Is the killing of a child automatically more heinous than the similar killing of an adult?

This thread was suggested by last night’s Breaking Bad, which is not otherwise relevant. I don’t intend to discuss the episode myself; I mention it only because I can easily others doing so, and I wanted to warn of possible spoilers.

Anyway, here’s the sitch:

In two different parts of the U.S., two different gangs of criminals plot a pair of similar crimes. Both gangs intend to rob a train of its cargo, and in each case the plan is complicated and requires intricate timing. While each group includes killers, their schemes don’t require killing; they plan to avoid it if at all possible, reasoning that the investigations will be more intense if there are any dead bodies. Thus the members of each group agree that they will kill only if absolutely necessary to ensure no witnesses.

In neither case does the plan go exactly as, ah, envisioned. Though both gangs manage to get their cargo, they also both discover witness at the last second. In the first case, the witness is a 40something woman; she has a husband and child. In the second case, the witness is a 10-year-old girl. In both cases, the witness is immediately shot dead, without warning, mercy, or abuse beforehand.

Would you say the killing of the little girl is more heinous than killing the woman? Why or why not?

Murder becomes more heinous the more defenseless the victim appears to be. Killing an adult male in good health is a horrible crime, while killing an infant is just about the worst thing someone can do, without getting into multiple murder territory.

Because of that, I’d say killing the 10 year old is worse.

What Mosier said.

The killing of the little girl triggers my “defend the helpless” instinct more than the killing of the adult woman. However both crimes are heinous, both are homicides committed in pursuit of a larger criminal scheme, and both deserve the maximum penalty the state imposes, either death or life without parole.

A good point; it’s more predatory, more ruthless to kill someone helpless.

Also, a 10 year old girl statistically has significantly more lifespan ahead of her than a “40something woman”, so she’s being deprived of more.

But the death of a 40-year-old wife and mother will arguably have a more severe impact on the community. With most any species, babies are expendable while experienced mothers are precious. A 10-year-old is analogous to a sapling in a forest, just a promise of a potentially long and prosperous future, while a 40-year-old is a tree in its prime, providing habitat, food and shelter to myriad beings for decades to come. Up until modern times, human offspring, too, mostly died young and humanity plowed on on the strength of the mothers.

So: killing a mother is more heinous than killing a child, while killing an infant is less heinous than killing a child.

I am 53. IMHO, killing me is pretty damn horrible. Anyone else being murdered is just as bad, but not worse.

The woman has had more resources invested into her development. She’s been fully educated, she is presumably productive, she’s consumed more food and resources throughout her life, and theoretically has tangible, measurable value to those she’s associated with, right now, not at some theoretical point in the future. It would take a little over 40 years to replace her.

The little girl, on the other hand, has not had that many resources invested into her yet. She’s only 10 years old. She’s had some education but not a vast amount. She has little no no immediate value to those she’s associated with - at this point in her life, she’s purely a consumer, and produces nothing of value. It would only take about 11 years to replace her.

Therefore, since killing the older woman destroys more of a society’s resources than killing a young girl, killing the older woman is more destructive and I suppose, heinous. There is definitely a point at which this reverses itself, though. Once a person is sufficiently old, with the exception of a few professions, they are unlikely to produce anything more of value. They become pure consumers, as they were during their child stage, except there is no theoretical future value to their existence.

So, killing someone between say, 20-60 is the most heinous, killing someone below 20 is less heinous the younger they are, killing an infant is less heinous than that, and killing an extremely old person is the least heinous. Generally speaking, of course; individual characteristics can alter the general trend.

I think yes, because you’re robbing that person of more years of potential life. Killing an 80 year old woman is horrible, but killing an 8 year old girl is at least 10 times more horrible.

There’s the innocence factor, but I dunno. I mean, I guess I buy that. But it’s harder for me to quantify. I don’t think anybody ever deserves to be killed, no matter how innocent or guilty they are.

Exactly my thoughts. The murder of a 10-year-old disgusts me more, but the law should treat both equally.

When I was a kid myself, those “Feed the children” or “Save the children” charity appeals used to bother me. “What about the adults?” I’d think. “Don’t they need helping too? Is it okay for them to starve? Is this what I have to look forward to when I grow up: nobody cares whether I live or die?”

When I got older, I understood better. In addition to other factors (like, that children are less likely to bear any responsibility for their own plight), I think we are hard-wired to feel protective and nurturing toward children. And as a result, it feels more heinous to harm, or be mean to, or refuse to help, a child than an adult.

And anyone who doesn’t feel that protectiveness toward someone like the 10-year-old in the OP, or who can override it, is (or at least seems) more hardened and cold-blooded.

ETA: Why wasn’t there a poll option involving pie?

Killing the child if far worse, for a multitude of reasons, including, but not limited to:

Killing a child requires a higher level of ruthlessness. The killer is likely more than usually dangerous, even in the universe of known murderers.

From a purely Darwinian standpoint, the Mother has had the opportunity to procreate, the child has not.

The Mother has had the chance to build a life of her own, the child is still completely in the control of others. She will never have the chance to actualize as an individual; she’ll never know what life she would have chosen.

Second the argument that more years of life have been stolen. The list of experiences the child will never have is extraordinaryily long. She’s never even driven a car ferkrissakes, she’s never been out on a date, much less in love. Almost Everything has been taken from her.

I’d say killing the girl is worse. Whatever it is that compels most of us to want to protect children, overriding that requires a more fundamental hardening of the heart than killing an adult.

All life is precious. The taking of either life is heinous, neither greater nor lesser than the other. To me, saying the younger person is more valuable than an older person is morally wrong (but not as morally wrong as the actual taking of the life).

I don’t think that saying killing the child is worse is the same as saying the child is more valuable. There is no way to sumamrize the value of any human. But I do think it’s fair to say that more levels of moral failure have to occur to kill a child, than to kill an adult.

Nitpick: Do you mean all human life is precious? Because if not you’re going to have a hard time feeding yourself.

I don’t read the persons calling killing the child more heinous as saying that a child’s life is more valuable than the adult’s, but rather that indicates a more hardened heart. We are, I think, evolutionarily wired to want to protect small children on top of any natural animus we may or may not have against violence. I’d be more wary of an adult willing to summarily kill a small child or an adult than of one willing to kill an adult but not a small child; and I doubt there exists an adult willing to kill the child but not the adult.

I’m talking about moral willingness, of course, not practical willingness.

ETA: Also, I’m not sure I’m willing to ascribe equal value to all human life. That is, I’m not willing to kill any innocent, but if I had to decide between saving the life of a strange child and a strange adult for whatever reason, it’s the child I’ll save; and if someone has to choose between saving my life or saving the life of a strange child, I think the rescuer should save the child.

People who disagree with your moral judgment are morally wrong? What the hell? I find this absolutely ludicrous.

I’d say they are equally heinous. But the killing of the little girl bothers me more.

The logical, rational part of me believes both are equally heinous and should be treated equally both morally and legally. But there’s some other part of me that thinks the killing of the child is worse. I’m chalking it up to societal norms of children being innocent and precious.

Smaller target, as well…