Peter Singer Has No Right to Judge Anyone’s Ethics

Original Article

Only The New York Times would hold an essay contest about “ethics” and make the most unethical “ethicist” in the country a judge. Here’s the story: “The Ethicist” — a high-brow Dear Abby-type feature that runs weekly in the Sunday Magazine — announced a contest challenging meat eaters to defend the ethics of their diet. Needless to say, the essays will be judged by anti-meat eaters, described by the paper as “a veritable murderer’s row.”

That is an ironic turn of phrase given that the notorious Peter Singer is one of the judges. Singer is a radical utilitarian who denies that human lives necessarily have greater value than those of animals. Indeed, along the lines of the recent “after-birth abortion” pro-infanticide conflagration, Singer believes that some human beings aren’t “persons” and thus have no right to life. He even believes that these human beings can be used instrumentally — in medical experiments, for example.

But rather than describe his advocacy, I will let Singer speak for himself. The following quotes are not cherry-picked, but accurately reflect the immoral, anti-sanctity/equality of human life values Singer has advocated for many years:

Singer is pro-infanticide: On page 186 of his book “Practical Ethics,” Singer opines that infants are “replaceable” and that a disabled baby can be killed to pave the way for a happier life for a sibling — even if that brother or sister hasn’t yet been born:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

He holds similar views about the moral propriety of euthanizing “non-person” adults.

Singer supports using the disabled in medical experiments: In 2006, Singer enraged animal rights activists for justifying the use of monkeys in researching cures for Parkinson’s disease. But he would have said the same thing about using human “non-persons.” In fact, he often has. For example, when asked by Psychology Today about the benefits that chimps provided in developing the hepatitis vaccine, Singer said disabled humans should be used in such research instead:

PT: Let’s take a specific case. Research on chimpanzees led to the hepatitis B vaccine, which has saved many human lives. Let’s pretend it’s the moment before that research is to begin. Would you stop it?

PS: I’m not comfortable with any invasive research on chimps. I would ask, Is there no other way? And I think there are other ways. I would say, What about getting the consent of relatives of people in vegetative states?

This line of thinking would open the door for using all human “non-persons” as lab rats, including the unborn, infants and people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease — perhaps even in place of the monkeys used in the Parkinson’s experiments.

Singer is pro-medical discrimination: Singer supports health care rationing, writing in the July 15, 2009, New York Times, “The debate over health care reform in the United States should start from the premise that some form of health care rationing is both inescapable and desirable. Then we can ask: What is the best way to do it?”

Singer prefers the “Quality Adjusted Life Year” (QALY) approach that has been used for years by the United Kingdom’s socialized National Health Service. QALYs give greater value to the lives of the able-bodied and young than to people with disabilities and the elderly (which are “adjusted” down based on low “quality”) when determining whether the cost of a treatment is worth the price. Thus, Singer wrote in The New York Times:

If it isn’t possible to provide everyone with all beneficial treatments, what better way do we have of deciding what treatments people should get than by comparing the QALYs gained with the expense of the treatments?

Singer believes that “specieism” is akin to racism: Singer popularized the concept of “specieism,” that is, denying greater value to humans as “discrimination” against animals. He wrote on page 18 of “Animal Liberation”:

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 any other capacity that could reasonably be said to give value to life. … The only thing that distinguishes the infant from the animals, in the eyes who claim it has a right to life, is that it is biologically, a member of the species Homo sapiens. … But to use this difference as the basis for granting a right to life to the infant and not to other animals is, of course pure specieism. It is exactly the kind of arbitrary difference that that the most crude and overt kind of racist uses in attempting to justify racial discrimination.

Singer has defended bestiality: Singer positively reviewed a book celebrating the history of bestiality, and concluded that the proscription against sex with animals was merely a vestigial “taboo” from a more sexually repressed era. Indeed, he extolled a woman who was unconcerned by the prospect of forced sexual intercourse with an orangutan:

As it happened, the orangutan lost interest before penetration took place, but the aspect of the story that struck me most forcefully was that in the eyes of someone who has lived much of her life with orangutans, to be seen by one of them as an object of sexual interest is not a cause for shock or horror. The potential violence of the orangutan’s come-on may have been disturbing, but the fact that it was an orangutan making the advances was not. That may be because Galdikas understands very well that we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes. This does not make sex across the species barrier normal, or natural, whatever those much-misused words may mean, but it does imply that it ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.

Peter Singer repeatedly accuses “speciesists” of being akin to racists. But he’s the one advocating invidious discrimination against the most weak and vulnerable people in our society, based merely on physical characteristics.

Such crass anti-human-equality views may play well in the rarified atmosphere of the elite academy and the editorial offices of The New York Times. But most folks recognize bigotry for what it is. Peter Singer has no right to judge the ethical splinter in meat eaters’ eyes until he removes the redwood trees from his own.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.