Extremists Make Death Threats Against Bioethicist

by Sharon Mahler
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When Peter Singer joined the faculty of Princeton University, extremists who disagreed with his views on abortion and infanticide made death threats against him. Singer said that he took the threats seriously, but that he wasn't going to back down from his positions because of these sort of threats. "Obviously I was concerned," he said, "but I also felt that you canít give in to that kind of stuff. You have to continue to stand up for things you believe in." The University bemoaned the fact that people would respond to Mr Singer's admittedly provocative positions by resorting to death threats.

Opposition to Singer is based on his statements that it is not always wrong to kill a human being. He explains that any "right to life" must be based in "a being's ability to plan and anticipate its future". As the unborn, infants, and some disabled people are not capable of planning their own futures, they have little or no inherent right to life. In an interview, Singer explained: "So one important reason why it is normally a terrible thing to kill an infant is the effect the killing will have on its parents. It is different when the infant is born with a serious disability. ... Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was ever born. In that event the effect that the death of the child will have on its parents can be a reason for, rather than against killing it." When the interviewer asked if Singer would kill a disabled baby, he replied, "Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole."

So now I'm confused. On what grounds does Mr Singer complain when someone threatens to kill him? I used to think that human life was sacred, and that threatening to kill someone was immoral and wrong. But Mr. Singer has now explained to me that that was just a silly, sentimental notion that I had! We have to be more pragmatic. If killing someone would be in the "best interests" of his family or of society as a whole, then it is justified. It is not only justified, but a positive good. Whether someone can "plan and anticipate his future" is a fuzzy standard that would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. So if someone believes that Mr. Singer's continued existence is bad for society, and if he believes that Mr. Singer demonstrates poor planning -- perhaps he doesn't save enough in his retirement fund -- then killing him would be good, right? I mean, I wouldn't have thought so, but Mr. Singer just exlained that it is. I guess we could debate whether Mr. Singer really is good or bad for society. But this debate should be conducted on logical, rational grounds, comparing costs and benefits, and not on any simplistic and naive ideas about God-given human rights.

Or do Mr. Singer and his employers at Princeton believe that while it is moral, and should be legal, to kill other people if their lives prove inconvenient, their own lives are sacred? Discussing killing other people is a subject for serious and profound philosophical debate. Discussing killing Mr. Singer is an outrageous affront that undermines rational public debate, if not the very fabric of society. Mr. Singer and Princeton University are a bunch of lying hypocrites.

Postscript: Do I need to say this? Obviously I am not advocating that someone kill Mr. Singer. That would be morally wrong. It occurred to me as I finished this column that I'd better add this statement just to be clear, in case someone reads this article and misunderstands me to be condoning murder, and I got arrested and thrown in jail. So ... Mr. Singer openly condones murdering children and handicapped people. He has made these statements in front of classrooms full of students, in interviews with the media, and in his books and articles. There must be thousands of witnesses by now. Why isn't he in jail?


Posted Sept 25, 2014.

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