This story was all over the front page of the Metro recently: 'Wicked' mother gets life for smothering newborn in clingfilm. I think the Metro story focused even more on the "witchcraft" element, which seems both irrelevant and speculative, but I'm not going to talk about that. In fact, I don't really want to talk about this specific case, since there's nowhere near enough information. I'm more interested in the answers to these questions in general:
- Is a mother killing her own newborn as bad, worse or less bad than a mother killing her own older child?
- If a mother were somehow to kill her newborn painlessly, would this still be a worse crime than a mother seriously injuring but not killing her own child?
- How do your answers to the above change when it is not the mother but a stranger killing or injuring the child? Is this worse or not as bad?
- For those acts you have have said are worse, do you also believe they should receive a greater punishment under the law?
It seems generally clear that inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering is always bad, and probably worse when the victim is more vulnerable, such as especially young or old. But killing seems to be bad in very different ways. It's clear that society suffers when people live in fear of being killed by each other. It's clear that family members suffer when one of their own dies, especially so if it was someone providing support or someone in whom much hope had been invested, and possibly less so when it was someone who was already frail and suffering and the death might be seen as a relief. The specific case of a mother killing her own newborn raises the question of who suffers. Certainly there might be a father or others close by with an emotional investment in the child who would suffer, but the question seems most interesting when there is not.
Is murder bad for society for reasons beyond 1. the suffering of those living people affected by the death, and 2. the suffering of those who fear they will be killed or affected by killings? Perhaps the infanticide scenario is an example of the second case – the murder of one's own child instils in others the fear that one might murder their child?