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May 05th 2011 print

Bill Muehlenberg

Peter Singer’s Twisted Ethics

The bad consequences of bad ideas: the ethics of Peter Singer.

I was absolutely gobsmacked to read this headline: “Child’s life is the best Mother’s Day gift.” And I was further bowled over to read the next line: “Eight million deaths a year can be prevented – we only have to learn how to give.” I was absolutely flabbergasted because of who the author was.

These lines are from none other than Peter Singer, one of the world’s most infamous proponents not only of abortion on demand, but of infanticide. In today’s Melbourne Age he urges us to act on early childhood deaths due to malnutrition, disease, and so on.

No one would argue against this. But who is calling for this action? Who is making these weighty moral pronouncements? This world-renowned ethicist is not only pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia, but he is also fully in favour of euthanasia. Thus his concerns about human life here don’t exactly seem to stack up.

Peter Singer is the atheist utilitarian philosopher who is full on about animal rights, and is a committed vegetarian. He has even written serious articles informing us that there is really nothing wrong with bestiality. For this bioethicist, the golden rule seems to be this: feel free to have sex with animals as long as you don’t eat them afterwards.

And Singer has explicitly stated that the newborn have no inherent right to life, but must earn that right if they pass various tests for personhood which he has laid out. He says it is unreasonable to expect the newborn to be classified as persons, and we should not automatically assume they have some basic right to keep living.

As he notoriously wrote with Helga Kuhse in the 1985 volume, Should the Baby Live?: “We do not think new-born infants have an inherent right to life”. Or as he wrote in a July 1983 edition of Pediatrics: “Species membership in Homo-sapiens is not morally relevant. If we compare a dog or a pig to a severely defective infant, we often find the non-human to have superior capacities.”

There you have it: abortion, euthanasia, and even infanticide, with a bit of bestiality thrown in on the side. And this is from a world leading ethicist. No wonder the world’s ethics are so incredibly screwed up. With a guy like this teaching thousands of students a year about these kinds of values, it will be hard not to be heading for moral meltdown big time.

In the article he refers to the death of children due to poor drinking water, or lack of basic healthcare, saying, “You can help to stop these unnecessary deaths”. Yes a very worthy cause indeed. But his words ring absolutely hollow. I wait for the day when he says similar things about children still in the womb, or those newly born.

He really should spare us these moral motions about a child’s life. Indeed, with 45 to 50 million unborn children killed each year by abortion – all with the full approval of Singer – these 8 million tragic childhood deaths almost seem to pale in comparison.

Why in the world should we buy his jaundiced naturalistic worldview which allows him to show compassion to some human beings, but results in so much cold-heartedness concerning so many other human beings? What kind of worldview is this which sees only some humans in only some conditions as being worthy of life?

Where have we heard this kind of twisted and poisonous morality before? Oh yeah, it was back there in Germany just a half century ago. We certainly have heard all this before. Lots of lives are just not worthy of life and the “experts” will inform us as to which lives will be allowed to live, and which must go.

If Singer were around in 1920 it is not hard to imagine him lecturing ethics students about the great value of a new book which appeared then in Germany. He would probably have this volume on his required reading list, and even test his students on it at the end of term.

I refer of course to the work by Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding. It was called Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens (The Authorization of the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life). It nicely laid the groundwork for the sordid activities of the Nazis.

Indeed, so marred and scarred has the German psyche been since the Holocaust and the Nazi reign of terror, that when someone like Singer goes to Germany today to deliver lectures in “ethics” he is roundly booed and rejected by angry protestors. Some of his talks have even been cancelled as a result.

The Germans have good reason to be wary of the Singer gospel of death. They lived through it, and millions died as this utilitarian philosophy was put into lethal practice. Yet incredibly Singer has expressed surprise at such reactions, especially from German disability groups and the like.

But none of this has stopped Peter Singer from traipsing around the world, teaching us about his version of morality, or rather, immorality, or amorality. He expects us to take him seriously when he writes about sickly children, yet he thinks we should be able to bump off other sickly children, and sick old folks, and all sorts of other expendable “non-persons”.

Singer will undoubtedly keep drawing large crowds and earn hefty fees as he preaches his version of morality. And morally-vacuous newspapers like the Age will be happy to keep running with his stuff. But just remind me again: what was that word that starts with ‘hypo’ and ends with ‘crisy’?