February 27, 2024

Two anniversaries

Hi there,

We are back after the Easter break. I’m afraid that I failed to alert subscribers to the gap in continuity. Apologies.

The coincidence of two anniversaries struck me as I was preparing this week’s newsletter. It is the tenth anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo on March 31, 2005 – probably the most controversial bioethics case of all time, if measured by column inches in newspapers or the tonnage of court documents. And it is the 40th anniversary of the publication of Animal Ethics, the book which launched Peter Singer’s career as a public philosopher.

The two events have much in common. Terri’s life support was withdrawn because American courts were persuaded that because she no longer had interests which extended over time, she would suffer no harm in dying. And Singer’s main argument for expanding the circle of protection to include pigs and dolphins is that they do have these interests.

From this angle the most important issue in bioethics, then, must be: is there anything special in simply being a human being, regardless of how conscious he or she is, regardless of whether his or her interests extend over time? At the moment the pendulum seems to be swinging towards Singer’s utilitarianism. I wonder whether there will be a reaction as he fades from the scene.  

Michael Cook
A year of two momentous bioethics anniversaries.
Peter Singer
Terri Schiavo