Peter Singer helped kick start the contemporary animal rights movement with
his 1975 book, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals.
Although some in the animal rights community try to distance themselves from
Singer, his ideas have generally been embraced by mainstream animal rights groups
(for example, the copy of Animal Liberation I own was reprinted in cooperation
with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals which advertises itself on
the cover and end pages).
Singer was recently offered The Ira W. DeCamp Professorship of Bioethics at
Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, which led the Wall Street
Journal to attack Singer and Princeton in a September 25 editorial by Naomi
Schaefer and in an unsigned October 2 opinion piece in the Journal’s
Why the criticism? Because Singer has fulfilled one of the main predictions
made by those opposed to animal rights; he regularly uses the implications of
his pro-animal rights arguments to grossly devalue human life. Singers
philosophy is based on utilitarianism, meaning he believes morality consists
of minimizing suffering and maximizing pleasure or happiness. Unlike most utilitarians
he argues that animal suffering and happiness are also morally relevant. In
Animal Liberation, he argued that humans should abandon the use of animals
for food and medical experiments in order to minimize suffering. In doing so
Singer explicitly equated the suffering or happiness of non-humans such as chimpanzees
with humans who are mentally impaired in some way, such as very young children
or the mentally retarded.
But aside from simply not actively harming others, there is another way to
minimize suffering from the point of view of a utilitarian namely by
killing beings that are suffering and likely to continue such suffering indefinitely.
After all, dead things (whether human or non-human) dont suffer. Most
utilitarians twist themselves into knots to avoid the harsh conclusion that
murder is sometimes the moral thing to do. But not Singer. Hes more than
happy to see human beings living “miserable lives” killed to minimize
the overall level of suffering.
Schaefer quoted from Singer’s book, Practical Ethics, in which Singer
argued that abortion is morally permissible because “the life of a fetus
is of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level
of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc., and that
since no fetus is a person no fetus has the same claim to life as a person.”
A pretty standard pro-choice argument, but Singer insists on taking his thinking
to what he believes is its logical conclusion, continuing, “Now it must
be admitted that these arguments apply to the newborn baby as much as to the
fetus.” As Schaefer sums up this bizarre passage, Singer agrees with some
antiabortion activists that abortion is like infanticide.
The main difference being that Singer approves of infanticide. Singer
has written that “killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to
killing a person.” And Singer doesnt restrict his killing impulses
to just severely retarded and disabled infants. He also argues, for example,
that it is morally permissible to kill a hemophiliac infant if by doing so it
would improve the prospects of a non-hemophiliac infant.
Singer makes similar arguments about forcible euthanasia. Many people in the
United States and elsewhere support the right of individuals who are terminally
ill to voluntarily end their lives, but Singer goes way beyond this. He favors
killing people who have a low “quality of life” even when those people
would prefer to live — i.e. Singer endorses murder. Singer tries to pass off
this astounding conclusion in pseudo-intellectual drivel, writing that society
“would have to accept in some cases that it would be right to kill a person
who does not choose to die on the grounds that the person will otherwise lead
a miserable life.”
Presumably it would be Singer and others like him who would get to decide what
qualifies as a “miserable life” (may I suggest, just to get priority
on the idea, that someone who opposes medical research that could lead to a
cure for terminal illness, while simultaneously arguing it is okay to murder
those who suffer from such diseases certainly qualifies as leading a miserable
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