THE SINGER SCANDAL AT PRINCETON
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
-The Declaration of Independence, 1776
We can no longer base ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul....
Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term "human" has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal [emph. added] members of our species as possessing greater capacities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication...than other members of any other species; but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species [emph. added], no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be. If we compare a severely defective human infant with a ... dog or pig ... we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities.... Species membership alone ... is not relevant.... Humans who bestow superior value on the lives of all human beings, solely because they are members of our own species, are ... similar to ... white racists...
-Bioethicist and philosopher Peter Singer (Pediatrics, vol. 72, No. 1, July 1983, p. 129)
With the current academic term, Australian Peter Singer begins his tenure as Ira DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the Princeton University Center for Human Values. Let's look at the good professor's teachings.
Prof. Singer first gained fame and notoriety with his book Animal Liberation (1/2 million sold since 1975), which paved the way for the animal rights movement. Singer, having "stripped away the religious mumbo-jumbo," considers human beings and animals morally equivalent, entitled to "equal consideration." Armed with that doctrine and employing a brutal philosophical utilitarianism (behavior should fulfill the "preferences" of all concerned, maximize "happiness," and minimize pain and "unhappiness"), Singer has become the "world's most controversial ethicist" (New York Times Magazine, 4/10/99). From his premise of the moral equivalence of humans and animals, and the outright superiority of healthy animals over "defective" humans, Singer arrives effortlessly at the moral justification of various forms of infanticide and euthanasia. (Abortion on demand is no problem for Singer.)
In a recent column entitled "A Professor of Infanticide at Princeton," Nat Hentoff (Jewish World Review, 9/13/99) quotes from Singer's book Practical Ethics, (co-authored by Dr. Helga Kuhse):
"Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons." With animals being self-aware, "the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee." And "a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to live as others."
If you are still uncertain about what kind of "ethicist" Singer is, consider Michael Specter's article "The Dangerous Philosopher" in the New Yorker (9/6/99). Specter had lengthy conversations with Singer in Australia. He writes, "Singer believes, for example, that a human's life is not necessarily more sacred than a dog's, and that it might be more compassionate to carry out medical experiments on hopelessly disabled, unconscious orphans than on perfectly healthy rats."
And "for Singer, killing is wrong because when you kill someone who wants to live you make it impossible for that person to fulfill his preferences. Obviously, if you kill somebody whose preferences don't have much chance of success-a severely disabled infant, for example, or somebody in an advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease-the moral equation becomes entirely different." Or "killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all."
Sensitive to Singer's complaints about being misquoted, Specter invokes a well-known "Singerism" by direct quotation:
"When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him." To say that our friends in the disability movement are up in arms over such outrageous and dangerous nonsense is an understatement.
Singer can have some peculiar notions about what actions are wrong. According to Specter, Singer's prescription in case of an inconclusive amniocentesis result is for the woman to deliver the child and see if the child is normal or not. "Then, if the baby is severely disabled and the parents prefer to kill it, they should be allowed to.... (If killing the child would cause the parents distress, however, Singer believes that it would be wrong.)" Logic requires one to note that, according to Singer's ethics, it would not be wrong for the parents to kill their disabled child if doing so causes them no "distress." The coarser the heart, the more leeway to act brutally-an absurd but unsurprising result of utilitarian ethics.
If Singer's ideas were to become widely accepted, the life and liberty of all of us would be endangered. Peter Singer, the Australian, may talk all he wants to about the moral equivalence or "equal consideration" of humans and animals and about stripping away the "religious mumbo-jumbo" of our being made in the image of God. We Americans rather rely on the doctrine of our Declaration of Independence to safeguard our life and liberty. "Endowed by the Creator" suits us fine.
It's one thing to argue, as the officials at Princeton University do, that Prof. Singer has a right to expound his views, but it's quite another to justify appointing this "renowned apostle of infanticide" (to quote Nat Hentoff) to a prestigious academic position. It's an awful scandal, at the least.