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1 Issues L. & Med. 345 (1985-1986)
The History of Infanticide in Western Society

handle is hein.journals/ilmed1 and id is 371 raw text is: The History of Infanticide in
Western Society
Kathryn L. Moseley, M.D.*
Western society has believed that, until the modern era, in-
fanticide was found only in the non-Western, uncivilized countries of
the world. We preferred to think that we had been exempted from the
stigma of murdering our young. Recent studies have uncovered evi-
dence that this view is mistaken, and that Western civilizations have
been just as guilty as any primitive culture of taking the lives of the
future generation.
This is an attempt to review the evidence of infanticide in his-
tory, its motivation and the extent to which infanticide has been
practiced in Western society. Since the scope of this article is neces-
sarily limited, it will be impossible to explore fully the motivating
factors, both societal and personal, that have driven parents in every
century to actively take the lives of their offspring, or to place them in
situations where their deaths would be assured. Because of the nature
of the evidence involved, much of it from centuries-old court and
church records, this analysis relies heavily on secondary sources.
While this does have the potential for error, efforts have been made to
find corroborating sources, where possible.
Two distinct forms of infanticide appear to have existed through-
out time-the killing of the handicapped newborn, and the killing of
the normal, but unwanted child. Of the two, the one that has under-
gone the most extensive transformation has been the attitude towards
the handicapped newborn. Before the rise of the Greek city-states, in
the time of the Babylonians and Chaldeans, handicapped children
*Assistant Professor, Pediatrics/Adolescent Medicine, St. Louis University School of
Medicine; A.B. (cum laude) Howard University, 1974; M.D., University of Michigan,

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