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Jewish World Review / Oct. 28, 1998 / 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Don Feder

Don Feder Professor Death will fit right in at Princeton

UNINTENDED IRONIES ABOUNDED LAST WEEK. Bill Clinton (can you believe it?) proclaimed it "National Character Counts Week." Ginger Spice was designated a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. Can she spell U.N.?

If that weren't enough, there's the ongoing controversy over Peter Singer's appointment to the Ira W. DeCamp Chair of Bioethics at Princeton University's Center for Human Values.

Appointing the Australian philosopher to a center for human values is like giving Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosovic a brotherhood award.

Prof. Death
The author of Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics (Mengele would have found them efficacious), Singer's perspective is uniformly anti-man --- pigs and monkeys have rights, handicapped babies do not.

His views on eliminating the disabled have led to protests wherever he's spoken in Europe.

When the prof was invited to address a Swedish book fair last year, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal wrote to the organizers, "A professor of morals ... who justifies the right to kill handicapped newborns ... is in my opinion unacceptable for representation at your level."

In the 1970s, as the leading theoretician of animal rights, Singer coined the term "speciesism" for anyone so narrow-minded as to, "allow the interest of his species to override the greater interest of members of other species" -- an evil akin to racism.

How dare we regard ourselves as superior to furred and feathered creatures? the professor demanded. "Adult chimpanzees, dogs, pigs and members of many other species far surpass the brain-damaged infant in their ability to relate to others, act independently, be self-aware, and in any other capacity that could be said to give value to life."

In 1994, Singer initiated a petition for a United Nations Declaration of Great Apes. "The great apes need respect. This recognizes them as nonhuman persons who are not property but individuals in their own right."

In Practical Ethics, Singer makes a lethal distinction between "humans" and "persons."

"That a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of species Homo Sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it," the academic explains. "It is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness that make a difference."

Ergo: "Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all." You can see why he's so popular with advocates for the disabled.

Singer isn't just talking about spina bifida babies -- which would be bad enough -- but, among the examples he offers, hemophiliac newborns whose parents don't want them and who can't be placed for adoption.

In fact, though he rarely admits it, his "ethics" would allow infanticide for almost any reason. How many 1-year-olds are rational, autonomous and self-conscious? Singer, "No infant, defective or not, has a strong claim to life as a person."

Likewise the comatose, terminally ill, dying, etc. Ending their miserable "non-person" existences is now permissible, the professor argues, because, "many of our considered moral intuitions are formed for selfish reasons or for religious reasons which were once strong but are now outdated."

Presumably, one must be a bioethicist to see selfishness in parents who would spare their disabled child or in children who won't pull the plug on parents on life support.

The two halves of Singer's philosophy (animal rights and the denial of rights to human "non-persons") are symmetrical -- fewer people, more room for animals. As Los Angeles talkshow host Dennis Prager puts it, "Those who refuse to sacrifice animals for people will end up sacrificing people for animals." Singer proves Prager's thesis.

Justin Harmon, Princeton's director of communications, defends Singer as "a first-rate scholar who will help the scholarly debate on these issues." Besides, "It's not the university's position to make people comfortable," the Princeton flak sniffs. " Really? Then why do most Ivy League schools have speech codes?

Is Harmon suggesting that Princeton will soon be appointing a raft of professors who will challenge us from the right -- academics who question the dogma that homosexuality is innate, right-to-lifers, immigration skeptics and the like?

Perish the thought. In academia, intellectual challenge is only allowed from the left.

Singer, who will take up his post next year, should fit right in on the American college scene. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ended up as the president of Princeton. At which point, handicapped students would be well advised to sleep with their lights on.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.