of or from utilitarianism – sounds more like Machiavelli to me. It is my view that you are applying definitions to and interpretations of utilitarianism that are not commonly used or accepted, and then using those incorrect definitions and interpretations to try and paint it as a bad philosophy.

  • Mercury

    Interestingly, Father, you’re wrong that she could have had the child aborted a few weeks before. Germany, like most European nations, does not allow late-term abortion, and support for the process is still considered a fringe position. The US has some of the most insanely permissive abortion laws on the planet.

    This is a disgusting story. The only thing that is surprising is that this woman was not American or British.

  • Andreas Kjernald

    I think the “pink elephant” in the room is the question of “good”. Who defines what is good in a society that is run by utilitarianism? The majority, as in my current country-of-residence Norway?

    However, the problem is that the definition of “good” or “good for most people” has been relegated to the realm of what people think is good (instead of what God says is good) and people simply aren’t able to define it in a coherent way. Not because they are stupid or lazy but because it is beyond human capability. Humans are fickle. Humans change views and preferences on many matters depending on the weather, the color of someone’s skin, the time of year it is, experiences with family or friends, the food they had for breakfast, etc. ad nauseum. The same goes for the definition of “good”, or even “what is the greatest good for the most people”.

    Thus, for a utilitarian society (or person) “good” becomes, at base, a fluid concept. Good can become bad and bad can become good, all by the flick of a “switch” such as pressing a button on a voting machine or whatever…all the while we arguing over them and have an inner sense that some things are by default/nature/God-give soul wrong. If good is dependent on the majority then the minority is always wrong and should simply shut up. Why argue with those that define what good is, i.e. the majority?

    The problem with this approach is that a sin can never become a virtue and vice versa no matter how we vote or argue. We can make excuses, rationalize, philosophize our way around issues, such as Dawkins allowing murder for people with defects by (I assume) arguing that it is humane to do so. However, I would argue that even Dawkins doesn’t believe that murder is “good”. Welcome, mr. Contradiction and hello to your friend mrs. Rationalize.
    We simply can not define conclusively what is actually and truly good in any shape or form that is coherent and authoritative…and that is the problem with utilitarinism. As a foundation for morality and society, it sucks.

  • Ted Seeber

    I’m not so certain. Utilitarianism can be useful when in the service of an objective morality, such as the example of the Inquisition.

  • Ted Seeber

    The reason Richard Dawkins doesn’t want the principles of evolution to apply to moral philosophies and human cultures is because atheism has been shown to be negative over the long run as a survival characteristic.

  • Ted Seeber

    “Our constitution will protect us from death panels. Obama Care does not have any death panels in it. ”

    Our constitution can’t even protect the Freedom of Exercise clause in the First Amendment. How can it possibly protect us against economic abortion and euthanasia?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • RickK

    “Good can become bad and bad can become good, all by the flick of a “switch” such as pressing a button on a voting machine or whatever”

    Sort of like what happens when interpretations of the Bible shift over the centuries. Slavery went from acceptable to unacceptable. Animal sacrifice went from acceptable to unacceptable. Genocide in the name of God went from acceptable to unacceptable. Plural marriage went from acceptable to unacceptable (more recently in some sects). Not being a virgin on your wedding night went from unacceptable to acceptable. Cursing a parent is no longer punishable by death. Prophets no longer assault people for charging interest on loans.

    All of these with just a flick of the interpretation.

    Religious morality is just another factor that defines the social mores that our parents pass to us, and that we in turn update based on the development of human understanding. The “morality” of today’s Christians would be unrecognizable to Christians of the 3rd century. So let’s just dispense with the fiction that Christian morality is some sort of absolute handed down from God. History does not support that little bit of fiction.

  • RickK

    Dwight Longenecker is not being honest. Utilitarianism does NOT state “what is useful is good”. Yet Dwight finds it incredibly easy to repeat this falsehood over and over. I hope he kept count for the next time he confesses.

    Utilitarianism posits that the proper course of action is the one that “maximizes overall happiness”. Contrary to Dwight’s assertions, Utilitarianism does not mean an individual can do whatever makes their life better. That’s Dwight’s false version, not the truth. As is clear from the reactions to the cited story, overall happiness of the community was NOT maximized by the woman killing her children. A previous commenter accused Dwight of portraying a strawman version of Utilitarianism. I’m not so generous. Dwight is restating a falsehood over and over in the hopes that repetition will convince some people that it is true. Again – a topic for discussion between Dwight and his confessor.

    As for abortion and infanticide – both are horrible. But as long as large, well-funded global organizations fight the development, sale and use of safe, reliable, long-lasting birth control technology, desperate people will resort to abortion and infanticide. We have about 100,000 years of history demonstrating that unless you’re willing to kill young women as punishment, you can’t outlaw sex. It doesn’t work. But you CAN prevent sex from creating unwanted babies. Too bad there are organizations that fight this idea.

  • Lynda

    Christian morality is morality based on objective natural reason. Our natural reason is capable of recognising what is objectively right or wrong – hence the Natural Law. The principles do not change over time as the nature of humankind does not change. Faith brings a deeper understanding of what reason tells us.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for visiting this blog. It would be easier to take you and your opinion seriously if your views were expressed courteously, and with an invitation to discuss. As it stands your comments come across as arrogant, ignorant, aggressive and dogmatic. My first instinct is to delete them much as I might turn away from a loud and aggressive drunk one meets in the street. But I’ve resisted the impulse and posted them anyway–confident that anyone who reads them will also sense your tone and take them with the seriousness they deserve. I have always thought that one ought to behave in a combox as one would as a guest in someone’s home. Wouldn’t you agree?

    On to the subject at hand–I encourage you to read my whole essay on the topic of utilitarianism. While utilitarianism, when applied to social situations, considers what brings most happiness to the most people, it is also possible for individuals to make decisions based on utilitarian principles..that is–”I will do whatever works–whatever most easily solves my problems– despite any over-arching moral principles.”

  • veritas

    The real picture of any attempt at rule without God can be seen in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.
    Both these regimes despised Christianity and set up their own “moral” code.
    The result – countless millions dead.

    Stalin was an out and out atheist. Hitler despised Christianity and Judaism and created some sort of quasi pagan, utilitarian, superman cult, founded on the teachings of Nietzsche, who hated Christianity and was also an absolute atheist.

    The atheists will argue otherwise, but the facts are inescapable – the two most anti Christian regimes on earth have been the two most brutal, evil, death dealing, destructive regimes that have ever existed.

  • Korou

    “As for abortion and infanticide – both are horrible. But as long as large, well-funded global organizations fight the development, sale and use of safe, reliable, long-lasting birth control technology, desperate people will resort to abortion and infanticide. We have about 100,000 years of history demonstrating that unless you’re willing to kill young women as punishment, you can’t outlaw sex. It doesn’t work. But you CAN prevent sex from creating unwanted babies. Too bad there are organizations that fight this idea.”

    Quite right. Nothing but prejudiced rantings there. Not the glimmer of a reasonable point.

  • Korou

    Sorry – was this the same Nazi Germany which entered into mutually beneficial alliances with the Catholic and Protestant Churches?
    I’m afraid that to say “Christianity was the natural enemy of fascism” would be as incomplete an understanding as saying “Christianity was the natural ally of fascism.” History is more complicated than that.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Uhh. The German infanticide case–which is the only one in the discussion–involved a well off woman in a developed country who had easy access to affordable contraception, and she actually conceived five babies which she then killed–so widespread “sex without babies” sex ed. and easy access to affordable contraception stops infanticide? I guess you’re right…not the glimmer of a reasonable point.

  • veritas

    Look again at the facts.
    Hitler’s writings say it all.
    As well as the Jews, millions of Catholics and other Christians were also sent to the death camps.
    He despised Christianity and the Nazis invented those showy pagan ceremonies to replace it.
    I know atheists hate to hear it, but Hitler and Stalin both despised Christianity – and their actions show the result.

  • Korou

    So raising the question of whether there are any “large, well-funded global organizations” fighting against “the development, sale and use of safe, reliable, long-lasting birth control technology,” has no place in any serious discussion and deserves instant dismissal.
    Should we perhaps say, “that’s a valid point but not on the topic of the OP?”
    Maybe not. Drunken wretch that he is! For shame, RickK!

  • Korou

    There is a question I’d like to ask. How do you know that it was wrong for this woman to kill her children? If you are asserting that it is necessary to believe in God in order to have a moral basis – correct me if you’re not – then on what is your morality based?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    This is not an internet forum. It’s a combox. Comment on posts if you like, but I don’t have the time for extended conversations on side topics.

  • RickK

    My prior comment attempted to address two different points and appeared to blend the two. It was not my intent to imply that this case was about a lack of birth control. This case was about a sick woman in an apparently unsupportive relationship who did terrible things.

    You took the sad, horrible actions of mentally ill woman and portrayed them as a natural outcome of atheism. And you bolstered your argument with an intentionally incorrect portrayal of of a philosophical principle. And you’re STILL doing it – Utilitarianism does NOT in any way support the notion that it is acceptable for an individual to improve their quality of life by killing other people.

    This whole blog post is a cheap shot – using a horrific event to do a little anti-atheism marketing. And it is based on a false portrayal of a philosophical idea.

    Let’s say this woman instead killed her babies because the voice of God in her head told her to. It would not occur to me to write a blog post stating that this is the natural outcome of Catholicism. So who is being discourteous?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your question. If you are seriously interested in the relationship between religion and morality I encourage you to do some research and make up your mind.

  • Korou

    I’d rather an answer to the question, but if you don’t want to have that discussion then you don’t have to.

  • Sour old fart

    Nazi Germany was bad enough, but rather short-lived (cynical Germans call it “The Twelve-Thousand Years’ Empire”). Today, Eastern Germany (former GDR) and the Czech Republik are two of the most God-less territories world-wide – literally. Only North Corea might be worse. The disappearance of Christendom from these parts is not exclusively due to 12 years of “brown” dictatorship, there is also the aftermath – decades of a Communist dictatorship, which was about as totalitarian as the Nazis had been. For three generations, the Christians were marginalized. Results: mission territories.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your reasoned and courteous response. You said the German woman was mentally ill, but there was no mention in any of the news reports of the woman suffering from mental illness. She confessed and said she didn’t want the babies because they would impede their family’s lifestyle. In other words–it was a utilitarian solution–she wanted the greatest good for the greatest number of her family members.

    I accept that the formal philosophy of utilitarianism may not condone killing, but killing is the outcome. I realize utilitarianism is a theory for social engineering, but individuals may also make choices based on utilitarian principles. That utilitarianism leads to killing is clear: Stalin wanted to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. To do this he enslaved and killed millions. Hitler wanted to bring about a master race–which is the greatest good for the greatest number. To do this he killed millions. This woman, on a smaller scale, wanted to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of her family members, and this meant killing five newborns.

    I am not saying that utilitarianism necessarily brings about genocide, nor am I saying that utilitarianism does not have some worthwhile principles. I am saying that utilitarianism on it’s own is not enough, and if that is the only guiding principle, then why not kill if it suits the higher cause?

    If one is guided only by utilitarian principles, and no higher morality that might check utilitarianism, then there is nothing within utilitarian principles to prohibit killing either on a small or large scale. One might pose the question, “What is there in utilitarianism that would absolutely prohibit the killing of another person?”

    If there is a higher morality that would check utilitarianism, then we must ask where that higher morality originates. This leads us to the religiously based answers of either natural law or divine revelation.

  • AnneG

    As Fr L said, a DNR is permissible when it means, “Let me die a natural death.” It is not permissible to give the hospice or DNR patient enough morphine to stop respirations, put them to sleep, “be humane,” or put them out of their misery. I’m a nurse and I’ve seen those used way more than should ever be even contemplated. “Quality of life” is an excuse and euphemism for euthanasia. And, btw there are appropriate use panels in the AHCA who will rule when you have gotten your share of care and care except hospice care will be denied.

  • oolon

    First of all atheists don’t hate to hear that horrible historical figures were atheists because as a principle to us it is meaningless unless somehow correlation and causation from these two unrelated properties could be proven. As mentioned above you can pull people of all faiths out as examples of the ‘evil’ of religion or ‘evil’ of having no religion from all over the world. In fact it is pretty clear you would lose the argument on that basis given the prevalence of religion over all of history so it is pretty obvious more deaths from people identifying as religious will have occurred just because more people were religious. Things like the Taiping Rebellion ended in 20 million or more dead for example, one of the worst religious wars fought by someone who said he was Jesus’s ‘brother’.

    What we hate to hear is people misrepresenting history to make what is is essence a meaningless point. Hitler despised what he saw as Jewish Christianity hence he pushed his version of ‘positive Christianity’ with an Aryan Jesus…. Mind-numbingly awful and built from his obvious hate of Jews rather than a hate of Christianity. Same with Stalin, he was an atheist but where is the evidence this made him more likely to kill millions of people? He was also an anti-evolution proponent and thought that Lamarckianism was more compelling, so he wouldn’t get much praise from modern atheists for his intellect or atheistic ‘purity’.

    People after power will twist whatever faith, ideology or political system in a way that is expedient for getting what they want. All you can say is to the sufficiently inventive psychopath religion and atheism can both be useful in that aim.

  • Sour old fart

    I am not the padre, and concerning matters philosophical I have the equivalent of a tin-ear, but maybe I can give you an answer regarding your rather blatantly provocative question as to how does one know whether it is wrong to kill a fellow human being: The Ten Commandments come to mind, which have been around for some time … something like 3000 years, I think it must be. Regarding general questions like on what my morality is based – sorry, I am not an introspective person, so further than “Christianity” and “Golden Rule” I have no answers for you. God with you (or do you see that as an act of aggression? If so, I’ll change that: Nothing be with you)

  • Korou

    You could say, “Have a nice day.”

    Have a nice day.