December 06, 2005

A Reply to Peter Singer's "Sanctity of Life"

Peter Singer, the extreme left Princeton bioethicist, has written a short piece outlining his take on the future demise of the "sanctity of life" view of human persons. Steve Wagner, of Stand To Reason, has made an open call for responses to Singer's article. Below is my submission. I suggest reading Singer's original article first to gain the best appreciation for how I've chosen to frame my response.

During the next 35 years, the popular academic view of degreed personhood will collapse under pressure from public awareness, moral outrage, and scientific developments. By 2040, it may be that only a rump of hardcore, amoral, liberal elitists will defend the view that human life, from conception to death, is forfeit if it fails to measure up to their proscribed standards.

In retrospect, 2005 may be seen as the year in which that position became untenable. American liberals have for several years been in the awkward position of advocating for the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in spite of the fact that the real progress — present, not potential — is in other areas, such as adult stem cells. And private investors well understand this, which is the very reason for the need of federal funding. If they were intellectually honest, these radical liberals must acknowledge that ignoring some forms of medical advances is simply the price to be paid for pressing an atheistic agenda.

This year, that view became even more uncomfortable as study after study arrived to demonstrate the viability of non-embryonic technologies, public support began to wane for embryonics as the fog of disinformation lifted, and other even more liberal countries continued to move toward comprehensive cloning bans.

This year is also significant for ratcheting up the debate about the larger issue of human personhood. The legal battle over the removal of Terri Shiavo's feeding tube brought the issues of life, non-life, and a "life not worth living" to public attention. Terri's case taught us that "alive" is just a label that can be withdrawn on consensus; that tortuous execution qualifies as compassionate care if you are not capable of voicing an objection; that the one with the least reason to care about your fate can wind up in control of it; and if you don't want to fall victim to similar atrocities, you'd better get a living will.

Worldview philosophy drives this debate. This is fundamentally about the difference between viewing human life as something intrinsically worthy of our care and protection, and viewing human life as something distinct from a "person," which is the only thing that qualifies for legal protections. Personhood advocates propose arbitrary and divisive criteria for class membership that threatens to allow dogs and dolphins to pass muster while disqualifying newborns and retirement home residents. Pro-lifers reject human/person distinctions and believe that life is valuable regardless of its properties or potential, no matter how it is conceived or for what purpose, and even if it loses some capacity and may never again regain it.

As we approach 2040, countries like the Netherlands and Belgium will have had decades of experience with legalized euthanasia. This experience will affirm the understanding that state defined personhood and life-not-worth-living perspectives are philosophically identical to justifications used by Nazi war criminals. Indeed, the Netherlands has already begun experiencing doctor prescribed, involuntary termination of children and the elderly, and if we dare to include the abortion count in America, we have already outpaced the Nazi "barbarians" by orders of magnitude.

When the majority of the population (which are not, by the way, atheists) wakes up to the fact that personhood theory is antithetical to their unique view of humanity, and when they realize that this philosophy can logically lead to real life reductio ad absurdums like farming fetuses for organs and mandatory termination of the unproductive, high-maintenance elderly, and when they realize that just because something is feasible does not mean it is prudent or moral, then they will reject this view of personhood in the interest of preserving their own persons and for the sake of retaining our humanity. But, perhaps, not before they exercise their prerogative to define "persons" one last time to exclude radical, liberal bioethicists like Peter Singer.

For a more detailed treatment of this topic see my earlier article:
Personhood: The Measure of Life



At 12/06/2005 11:42 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

I know it's ad hominem, but I just can't resist.

Should we listen to a guy that in an article entitled "Killing Babies Isn't Always Wrong," writes: "Perhaps, like the ancient Greeks, we should have a ceremony a month after birth, at which the infant is admitted to the community. Before that time," he says, "infants would not be recognized as having the same right to life as older people."

At 12/06/2005 11:43 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Hey, consider this. Using Singer's ethic, I can smash him hard in the head with a pipe. Then when he's in a coma I can finish him off.

I'll only be chargable with aggravated assault!

Is that argumentum ad bakulum? Man, I'm full of fallacies today.

At 12/06/2005 12:10 PM, Blogger Paul said...

That's an interesting thought. What would they have charged Michael Schiavo with if he had simply smothered Terri? Murder? How could they? The only way that would be tenable is if you are a rights-bearing person if someone "wants" you. This actually does seem to be the case in the abortion issue. But you can always find someone who wants any given human to stay alive, so it's really about human ownership. So then, they shouldn't have been able to prosecute Michael if he smothered Terri, and you should be able to finish off Peter in that coma as long as none of his family members want him. Awful good reason to treat his family well, and practical reasons he needs since he is a utilitarian.

At 12/07/2005 12:46 PM, Blogger Jim V. said...

Excellent treatment of the issue, Scott. I'm linking to this from my blog.

At 12/10/2005 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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