In the name of scholarly inquiry, progressive thought and human enlightenment, the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University recently announced with great pride and self-satisfaction the appointment of Peter Singer as a professor of bioethics beginning next July. Mr. Singer lives in Australia, but he is best known in this country for his groundbreaking contentions that animals are entitled to certain inalienable rights, and among them is a right to life that Mr. Singer does not accord to infants.
Ah, the joys of academic freedom!
In addition to being one of the founders of the animal liberation movement, Mr. Singer is the author of a book entitled Practical Ethics . Practical, indeed, if you wish to kill babies and are searching for just the right ethical cover with which to cloak yourself.
In Practical Ethics , Mr. Singer writes that “a week-old baby is not a rational and self-conscious being and there are many nonhuman animals whose rationality, self-consciousness, capacity to feel … exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. If the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either, and the life of a newborn baby is of less value to it than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee is to the nonhuman animal.”
No doubt those rational beings at the University Center for Human Values have a greater appreciation for Mr. Singer’s subtle teachings, but to this observer, it would appear that Mr. Singer is saying that it’s all right to slaughter a month-old baby, but we had better keep our hands off pigs, dogs and chimps. This, of course, is the sort of argument that could win acceptance and indeed adulation only at an elite institution of higher learning.
Mr. Singer, it should be noted, has more to say about life, worthy and otherwise. To wit: “Although people sometimes talk as if we should never judge a human life to be not worth living, there are times when such a judgment is obviously correct.” Mr. Singer does not tell us who, in his ideal world where only the worthy shall live, would make such an “obviously correct” judgment, but presumably we can be grateful that he was not the attending physician when Christopher Reeve was brought into the emergency room, or the obstetrician who delivered Helen Keller, or the doctor who diagnosed Franklin Roosevelt’s polio.
Mr. Singer’s charming notions are better known in Europe, where protesters in wheelchairs have been known to assail him-with some justification, don’t you think? His appointment at Princeton, however, has yet to attract much notice in New York. As of this writing, only The Star-Ledger of New Jersey has noticed.
I put a call in to writer Peter Quinn, who is working on a novel about the eugenics movement in Germany and America during the 1930’s. The novel will open in Berlin and conclude in New York, places where the eugenicists of yore reflected on life unworthy of life. Mr. Quinn was unfamiliar with Mr. Singer’s work, so I read him some of the relevant passages. Here’s another one: “When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects for a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed.”
Mr. Quinn, who helped craft some of Mario Cuomo’s most famous speeches, laughed bitterly after my recitation from Practical Ethics . “These sort of people say they’re interested in human suffering,” Mr. Quinn said. “This isn’t about suffering. It’s about control. It’s about deciding who will live and who will die. And who is going to make that decision? This is unspeakable.”
But it will be spoken, and spoken at Princeton University, no less. It’s all in the interest of scientific inquiry and academic diversity, of course, and as we all know, there must be no interference in intellectual freedom. Except, of course, in certain cases, as when an advocate espouses ideas deemed unacceptable. “Princeton hires Singer, but do you think they would ever have invited Robert Casey, a pro-life Democrat [and former governor of Pennsylvania], to speak on campus?” Mr. Quinn asked. “Do you think they would hire a fundamentalist Christian at the Center for Human Values?”
This appointment, you can be certain, will become a political issue very soon, and you can be just as certain that liberals will be utterly paralyzed. They will mutter about academic freedom, while conservatives, armed with common sense, will shout bloody murder. “Many liberals,” Mr. Quinn said, “have a real problem recognizing evil if an idea can somehow be labeled ‘progressive.'”
For the record, a spokesman for Princeton University says that Mr. Singer’s appointment should not be taken as an endorsement of his views. Really? In that case, presumably Princeton would have no qualms about hiring a professor who advocated the consumption of the infants killed in accordance with Mr. Singer’s practical ethics.
On second thought, the university clearly would do nothing of the sort. After all, the elites are vegetarians these days. Animal rights and all that.