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Peter Singer: a case study

by | Aug 13, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Peter Singer

When veteran pro-lifers tutor newcomers, we try to talk about the entire spectrum of pro-abortion opinion—from what appears to be the product of a genuine conflict to people who simply are unable to find any end point in their anti-life philosophy. The example of the latter that we most commonly use is Peter Singer, the Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics in Princeton University’s Center for Human Values.

There is pretty much nothing he won’t say, including justifying infanticide. It is all an offshoot from the sentiments he voiced in a seminal 1983 article written for the Journal Pediatrics.

“We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God…Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term ‘human’ has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater qualities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication and so on than members of any other species, but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be… If we can put aside the obsolete and erroneous notion of the sanctity of all human life, we may start to look at human life as it really is, at the quality of human life that each human being has or can achieve.”

Dr. Peter Saunders captured nicely why there is virtually no limits to the pool of potential victims (“non-persons”): “For Peter Singer a person is a being who has a capacity for enjoyable experiences, for interacting with others and for having preferences about continued life.”

Singer takes pro-lifers to task once again in a piece posted yesterday titled “The Real Abortion Tragedy.” The essay starts with a compilation of errors about abortion and developing nations. Having started off on the wrong foot, Singer compounds his errors—aka the pro-life “fallacy.”

For rhetorical purposes he concedes “If the fetus really did have the moral status of any other human being, it would be difficult to argue that a pregnant woman’s right to choose includes the right to bring about the death of the fetus, except perhaps when the woman’s life is at stake.”

But that’s not even a speed bump to Singer. Indeed, not even “self-awareness or rationality warrant greater protection for the fetus” because, we’re told “the fetus has mental capacities that are inferior to those of cows.”

Only if the unborn child is “self-aware”—you know, able to think about their impending demise and protest, “Hey, don’t KILL me”—can we see killing them  “as a violation of their autonomy, or a thwarting of their preferences.” This criterion also applies, of course (as Saunders notes), to ”newborn babies and infants who lack self awareness, and a large group of children and adults with congenital brain abnormalities, severe brain injury, dementia and major psychiatric illnesses.”

In case you think there’s some wiggle room, Singer closes the door, concluding, “We have no obligation to allow every being with the potential to become a rational being to realize that potential.”

I have no spell-binding conclusion. I just read Singer periodically to remind myself that when you remove fundamental ethical moorings, inevitably you drift out to sea.

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Categories: Infanticide