July 5, 2022

Singer still applauded for same tune

“Imagination-expanding” views
In some circles, because of his controversial view on euthanasia for disabled infants, to cite one, "Peter Singer" has become an epithet of horror rather than just a name. But the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University is far from being a pariah. He still addresses conferences and is treated reverentially by other bioethicists. A case in point is a conference organised by Stony Brook University in New York on "Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy", especially in people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and the "mentally retarded".

Singer has lost none of his capacity to shock listeners. At this conference, according to Erik Parens, of The Hastings Center, an American bioethics thinktank, he contended that "some animals not only have more self-awareness than profoundly impaired humans, but they also have higher IQs, and thus, more moral worth". But Dr Parens expressed his appreciation to the Australian because he had "vastly expanded our moral imaginations with his argument for the moral worth of nonhuman animals".

A podcast of Professor Singer’s talk and the questions which followed it is available at the conference website. In this address he recalled the time when he first began to feel that disabled children should be killed if their parents give informed consent. While he was working in a neonatal clinic in Australia in the 1980s, he was disturbed to find that some doctors refused parents’ requests to allow "profoundly cognitively impaired infants" to die. He began to realise that not all beings with human genomes have equal worth.

Dr Parens finds Singer’s approach too one-dimensional and prefers to factor into ethical decisions the relationships between parents and their children, even if they happen to be disabled. Singer’s approach, he feels, devalues the decisions some parents take to save their child’s life. However, he is still grateful for those "imagination-expanding" insights. ~ Bioethics Forum, Nov 20