Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Nadine Dorries repeats infanticide slur against humanists

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Nadine Dorries
Last year, the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries sealed a landslide victory in our annual Bad Faith Award contest after accusing humanists of favouring infanticide. Her suggestion prompted numerous objections and refutations from humanists, who were keen to point out that a) they don't support infanticide and b) even if someone who is a humanist did, it wouldn't therefore apply to all humanists.

Those arguments, however, seem to have had little impact on Dorries, who has this afternoon repeated her assertion that humanists favour infanticide. The prompt for doing so was the news that the Journal of Medical Ethics has just published a paper entitled "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?", in which Alberto Giubilini of the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva of Melbourne University consider whether the arguments used to justify abortion could also be used to justify the killing of newborn babies. The abstract of the paper is as follows:

"Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Controversial? Yes. Evidence that humanists support infanticide? No, of course not. Even if the authors happened to be humanists (I can't find any information, admittedly in a brief search, that indicates whether they are or not), that wouldn't have any bearing on what other humanists think. But that hasn't stopped Dorries taking to Twitter to repeat her sweeping attack on humanists, posting two tweets, one linking to the Catholic Herald's coverage of the story and the other to the Telegraph's, both saying the following:
"This is also position of humanists, justification being that commiting the infanticide makes you happy"
And she hasn't stopped there, following it up a few minutes later by saying:
"Evan Harris is a humanist and humanists support this why do people wonder at his Dr Death Moniker. #welldeserved"
Dorries, of course, is a leading voice in the anti-abortion lobby, and humanists generally (but not universally) tend to be pro-choice, which probably explains why she is so keen to denounce humanism in this way. She is, of course, welcome to take issue with the arguments advanced by humanists who are pro-choice – indeed, it is in everyone's interests to have a sensible debate about the issue. But it would be interesting to know why she feels the need to make such sweeping, ill-informed generalisations about humanists. Does she really think that all humanists, or a significant numbers of humanists, are in favour of infanticide? If so, what is her evidence for this? And if not, why does she keep repeating the accusation? Does she think "humanists" are a large, monolithic group who all share the same infanticidal views, or does she recognise that it is a label that covers a diverse array of views, and that humanists will often disagree with each other, even over abortion. Does she not realise that many of her constituents in mid-Bedfordshire will be humanists, and will not appreciate her making sweeping comments about them in this way?

Those are just some of the questions Dorries' latest comments raise - it would be very interesting to hear her answers.

Update: Looking at Dorries' most recent tweets, it appears people have been tweeting her with some similar questions. Several seem to have asked her to explain why she accuses humanists in general of supporting infanticide. In reply, Dorries makes a statement about "the humanist movement [giving] an heroic accolade [to] the humanist who does believe this". Here she is referring to Peter Singer, who, in her second blog post about humanists last October, she used as evidence that "humanists" support infanticide (in her first post she referred to a humanist who had "recently commented", and then when challenged for evidence she produced some of Peter Singer's writings from the 1970s and 1990s). Peter Singer was named "Australian Humanist of Year" by the Australian Humanists in 2004 and, following Dorries' logic, because he has explored the question of infanticide in his work, this means that humanists in general are in favour of infanticide. Which is clearly not the case, but there doesn't seem to be any way of explaining this to Dorries.

In fact, as I was typing this update, one of our Twitter followers suggested to Dorries that her argument is "The same as saying all catholics are in favour of peodophillia", to which she then replied, copying out Twitter name (@NewHumanist) in:

"No its not, we send Peodophiles to prison. Humanists give advocates of baby killing awards."

I have tweeted back to her with two questions:
 An Australian humanist organisation gave Peter Singer an award, therefore humanists in general support infanticide? (link)
Do you really think majority of humanists (millions worldwide, and many of your constituents, surely) support infanticide? (link)
I will of course, let you know if I receive replies.
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