Monday, May 1, 2017


Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has made a name for himself as an advocate of infanticide, that is he believes a mother should have the right to have her newborn baby killed up until it's several months old. On Singer's view a newborn human is not much different than a newborn chimp, in fact, it's probably less capable than a chimp of the same age.

In any case, a newborn is not a person by Singer's definition. He defines a person as a being capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future. On this definition, which is certainly arbitrary, severely retarded individuals are not persons and therefore should not be granted a legal right to life.

Wesley Smith at Evolution News and Views writes contra Singer: In his apologetics for infanticide, Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has used a baby with Down syndrome as an example of a killable infant based on utilitarian measurements. (He actually supports infanticide because babies -- whether disabled or not -- are, in his view, not "persons."). To Singer, moral value primarily comes from intellectual capacities, and that means developmentally and cognitively disabled human beings (also, the unborn and infants) have less value than other human beings, and indeed, a lower worth than some animals.

Were society ever to adopt Singer's bigoted anti-human exceptionalism views, it would mark the end of universal human rights, opening the door to tyrannical campaigns against the most weak and vulnerable -- you know, the kind of people that the Singers of the world deem resource wasters.

It would also break the spine of unconditional love, as our children would have to earn their place by possessing requisite capacities. Smith goes on to quote Singer:
But let's ... ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being.

On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being? This sounds like speciesism to me, and as I said earlier, I have yet to see a plausible defence of speciesism. After looking for more than forty years, I doubt that there is one.
In other words, if dogs and pigs are less intelligent than humans, and therefore less valuable, it would follow that severely disabled humans, who are less intelligent than dogs and pigs, should also be considered less valuable. One has to ask, though, why intelligence should be the crucial measure of value of any organism. Why not see humans as intrinsically valuable? Of course, if materialism (Singer is a materialist) is correct then we're just a collection of atoms and we have no intrinsic value, but then on this view any value we assign to our species as well as to other species is purely arbitrary and subjective.

Smith closes with these thoughts:
Invidious discrimination exists when equals -- e.g., all human beings -- are denigrated as unequal based on some category that the bigot believes reduces the status of the discriminated-against human, e.g., racism, sexism, and Singer-style discrimination against people with cognitive or developmental disabilities.

But human beings and animals do not inhabit the same moral realm. It is not wrong ... to view and treat us differently than we do them.

Moreover, the very concept of "speciesism" ... is inherently and invidiously anti-human because it reduces us to so many carbon molecules with no inherent value beyond our cognitive capabilities at the moment of measurement. To repeat myself, the idea of speciesism, like utilitarianism, makes universal human rights impossible to sustain intellectually.

Assuming such utilitarian values would destroy the principles of Western civilization. And never mind the real capacities of many people with Down [syndrome], whom Singer mischaracterizes, or their extraordinary loving natures -- which I have yet to see Singer opine much about. To Singer, intellect trumps all.

That's bigotry any way you look at it, no different from racism, except that his victims are less able to defend themselves.

I have always found it odd that Singer faces little of the opprobrium society metes out to other bigots. Indeed, he was brought to Princeton from Australia and given one of the world's most prestigious chairs in bioethics precisely because of these attitudes.