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Jewish World Review May 6, 1999 /20 Iyar, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Singer of Death

(JWR) ---- (
HE BELIEVES IT IS WRONG to eat animals but not necessarily immoral to kill disabled human babies or senile adults. He opposes the use of animals in medical experiments but advocates the right of parents to kill their infants if they suffer from a debilitating condition such as hemophilia. He has published several books and scholarly articles arguing his theses, gaining him worldwide recognition.

The man is Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher recently appointed to an endowed chair in bioethics at Princeton University's Center for Human Values. His appointment has caused tremendous controversy on campus, including demonstrations from disability rights, anti-abortion and religious groups -- but the university shows no signs of rescinding the offer.

Perhaps what is so shocking about Singer's views is that is that they don't seem to shock the academic world at all. While they may not be regarded as mainstream, Singer's ideas are still considered an acceptable school of thought in academia.

A year and a half ago, Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology writing in The New York Times magazine, cited several moral philosophers, psychologists and other academics who condone neonaticide -- the killing of an infant in the first few days after birth. Pinker noted that the practice might even be regarded as a form of cultural triage, whereby parents might decide to cut their losses on sickly newborns in favor of hardier and healthier infants.

In his 1993 book, "Practical Ethics," which he says he will assign for his Princeton course on "Questions of Life and Death," Singer argues the following: "Suppose that a newborn baby is diagnosed as a hemophiliac. The parents, daunted by the prospect of bringing up a child in this condition, are not anxious for him to live. Could euthanasia be defended here?"

In a few short paragraphs, Singer disposes of the arguments against killing the hemophiliac newborn, employing what he calls "total utilitarianism."

"The total view makes it necessary to ask whether the death of the hemophiliac infant would lead to the creation of another being who would not otherwise have existed," he argues. If killing their defective child induces the parents to have another child who is born without hemophilia, "the loss of a happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second." All's well that ends well.

Singer sums up his view with a statement that has sent chills down the spines of the disabled: "The main point is clear: Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all."

If Singer were being hired to teach physics or even English literature, Princeton's actions might be excusable, but what possible motivation could the university have for hiring a man to teach ethics who promotes such views? Ironically, Singer's 'humane' attitude toward animals has gained him a huge following in the ethical world, earning him the presidency of the International Association of Bioethics. Apparently he believes in the humane treatment of animals, just not humans. At one point he observed, "Thinking about the fact that we would never do to infants what we routinely do to animals made me realize that there is a prejudice going on here," which he dubbed 'specie-ism.'

Christopher Benek, a seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary who heads up Princeton Students Against Infanticide, would like the university's illustrious board of trustees to intervene to stop the Singer appointment. He notes in particular three politicos who sit on the board, two of whom are running for president of the United States -- Bill Bradley and Steve Forbes -- plus Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate subcommittee on public health. New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman also sits ex officio on the board.

Benek thinks the Singer appointment to the ethics faculty ought to cause these politician trustees some ethical problems of their own. In addition, both the Forbes and Frist families have donated huge sums to the university, which Benek believes the university would hesitate to jeopardize if either trustee were to oppose the Singer appointment.

But so far, most of the protests against the appointment have come from students like Benek or from disabled people who fear that some of America's most gifted students will be taught to rationalize killing those whose lives Peter Singer deems unworthy.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate