Thursday, February 24, 2011

Peter Singer: Taking the abortion ethic seriously

When the principle of fundamental human equality is implicitly or explicitly rejected in order to exclude unborn human beings from equal respect and protection, various criteria -- always arbitrary, changeable, degreed, without a firm foundation -- are proposed to determine which members of the species Homo sapiens should count as rights-bearing persons deserving of respect, and which should not. Those criteria inevitably have horrifying implications (beyond the horror of abortion itself).

Peter Singer
According to Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, for example, unborn human beings are not "persons" (and therefore may be killed) because they lack certain acquired properties that he deems morally relevant. (This is the standard approach of philosophers or ethicists who defend the moral permissibility of abortion.) But already-born infants -- and some severely disabled human beings -- also lack those properties. So, Singer concludes, it may be permissible to kill them as well.

It seems to me that our society can go one of two ways: (1) We can choose to follow the abortion logic where it leads -- infanticide, euthanasia, ongoing debates about when a child is really a "person" (what characteristics should make the difference?), debates about when a disabled or elderly human being no longer merits equal respect, etc.; or (2) The self-evident moral horror of such practices can drive us to reassess the "pro-choice" view of human value from which they stem, leading us to affirm respect and restore protection for every member of the human family, at every stage of development and in every condition.