August 15, 2012 | posted by Stephen Drake
“The Drum” – part of Australia’s ABC network – is featuring a response to a recent “Q & A” with Peter Singer on the network.
Readers of this blog can guess some of the territory he covered – infanticide, euthanasia, personhood, etc. Anyone curious can check out the interview.
The responder to Singer is Stella Young, the editor of ABC’s disability-oriented “Ramp-Up” site.
Young’s response to Singer is also a familiar one – offering the example of her own life and stories of the lives of other disabled people as counters to Singer.
Here is the beginning of “The Case Against Peter Singer“:
The appearance of Peter Singer on Q&A this week has rattled me in a way only the good philosopher can.
Singer, who is arguably better known for his views on animal rights, has views about disability that have been discussed far less here in Australia than they have in the US where he lives and works. I am open about not being a fan of Singer’s work, a statement that’s often met with confusion among friends and colleagues. “But he does such great things for animal liberation!” they exclaim.
While that may be true, animal liberation is not the only subject of Singer’s work. He also believes that parents should be given the choice to have their disabled babies killed after they are born. His argument is not about the right to terminate pregnancy based on the presence of a disabled foetus, although he does believe this as well, but the active killing of babies born with particular disabilities.
I was once one of these babies.
Let me be clear: Singer does not object to my life as it exists now. I am now what he considers to be a person with a right to life. But I, along with all other babies, was not born this way. All babies are born without the capacity to make conscious choices about their preference for life, and so Singer does not consider that they have a right to life in the same way as humans who are capable of this choice. This is especially true, he says, where the infant has a disability.
Young’s writing is excellent – she’s crystal clear, her stories ring true, and she doesn’t overstate Singer’s ethical positions.
Judging from the comments so far – over 200 – few people are swayed by the reality that Young and others with very real and significant disabilities enjoy life. “Brilliant” and “brave” are two words used to describe him.
For what it’s worth, I put my two cents into the comment fray:
Peter Singer is not brilliant, brave, nor particularly truthful when talking about infanticide or euthanasia.
For one thing – he can be sloppy, finding out just enough about a topic without digging deeper. As an example, in his famous book “Rethinking Life and Death” he wrote a lot about the late (but not missed) Jack Kevorkian, America’s ‘serial mercy killer.’ It was clear from his writing he’d done little research on the man, knowing nothing of his advocacy to gain access to death row prisoners to use in lethal experiments, etc.
Shortly after Singer made it to the US, I was on a radio show with him. He referred to Kevorkian as having ‘helped” terminally ill people. I then informed him that roughly two-thirds of Kevorkian’s body count consisted of people with nonterminal disabilities and chronic conditions. He reply was that, well, maybe *some* of Kevorkian’s ‘patients’ weren’t terminal – I cut him off and restated that it was ‘over half of them.’ (there are studies that bear this out) His response then was to start to say ‘well, I’m sure that Kevorkian evaluated them carefully’ – at that point I cut him off, saying it was ludicrous for a man who didn’t know the health status of the people who died at Kevorkian’s hands would think he could hazard a guess as to how careful Kevorkian was.
The radio exchange ended shortly after that. He only seems ‘brilliant’ to people who are ignorant about disability and quality of life – he depends on that ignorance for support. And it means he doesn’t have to work very hard.
That’s right – contrary to popular opinion, Singer is often sloppy and even dishonest. Exposing these aspects of his work can do more to undermine his legitimacy in the eyes of those who defend him on the basis of his intellectual integrity.