"Social Darwinism" and parental punishment

There have been many threads on the Dope through the years about various ways stupid people have managed to kill their children. There have been people who left their kids in the car in summer, people who haven’t put their kids in car seats, people who have starved their kids to death, people who haven’t sought medical treatment, people who have drowned all of their children in the tub, etc.

I see the stories and am horrified. But when I see the proposed punishments for the mistakes, crimes, or damnfoolishness, I start to wonder what the punishments achieve that the parents haven’t managed to achieve for themselves.

What should be the punishment for parents whose actions end in the deaths of their own children? In a way, I think our model of criminal punishment doesn’t apply to these people. They aren’t a threat to society at large, since they aren’t the parents of society at large, and it’s only in the role of parent that they are dangerous.

It’s horrible to say, “Well, they’re only hurting their own kids.” Especially since that could be used to justify ignoring things like child abuse. But child abuse is a continuing cycle and does threaten society at large in a more concrete way if abused children grow up to be abusers of abused children who grow up to be abusers. Which leads to the notion that it’s actually worse to abuse your children than to kill them (which does have some parallels, say in the idea that it’s worse to torture a soldier than to kill him).

I know Dopers like to call for stupid parents to be shot and sodomized and tortured (in no particular order), but I wonder what system would actually make sense instead of just making people feel better. Or is making people feel better enough?

Possibly a system more focused on societal good than on individual rights.


It would be a society in which children of abusive parents would be immediately and irrevocably taken away from the parents, and the parents prevented from reproducing again. It might even be a system that would, for at least three generations, treat child abuse as a social disease and work hard to eradicate it. There would be injustices, naturally, in that some people who might never be abusive would be sterilized, but society would err on the side of caution rather than on the side of civil rights. Of course, in such a society, religion would never be a defense for child abuse, resulting in a serious erosion of religious freedom.

A danger in such a society would be the gradual expansion of the definition of child abuse, much the way the definitions of rape and sexual assault have expanded over the past 30 years, and the consequential loss of civil rights.

Involuntary sterilization?

I think our model of criminal punishment does apply to these people. If you murder me, you should be imprisoned or executed, whether I’m your next door neighbor or your kid. Why doesn’t that model work for parents?

For some cases I think the loss of their children from their negligence is enough punishment, actually more then enough.

Sterilization and the grief of loss should be sufficient.

I think the OP is arguing that the consequence of such crimes–the death of a parent’s own child–is more horrific than any punishment that our legal system could impose upon these offenders.

This, naturally, gets to the heart of what the point of our penal system is.

Is it justice (punish those who have done wrong–regardless of how the criminal ends up feeling about things)?

Is it deterrence (punish those who have done wrong so that others, upon seeing the punishment, will be dissuaded from committing the same crime)?

Or is it rehabilitation (punish those who have done wrong so that they will see the error of their ways, change their life, and not commit such crimes again)?
In this case, options 2 and 3 are basically moot, since the loss of a child generally trumps any punishment the state can devise.

I second this motion.

The situation puts me in mind of the joke about the boy who killed his parents, and then asked the judge for leniency because he was an orphan. Obviously, if a parent murders his or her child, then the loss of the child, for that person, truming any punishment the state can devise. Besides, we don’t allow people who have committed other crimes to go unpunished, no matter how much regret they have afterward for their crime.

I’m hoping you mean by having their children taken away, not by their kids actually dying.

Because I don’t think the kids should have to suffer to punish their parents. Especially if said parents are being punished for making said kids suffer in the first place.

No, s/he means by the kids actually dying. The argument is that, if the parents cause the death of their kids, the grief that they will feel from that will be so intense it will exceed any possible punishment inflicted by the state.

I think that only works some of the time, though. Quite frankly, I have often seen cases where I thought that the parent was indulging in a little negligence in the hope that the kids would die and they would be free from them. Sad to say, not every parent loves their children, and some people don’t have consciences. (That doesn’t count the mental-illness cases, though, which seem to be different.)

I do think that jail time is appropriate for parental killing of a child.

I’ve heard of cases where the killer of the child may be remorseful, but is such a sociopath, or such an ignoramus, that it’s likely to happen again.

Murdering a child, any child, calls for the most horrid punishment that can be imagined unless there are *very *extenuating circumstances. Deprivation of reproductive ability is a start. The excuse of having been abused is no defense. Cause for pity, maybe, but not a defense.