FF Senator: Perhaps we need to change the law about killing newborns

There issued, yesterday afternoon, from the offices of Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee, a press release so bizarre that it is almost a racing certainty that this outlet will be the only one to cover it.

Behold:

The relevant paragraph:

Currently, concealing a birth is a criminal offence in Ireland. Furthermore, there is no distinction in law between neonaticide (death within the first 24 hours of birth) and infanticide (death within the first 12 months of life). They need to be approached differently and appropriate responses developed.

Before the part in bold, let’s address the first sentence: The good Senator is correct that it is, at present, a criminal offence in Ireland to conceal a birth. There are very good reasons for this: The State has decided, for example, that every child has certain rights (there was a children’s rights referendum, Senator Clifford Lee called for a “yes” vote) and in order to vindicate those rights for each child, the state must at a minimum be aware of a child’s existence.

It is not hard to imagine, for example, circumstances in which it was no longer criminal to conceal the birth of a child, a situation in which bad actors might begin to profit from selling unknown children for private, unregulated adoptions. Or for even worse purposes. Registering a child’s birth gives immediate legal protection to mother and child alike. Whether Senator Clifford Lee has considered that fact, or whether she is just blurting out anything she thinks might make her sound more “compassionate” than others, I will leave readers to decide.

The hors d’oeuvres consumed, we should move on to the main course.

The Senator’s complaint appears to be that the present law draws no distinction between killing a six month old baby, and killing a six hour old baby. Though she makes no proposal, it is reasonable to draw an inference from her comments that she believes that perhaps these should be separate and distinct offences, with one, perhaps, treated more leniently than the other.

Even those of us who were accused of the most outrageous scaremongering during the abortion referendum could hardly have imagined that within four years, we would have moved on to questioning the legal protection for actually born, living, breathing infants. Yet here we are.

One wonders, incidentally, whether such distinctions should not be drawn at the end of life, as well as the beginning: Why, for example, should it not be a lesser offence to murder a 95 year old with no dependents and not very many miles left on the clock, than it is to murder a 45 year old father of four kids under 10 with half his life before him?

The point I make is simple: The Senator is clearly arguing, or considering arguing, or perhaps just farting out the thought, that the value of a human life varies over time. That you have less of a right to live, perhaps, at six hours than you do at six years. If that is so, then the obvious logic is that all criminal sentencing for murder should take into account, as a matter of law, how much the life of the deceased was actually worth. Is it, for example, as bad to kill a beggar as it is to kill a senior corporate official?

We can consider these points all day long, and get nowhere, because it’s very likely that Senator Clifford Lee has considered none of them.

What she is, in fact doing, is blurting out what she thinks is compassion, without regard to either consequence or logic: She sees a problem – those tragic cases where desperate women are occasionally desperately reckless with the lives of newborn, often unexpected, children, and says that perhaps a compassionate society would not hold them accountable for the very worst consequences of their actions.

But in so doing, she would, without a thought, and with the stroke of a pen, risk devaluing the life of every single newborn, with consequences beyond her apparent ability to comprehend.

For example, consider the death of a much wanted newborn through some terrible, mistaken act of medical negligence. Since, per Clifford, that child is worth slightly less than an older infant, and since that point would be written and confirmed in our laws, would a court hold the doctor responsible for such a death to be liable to the same extent? Could they?

And then there’s the cultural fallout: There’s the old rule in politics and culture that if you legalise or decriminalise something, you will have more of it. Do we really want to write into our laws, even just a little bit, that once you have a baby you have a 24 hour window to really, really, be sure?

Anyway, at this rate, with Senator Clifford Lee on one end of the scale, and the coming euthanasia debate on the other, it wouldn’t surprise me if we soon get to a point where there’s just a 30 year window between the ages of 18 and 48 where’s it’s not legal for someone to end your life in Ireland.

Honestly, as proposals from politicians go, this is an early – and likely to be hard to beat – contender for worst of the year.

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