Magazine article The Human Life Review

More Dangerous Than a Monster: Peter Singer Is Tenured

Magazine article The Human Life Review

More Dangerous Than a Monster: Peter Singer Is Tenured

Article excerpt

Despite some of her friends urging Harriet McBryde Johnson not to debate Peter Singer, she made the right choice-all the more so because that event led to a cover story by her in the New York Times Magazine. A chance for millions of readers to see, not in the abstract, but a living, very immediate refutation of Singer's lethal and influential utilitarian doctrine that certain lives are not worth living.

The late A. J. Muste, the direct-action pacifist-who was a key strategist in the anti-Vietnam-War movement and in many Gandhi-like ventures around the world-used to tell me he would "sup with the Devil" to see if he could find even a kernel of humanity in that Prince of Darkness.

In her Times article, Johnson did challenge this tenured apostle of "mercy" killings, but she wasted too much space being impressed by Singer's gentlemanly manners. Having supped with the Devil, A. J. Muste would not have been sidetracked even if Lucifer had discoursed on the infinite beauty of Beethoven's late quartets.

During one passage, Johnson writes, "We go back and forth for ten long minutes." I would much rather have known more details of that dialogue-and the other disagreements between them at Princeton-than being told that she was "dazzled by his verbal facility." He is so "respectful," she continued, "so free of condescension, so focused on the argument, that by the time the show is over, I'm not exactly angry with him."

I have interviewed Peter Singer at some length, and yes, he was reasonably courteous and attentive to my intensely fundamental disagreements with his view of "imperfect" human beings. And had the conversation not been on the phone, I'm sure he would have offered me tea. But I came away with no less a feeling of repugnance at his smugness at being so superior in his exercise of pure reason, shorn of sentimentality, in his lifework to remove unsightly persons for the greater good of the rest of us.

Singer did not condescend to me. I threw him off guard by telling him that my contrary views did not come from any religious impetus, but that I am an atheist. However, his invincible righteous smugness was there throughout the conversation, reminding me of the television debate I once had with bioethicist Dr. Alexander Morgan Capron, who had devised a "precise" mathematical formula to determine which "damaged" infants should be allowed to survive.

I have described such bioethicists as Capron as being among "the new priesthood of death," and Singer is the Archbishop. Singer's influence on these transmogrifiers of "compassion" was illustrated in the Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics in the fall of 2000 when Capron-and another of that coven, Dr. Lawrence J. Schneiderman-wrote:

"A judge who orders that a severely disabled child be kept alive rarely sees firsthand the long-term continuing consequences of that decision, which remain a continuing vivid experience for the health care professionals who must care for the child."

Such trauma, you see, can be avoided by disposing of the severely disabled child and, as Singer has counseled, by then advising the parents to try for better luck next time.

Had Johnson been less "dazzled by [Singer's] verbal facility" and instead confronted him-and their audiences at Princeton-with Dr. Leo Alexander's all too prophetic 1949 article, "Medical Science Under Dictatorship" (The New England Journal of Medicine), the readers of her article in the Times might have been more disturbed on their day of rest. …

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