In the ancient world, execution of disabled newborns was not particularly uncommon. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law, which functioned as the constitution of Rome for over 1,000 years, mandated an order of the state that was probably seen as fairly mundane at the time, chilling though it is today: "Cito necatus insignis ad deformitatem puer esto." ("A visibly deformed infant must be put to death.") But in present times, it is a far less common practice. The only postindustrial society to mandate the large-scale execution of disabled infants, to my knowledge, was that of Nazi Germany--which killed some 200,000 people on grounds of disability, and sterilized many more, as part of its T-4 "Euthanasia" Program.
Now comes news that the North Korean government may be encouraging the practice as part of a large-scale "purification" effort:
North Korea has no people with physical disabilities because they are killed almost as soon as they are born, a physician who defected from the communist state said on Wednesday.
Ri Kwang-chol, who fled to the South last year, told a forum of rights activists that the practice of killing newborns was widespread but denied he himself took part in it.
"There are no people with physical defects in North Korea," Ri told members of the New Right Union, which groups local activists and North Korean refugees.
He said babies born with physical disabilities were killed in infancy in hospitals or in homes and were quickly buried.
The practice is encouraged by the state, Ri said, as a way of purifying the masses and eliminating people who might be considered "different."