Princeton ethicist: it's 'reasonable' to kill disabled newborn babies
Princeton professor and animal rights activist Peter Singer argued in a radio interview that it is “reasonable” for healthcare providers, insurance companies, and government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid to kill mentally disabled babies.
Singer appeared on the Aaron Klein Investigative Radio show to discuss his latest book, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically.
Klein asked Singer—who served as a task force coordinator on President Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign—if he believes that Obamacare will lead to healthcare rationing in the United States, specifically in relation to “disabled” babies.
Singer’s answer? It already has.
For example, Singer said, doctors routinely end the life of babies born with brain hemorrhages.
“If an infant is born with a massive hemorrhage in the brain that means it will be so severely disabled that if the infant lives it will never even be able to recognize its mother… doctors will turn off the respirator that is keeping that infant alive.”
Doctors who kill disabled babies, Singer explains, are likely “just influenced by the fact that this will be a terrible burden for the parents to look after.”
This is not a new position for Professor Singer; on his faculty page on Princeton’s website, Singer argues that “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person.”
“A normal newborn baby has no sense of the future,” Singer writes, “and therefore is not a person.”
Similarly, in his 1979 book Practical Ethics, Singer claims that “killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”
Elsewhere in Practical Ethics, the bioethics professor claims that “[n]o infant—disabled or not—has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities.”
However, while Singer believes infants have little (if any) right to life, he has devoted much of his life to making the exact opposite argument with regard to chimpanzees and other non-human animals.
In 1975, Singer wrote his best-selling book Animal Liberation, which helped him earn a spot on TIME Magazine’s 2005 list of the world’s 100 most influential people. In Animal Liberation, Singer argued that “humans and animals are equal in the sense that the fact that a being is human does not mean that we should give the interests of that being preference over the similar interests of other beings. That would be speciesism.”
In 1993, Singer co-founded “The Great Ape Project,” which defines itself as “an international movement that aims to defend the rights of non-human great primates.” These rights, Singer explains in a 2006 article, include “life [and] liberty.” Singer bases his reasoning on “ the principle of equal consideration of interests,” which he says demands that humans give equal consideration to “non-human animals.” Those who “give greater weight to the interests of members of their own species when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of other species,” Singer says, are “speciesists.”
While “non-human great primates” have a “right” to life, that same right—according to Singer—does not extend to human infants.
In a 2012 op-ed defending abortion, Singer claimed that “membership of the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life.”
Singer takes the argument one step further in “Taking Life: Humans” by arguing that if killing a “haemophiliac infant” meant that the infant’s parents could have another child in his place, it would “be right to kill him.”
Most people, Singer argued, would say “I don’t want my health insurance premiums to be higher so that infants who can experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”
However, not all members of the Princeton community share Singer’s views towards infanticide.
"Peter Singer's views demonstrate the logical extreme to which a view of personhood based on some developed capability or trait must carry us,” Princeton junior Christine Smith told Campus Reform.
“When personhood is no longer defined by our innate humanity or our intrinsic value, then we necessarily approach a view that embraces the killing of seriously disabled, or even merely unwanted, infants,” she said. While Peter Singer's views are obviously idiosyncratic, it is important to take them seriously because they reveal the inherent problem of trying to define certain categories of humans as more valuable or more protected than others."
“[W]e are already taking steps that quite knowingly and intentionally are ending the lives of severely disabled infants,” Singer declared on Sunday.
“And I think we ought to be more open in recognizing that this happens.”
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