Patria Potestas and Legal Infanticide

I start from the premise, though a contested one, that an individual human life begins with the fertilization of an ovum.

Now bear with me as I talk about Roman history, particularly the institution called patria potestas. Encyclopædia Britannica gives the following definition:

(Latin: ‘power of a father’) In Roman family law, power that the male head of a family exercised over his children and his more remote descendants in the male line, whatever their age, as well as over those brought into the family by adoption. This power meant originally not only that he had control over the persons of his children, amounting even to a right to inflict capital punishment, but that he alone had any rights in private law. Thus, acquisitions of a child became the property of the father. The father might allow a child (as he might a slave) certain property to treat as his own, but in the eye of the law it continued to belong to the father.

Provided that the premise at the beginning is true, the same kind of legal principle operates in recognizing the legal right of a mother to have her child killed. I find it ironic that an argument couched in individualistic terms brings us close to a decidedly non-individualistic ancient Roman legal right.

An infant, of course, given the etymology of the word (‘unspeaking’), cannot speak. For those of us who can speak, what is the verdict?

[Related: Dinesh D’souza in Christianity Today on how free sex is still a major reason that people insist on supporting a ‘right’ to kill their children.]


2 responses to “Patria Potestas and Legal Infanticide

  1. what a ridiculous and ignorant comparison


    • I’d like to engage in a way that doesn’t involve lobbing verbal grenades. First of all, what is (and what isn’t) ‘ridiculous’ is a very subjective judgement, and inherently so. For this reason, I tend to avoid such judgements as much as possible, though I don’t demand that everyone else do so too.

      But since you find my comparison ignorant as well (as opposed to unreasonable), there must be particular facts that you believe I’ve overlooked, a relatively easy problem to fix. Perhaps you’d like to name a few things.


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