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Princeton Prof Advocates Euthanizing Handicapped Babies 559

GolemII pointed us to this story at The Nando Times about Peter Singer, who teaches bioethics at Princeton, and some of the ruckus he's stirred up by suggesting that parents of severely disabled infants should be allowed to kill them painlessly in order to save them from a life of suffering. (more below.)

An earlier idea of Singer's, that a human life is not necessarily more valuable than an animal's, led (at least in part) to the founding of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] and the Animal Liberation Front.

We're running this here -- after some serious soul-searching -- because Singer raises thorny ethical questions that make people think in new ways even when they don't agree with him, and if there's one thing Slashdot readers are good at, it's coming up with unique reactions to controversial ideas that cause most people to shut down their critical thinking abilities and issue emotional, knee-jerk responses.

The floor is now open. Please try to treat this as an important ethical discussion, not as flamebait. It's a serious -- if frightening -- subject, and the debate now being carried on about it in academic circles will no doubt affect the way we treat our fellow humans and other life forms, both organic and cybernetic, in the 21st century and beyond.

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Princeton Prof Advocates Euthanizing Handicapped Babies

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  • Cambridge Undergraduate Advocates Euthanising Princeton Prof
  • by Section9 ( 98240 ) on Tuesday October 05, 1999 @11:56PM (#1634712)
    People protesting over an Professor of higher learning? What has this country come to?

    I don't necessarily agree with his position on euthanization. That doesn't mean that I have to protest him personally.

    Further more, to pressure the school to not offer him tenure is inapproptiate at best. Steve Forbes, et. all, neet to relize that there is a commitment that needs to be made. You can't choose to fund higher learning, and then tell the free-thinkers what to believe.

    People who throw away pre-concieved notions and think outside of the box are the most important people to support... Lest free speech, and philisophical development come to a screeching halt.
  • If it weren't for the massive kinds of medical technology, would these babies live on their own? It's not necessarily a good rule, of course, ... but ... if my child was born with one of the most severe kinds of birth defects (having the organs on the outside of the body, rather than the inside; these babies have a zero-percent chance of survival), I'd rather have him or her die painlessly right away than live for a few days in pain and then die.

    Of course, I'm not a parent yet, so my mileage may vary.

  • I've always felt very strongly that a human isn't necessariy a person. I've read that full-grown mature dogs operate at the same level of intelligence as a three month old baby. You could get off relatively unharmed for killing the dog, but killing a three month old baby would surely get you a long prison sentence.

    People regard the _potential_ for intelligence with perhaps a little too highly. I feel that while there can't be drawn a specific line in the sane, once someone shows that they are self-aware
    they are a person. And no sooner. For example, if
    a baby was born as a vegetable and was kept alive
    in that state for 30 years, I wouldn't consider
    that a person, just a human body.

    With that in mind, I really don't feel that harming a non-sentient human is the same thing as
    harming a mature person. I also, for the same
    reasons, beleive strongly in the right of a mother
    to decide to abort a child at any stage of

    But that said, I'm very aware that my opinions don't translate well into the real world, and they aren't exactly popular, so I guess we're stuck with what we've already got ;)
  • by TheBeginner ( 30987 ) on Tuesday October 05, 1999 @11:59PM (#1634715)
    I would refer agreeing readers too a wonderful piece written by Thomas Swift called a Modest Proposal. In it, Mr. Swift recommends that instead of simply killing and wasting infants, that in fact the most ethical thing to do is recycle them. In other words, kill them, and eat them. If there are starving people in the world, then why should this meat go to waste? Others can use it? Is it not wrong not to use it?

    Thomas Swift was being sarcastic, sadly enough, our esteemed bio"ethics" professor is not. The fact of the matter is that there are some things that just seem wrong to us. Without any use of logic, it just seems wrong that retarded children should not have the chance to live simply because they are severely disabled. In cases such as this, the basic instict we have is often correct. However, I'll admit, that there may be a logical point behind Singer's argument.

    It is hard to watch someone die. Often we say that it is kinder to pull the plug than watch the suffering. Now I am an agnostic who does not find anything inherently wrong with physician-assisted suicide. However, I think there is a clear difference. One person has had a chance to lead a full life while the other has not. Whatever that life may be, isn't it true that there is at least some moral imperative to giving a child the best life possible.

    What if this is all that there is? If there is no heaven or hell or afterlife? Then is it fair to the child to kill it and deprive it of everything. Existence is precious, we should treasure it for ourselves and for others. Pain tells us that we are alive. While it may be hard to watch, until a child can choose for his or herself whether or not to end his/her existence, we have an obligation to preserve that obligation.

    Sorry Mr. Singer, but you are wrong.

  • Do you know someone who is *severely* disabled?
    Stop and think about this for a while.

    Think Hellen Keller too.

    I guess he's not saying that parents *should*, but that parents should have the right.

    It's a tough one really.

    Do we start to intervene in natural selection with
    a species refinement process. That's what this boils down to.

    There are two issues here though.

    If society accepts this, are we moving towards perhaps defining what the humane genome should always be?

  • For those who are interested, I happen to know a little about Mr. Singer. Regardless of my disagreement with this article, Mr. Singer is a very ethical man. He believes that we should give everything not absolutely necessary for our own existence to the hungry, starving and dying. And unlike many who believe this, he actually follows through. He lives a very modest life and provides the majority of his salary to charity each year.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, I would not be surprised if Mr. Singer did advocate not only killing disabled children but also feeding them to the hungry. In a book he wrote (can't think of the name, might have been Rich and Poor?) he argued for the absolutely affluent giving everything they possible could to the absolutely poor. In this case, it would probably include any meat. And it would make some sense. Is it not more sensical to allow the meat to go to use to feed the hungry? Is it any different than organ donation?

    In the end, Mr. Singer keeps to his ethics very closely. While I, more conservative than liberal do not agree with many of his points, I do respect that he acts upon his beliefs.

  • If your family can't cope with their retarded children, they can surrender their parental rights and institutionalize them. Personally, I would say that having you in the family is probably the greater burden.

    (Oh, and BTW: I have a cousin who is autistic. I'd rather have him remain alive, than all the NAZI pukes who ever advocated killing him.)

    If you think retared people should be murdered, what about sociopaths like you and Dr. Singer? One of your ilk, and his henchmen, killed ten million non-combatants in the 30's and 40's.

    Maybe it's time for *you* to stick the barrel of a shotgun in your mouth, and take one for the team.

  • > 3. Ethical is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Eugenics of the sort espoused by
    > Singer, in a fascistic darwinian sort of way, contribute to the future viability of the
    > species. However, see point two.

    Eugenics of this sort could also work against the survival of the species. Sometimes a 'defect' may give a person a better chance of survival than a 'normal' person. An example is sickle cell aneamea which is eventualy fatal but provides some resistance to malaria which is more rapidly fatal, thus improving the viability of the population in a Malaria rich environment.

    Any artificial selective control will reduce genetic diversity, this makes the species less adaptable, it is like pre-selecting an evolutionary branch before we know the next selective pressure we will come under.
  • Singer is also on record as advocating forced euthanasia of elderly people and others who are no longer living what he deems quality lives.

    The ironic thing is Singer recently wrote a very self-righteous article saying those of us Americans who don't contribute at least 20 percent of our income to stopping world hunger are equivalent to mass murderers, but if we follow Singer's logic consistently we could get around this by donating our income to euthanize poor people in hungry nations which would also serve to alleviate human suffering.

    Whoever said Singer was very consistent hasn't read him very closely -- he's constantly making acceptions to his utilitarianism which render it all but meaningless.
  • Yes, some ideas are indeed dangerous, and you have to fight them. Stop the insanity at the root. People who are convinced that killing off handicapped children is a good idea should not hold a position in an institute of learning, and should definitely not be paid by those institutes to spout off their insane dreams.

  • Also there are the sheer medical costs that are required to care for an extremely
    handicapped person. Although parents should be able to care for the child if they can
    afford to, most such parents aren't so well off, and thus the costs necessary for care
    are sent to insurance or the governemnts health care program, and as a result the
    average American citizen. I don't have anything personal against disabled people, but
    it is outrageous that a fair share taxes I pay should be used by the government to
    subsidize the exhorbant medical costs of someone who cannot pay for them by
    themselves. I don't mind giving charity, but tax money should not be diverted towards
    such a resultless cause. The benefit of

    Regardless of the real arguments in this debate on both sides, I find it extremely outrageous -- and would find it more so were I the parent of such a child -- that you think yourself fit to condemn someone to euthanasia purely on a financial basis.
    Who are you to decide whether these people represent a resultless cause? Now perhaps you yearn for the days of Stalin's Russia or the third reich; perhaps you worship at Landover Baptist church, but last time I looked your views have no more weight than those of the disabled, the "resultless cause" to which you refer. Perhaps we should also euthanise the unemployed, since your tax dollar goes to providing them with subsistence, and maybe illegal immigrants should be sent to the chair because you have to pay a small amount towards building them crappy, mean housing tenements.

    the average person outweighs the need of a
    single lesser individual. In effect,

    Er. Again, how do you choose to regard these people as "lesser"? Do you think their views are of no worth (and I include here the non-Stephen Hawkings, the ones who think of nothing higher than dressing themselves or eating their next meal)? But you yourself share these views at least part of the time.

    such programs disrupt natural selection, where those
    incapable of independant survival are weeded out by failure to fend for oneself.
    Instead, the capable are being brought down by the needs of the disabled. Lastly,
    promoting the disabled population will ultimately lead to a continued abundance of
    highly disabled indivuals, as their genes will be passed on down, thus creating future
    struggles with disability as well.

    Perhaps we should just weed out everyone who's not blonde, blue-eyed and 6 foot? I'm sure it wouldn't take you long to re-open Dachau, Treblinka and Auschwitz.
    The point is, we won't end up with a population of monsters; comparatively few of the extremely disabled live long enough or get the chance to have children. If you're talking about those that do: the blind, those with crippled legs, etc. then I'm pretty saddened.
  • I know this is verging on flame-bait, as this is probably a more controversal viewpoint than even most /.ers can withstand, but...

    I have to agree completely. It's just cold, hard, darwinism. The incidence of mutations like Downs and so forth has rocketed enormously (and alarmingly) over the last few hundred years. It's a basic principle that any mutation which does not detrimentally effect the fertility of ones offspring will tend to propogate and spread throughout a species. Not as fast as a mutation that actively increases the same factor, true, but with nothing to hold it back, any mutation will tend to spread.

    In the "modern world" where such an enormous (an until recently unthinkable) amount of our resources is being squandered on the preservation and extension of the lives of those who would ordinarily be unable to fend for themselves, we're feeling the strain every day.

    The line should quite clearly be drawn at "genetic disorder causing serious physical and/or mental impairment".

    Genetic defects such as these need to be wiped out, or by the basic principles of evolution, they will become uniformly distributed across the whole species.

    The biggest threat to the human race is not Global Warming, nor the Atomic Bomb, nor even Four Digit Years.

    Note, I'm not normally this Fascist, in fact I consider myself fairly Liberal, but in this matter, I feel very strongly that it's another case of the Human race naively and arrogantly ignoring the laws of nature in the name of sentimentality. Usually it's done in the name of "progress" or "money", but _any_ attempt to beat Mother Nature will be met by a just and equal retribution.

  • by flesh99 ( 32039 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @02:40AM (#1634725)
    Everyone who has not read his book should just stop commenting. What he suggests is not to better help others, it is that the hapiness if the couple creates a child that is not disabled outweighs the wrong of killing a child. Read it then come back, the man is sick but I wouldn't advocate killing him and firmly believe he has a right to his beliefs even though I vehemtly disagree with him. I have know many parapelegics, asmahtics, and people with other disabilities that were happy with their life. Every one deserves a chance to live.

    That said. I recently had to hlep amke a decision to stop life support for my grandmother, it was the hardest decision I ever made. The professor refers to in his book a hemophiliac child, not one with no arms or no legs.
  • Ah, and who gets to decide?

    Mind you, there are in all earnesty those who say that back people (or yellow or white or moslems or christians or whatever) are not sentient human beings but mere animals.

    So they should be allowed to murder them?


    Besides, you can't just kill a dog and get away with it, there's animal protection laws (at least here in Germany - I don't know about whatever place you might happen to call home).
  • The wrong lies not in the fact that the animal suffers (remember, animals hunt, kill and eat each other every day)

    So does animals of the species humans. That doesn't make it right does it?

    Suffering is suffering, it doesn't matter if the suffering individual is a relative/white/human/other animal/alien/...

    And what is it you want to avoid with a society that repect it's weaker members? Suffering isn't it?

  • How old is this particular NAZI puke? Could he be the same one, or does Princeton have an ongoing tradition of
    avocoating crimes against humanity?

    Yes, NAZIs also have an ongoing tradition of supporting the Green Party and supporting various world aid organization.
  • by K. ( 10774 )
    The only reason for this kind of eugenics that
    stands up to any scrutiny is economics.

    You can't argue for perpetuation of the species.
    The idea of a single well-defined species is an
    over-simplification, and even if it wasn't, an
    allele that causes one form of disability today
    could protect against who knows what in the
    future. "Over-specialise and you breed in
    weakness. It's slow death."

    You can't argue that a disabled infant can never
    lead a normal life. To begin with, most disabled
    people do. Also, every year we push back the
    boundaries of medicine. An incurable condition
    today will probably be treatable in the future.
    If nanotechnology takes off in our lifetime,
    almost any medical condition will be trivial.

    Finally, it comes down to economics. A disabled
    child costs its parents (and in more enlightened
    countries, the State) a lot more to raise and
    will probably never pay back that investment,
    in monetary terms at least. But if you have the
    resources to spare for carrier groups, you have
    them to spare for social welfare. The developed
    world is not so poor that it needs to divest
    itself of less functional human unit, especially
    considering the negative effects such a policy
    would have on society as a whole.


  • by Kitsune Sushi ( 87987 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @02:44AM (#1634731)

    Alright now. Usually I'm rather reactionary, opting to respond to comments posted by others rather than taking any real intiative (except perhaps to do a line by line rip of an article or post a silly joke no one laughs at anyway). This is going to be.. a little different.

    Two weeks into the school year, the 53-year-old scholar has come under fierce criticism because of his view that parents should be able to euthanize severely disabled infants. His appointment as a tenured professor at the university's Center for Human Values has led to threats, a barrage of e-mails and demonstrations.

    What hubris it is for humans to even dare suggest that they are indeed exempt from natural selection. Do you think that out in the wild parents (read: animals) allow their offspring to go on living if it is clear that they can not fend for themselves? Clearly not. Only the strong survive. This is the natural way of things. The only thing that separates humans from the natural world is their disgusting way of thinking.

    "I think it's a good thing to stimulate people to think," Singer said in an interview at his office Thursday. "You can't separate debate and learning."

    This man is a genius. To think people condemn him for having a view that conflicts with their own. Personally, I'd switch my choice of university in order to be in one of his classes. It's nice to have an instructor who actually has intelligent thoughts.

    Singer's views on euthanasia were first detailed in his 1979 book "Practical Ethics." He has written that children less than a month old have no human consciousness and that parents should be allowed to kill a severely disabled infant to end its suffering and to increase the family's happiness. "Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all," he has written.

    I'm not so sure about the "human consciousness" issue, having no clear recollection of my first year or two of life. But hey, whatever. I will agree that it's not always "wrong" to kill a person. I'd like to question morality itself, however.. Which brings me to:

    In "Animal Liberation," which Singer considers his most important work, he argues that the life of a person is not necessarily more valuable than that of an animal. The 1975 book led to the founding of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and turned Singer into the philosophical father of the animal rights movement.

    How true. Think of how many insects and other critters you step on every day, squashing the life out of them. What makes you think you're so much better? Because you can "think"? Because you can "feel"? News flash: animals can feel pain too. Ever seen a kid kick a dog? See how it whimpers? Ever seen a dog get depressed? See how sad it looks? No creature is "more deserving" of life than any other, though some are simply better built to survive it.

    Also, thinking about all the vegans and vegetarians out there. They don't want to eat animals (ok, that comment was broad-sweeping.. I'll admit right now that that is not the rationale for all of them.. for those that it is, that is who the following is concerned with, alright?). Well.. guess what? Plants are alive too! Just because they can't run off, they aren't "deserving" of life? Because they can't scream, you assume they can't feel? By that line of reasoning, a mute amputee would not be deserving of life either. Think about it. (also think about how sick vegans and such get because it's so hard to maintain a healthy diet without eating any kind of animal product)

    Some opponents liken his views to those of the Nazis.

    Oh please! This man is talking about the ending of suffering, not the complete opposite: torturing an entire people and putting them to death. The Jews weren't "unfit" to live.. Hitler was simply a sick, very sick, man. By the way.. he also isn't advocating making euthanasia (do you people even know what that means??) mandatory, simply that parents have that option. As in nature. Again I ask: what makes you think you're above the natural order?

    "He provides a convenient ethical framework for bigotry and cost-saving measures that cut lives," said Stephen Drake of the Forest Park, Ill., disability group Not Dead Yet. "I really don't think there's room for this kind of discussion."

    Clearly an enlightened mind. So long as I can draw breath, I'll talk about whatever the fuck I want. You want to restrict my freedom of speech? You'll have to kill me first. Most people may not be willing to step up to the plate to defend their freedom anymore, but I'll be damned if I'm not. He obviously missed Singer's entire point.

    Singer, who is married and has a daughter, says he has actually received support from some parents of disabled children.

    Personally, if I were the disabled child, I'm not sure I'd want to know that my parents said that. Well, unless I was really that miserable. I don't know. I say I'm not sure because, well, I'm not disabled (subject to controversy with regards to my mental capacity, I'm sure). =P

    "There's no unanimity among those who live with disabled children," he said. "If people attack me because of that belief, why aren't they going to clinics that offer prenatal testing and protesting there?"

    Obviously because that would make sense. The fact that they are protesting proves that they don't make sense.

    Bob Griss, a Princeton graduate who is director of the Center on Disability and Health in Washington, said when he first heard of Singer's appointment, he petitioned the university to reconsider. But after exchanging e-mails with Singer over several weeks, Griss changed his mind.

    Wow.. someone actually taking the time to become more informed. More people should get a clue from this and do the same.

    "I personally view him more as an ally of the disability community than our archenemy," Griss said. "I think that he's in a position to recognize the dangers of the implementation of his theoretical questions."

    As I said, I don't think we're talking about mandatory stuff here. Purely an option. And it should certainly only be used in extreme circumstances. Anyone who thinks you need to be euthanised because of a minor defect is clearly nuts. Only those disabilities which inhibit a person's ability to actually live life and survive in the world should be considered. And no, it's not about saving money, you loons. Gah. Not everyone thinks about your precious fucking money! Get off it!

    Singer eats no meat, wears no leather and donates one-fifth of his income to international aid organizations.

    This I find odd. ;) However, I'm not going to disagree with the man personally because he has chosen this way of life, nor does it cause me to discredit the main point he has come under fire for simply because I disagree with him here. I never said there was anything wrong with not eating meat, just that it seems silly to me. If people don't want to eat (or wear) animals, that's fine. But plants are living things too.. And you have to eat something .. Of course, all of that is premature. I'd like to know why he doesn't eat meat/wear leather. ;)

    In a New York Times Magazine article, Singer wrote that members of affluent Western societies should donate at least 10 percent of their income to help ease starvation in poor countries. The article resulted in $75,000 in unexpected donations to Oxfam over three weeks, spokeswoman Peggy Connolly said.

    Clearly this man is the root of all evil..? Ha!

    The attention has put Princeton in the difficult position of ensuring Singer's place without defending - or condemning - his views. The university has provided him with a guarded classroom and promised to maintain his safety and that of the 23 students taking his course, "Questions of Life and Death."

    This really saddens me. Perhaps one day the U.S. really will be about learning and free thought again, rather than ignorance and submission.

    "Some of the controversy can be attributed to misrepresentation or misinterpretation of his views," university President Harold T. Shapiro wrote in an editorial for the Daily Princetonian last November, shortly after Singer was appointed. "But some of the controversy arises from the fact that he works on difficult and provocative topics and in many cases challenges long-established ways of thinking - or not thinking - about them."

    I'm going to wager on the "not thinking" theory. People really should open up their minds and actually think about things. A lack of questioning.. is decidedly unhealthy. Just think how horrible your life would be if you never questioned anything and simply accepted everything the way it was. No, seriously, close your eyes and just try to imagine..

    Pretty fucking scary if you ask me.

    "If people read this as part of a broader context," he said, "they understand that I'm trying to alleviate the amount of unnecessary suffering in the world."

    Well, I'm all for it. I'm also for anything that brings us closer to recognizing that we are indeed a part of the natural world rather than its ultimate masters. Humans always try to manipulate the other creatures on this earth, and think themselves to be above all else. Humans as a whole have the right to decide the fate of entire species, trimming their numbers as "appropriate" (coyotes and wolves are evil.. kill the fuckers! no one cares about animal species until they are already on the brink of extinction.. and then it's too late.. humans don't have clue 1 about how to balance the natural order because it's far to complex to predict or even assess properly), yet parents can't even have the right to decide if their child is healthy enough to survive in the world?

    Throw off the shackles of conventional "thought", and actually ponder these weighty issues before making a snap judgement. The world will be better off for it.

    Also note the difference between "fit to survive" and "deserving of life". All things are deserving of life, whether you think so or not. However, not all things were built to survive. Sad to many of us? Yes. A fact of nature? Yes. Morality is wholly in your mind. There is nothing natural about it. Do you think nature is guided by some greater morality? No. It's something completely different, something most people clearly do not even understand, although they damn well should .

  • Bartmoss:
    As much as I enjoy being taken out of context, I have to ask you to find somewhere in my posts where I advocate killing children after birth.
    I'll save you the time looking, because I didn't. My point is that sometimes we have to make the hard decisions, for ourselves, our childern and our society.
    All too often we expend great costs on keeping a child alive which should die. I'm not referring to pre-mature babies or conjoined twins, but rather ones that are anasyphallic (no brain, only stem), or have other overriding health issues. I want people to think about this during the pre-natal phase.

    Just because we have the technology to extend life, does not necessarily mean that we should always use it. The hard question is when to say enough has been done. It's hard to set emotions aside, but speaking as one who has had to make the choice to remove life support from a loved one... You need to consider what will be better for the person, not what is EASIER on you.

    As far as the Hitler comment, I don't condone his actions, but I can understand his motivations. He is one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century, and also one of the most morally misguided ones (right after Stalin).
  • The Beginner wrote that our basic instinct tells us that killing a retarded child is not correct.


    1. The basic instinct in fact does tell a mother to abandon her child if it proves not to be able to survive on its own. This holds true for most primitive tribes that have been studied so far (refer to Eibl-Eibesfeldt or the like).

    2. It is one of the great achievments of civilisation that we don't kill when our instinct tells us to (when we catch our partner in bed with another person, when we encounter a tresspasser...). It's good to know what your basic instincts tell you to do - but you should control them and think civilized before acting!!!

    As posted previously, it comes down to drawing the line between "fit to live" and "unfit to live".
    Maybe you are too frightened to draw the line...
    Maybe people who do just try to play god (although - has anybody seen him around lately? ;-)

  • The argument about the guy who would have died in a car crash through wearing a seatbelt is flawed, because far more people die through not wearing them than do through wearing them.

    By this same arguement, then, the arguement about Stephen Hawkins is also flawed. The number of relative geniuses and the proportion of the population that are born severely disabled are so small that the odds of them coinciding more often than is good are vanishingly tiny.

    If this is not the case, and certain physically disabling mutations are reliably associated with better-than-average intellect, we'd expect to see that correlation over several generations of the same family, in a predictable manner. If Hawkins disease is such a case, then I stand corrected and would be greatly pleased. Could someone post a URL with a reliable study?

  • I have to agree with iths, harming a non-sentient human is the same thing as harming a mature person.

    And we aren't talking about harming here, anyway, though.

    We're talking about a mercy killing, just like in old yeller.

    A baby is by no means a sentient being. As stated in the original post, I think people do regard the potential for intelligence too highly. In this case inteligence wouldn't develope, or, even worse, it would and be cursed to a miserable life.
  • I should be able to manage my unborn children on an ROI basis. (Abortion) After all, offsping mainly exist to provide for the continuance of our genetic heritage. Healthy ones have a better chance of achieving that goal.

    I realize this is a common attitude, but really have trouble understanding this - what's the difference between a baby 2 seconds after it's born and a fetus 2 seconds before it's born? Especially when we regularly spend millions of dollars each year to preserve the lives of premature infants - infants that, biologically, are young enough to be legally aborted?

    People are getting really upset with this professor, but that just begs the question: What, exactly, is the difference between abortion and infanticide?

  • This is really nothing new. The ancient Greeks did it to the babies who were defective in some way, or just because they were unwanted. They would just leave them on the side of a hill to die of exposure or to be eaten by the first predator that happened by. Do we vilify Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Hippocrates, et. al. as "soulless monsters?" The last time I checked, the answer was no. In fact, the Greeks are held in very high regard. Do we lament the loss of ancient philosophers that never were? Did you even know this about the ancient Greeks?
  • Remember, Practicality always takes a backseat to the illusion that we are "civilized" and "moral".

    Even as we exploit powerful political offices for sexual favors...

    Even as we condemn our elders to corrupt modern-day death camps known as nursing homes...

    Even as we toxify our planet in the name of economic progress...

    Even as we strip away freedoms such as the right to defend oneself while outlaws lick their chops...

    Religion is to blame. Elitist liberals are to blame.

    Ventura for President
  • So, you also agree that guns don't kill people?

  • Interesting question. My guess is that the US Constitution is not as badly drafted as the Weimar Constitution was -- if Hitler had been forced to stand in a two-party Presidential-style election rather than being appointed Chancellor because leader of the largest party, then I doubt he'd have taken control in Germany. And the USA never had economic conditions which were bad enough to generate the underclass politics which fed the Nazi party (got pretty close, though).

    But I wouldn't kid yourself that there's anything intrinsic about American political culture which would be inimical to Nazism. Mentally deficient people have been forcibly sterilised in the USA (not to the same extent as in Sweden). And it's one of only two developed countries to have operated a system of apartheid since the war. The potential's there everywhere.

  • Regardless of the rights or wrongs of Prof. Singer's suggestion, where would it actually lead to? As it stands, he is suggesting this for severely handicapped foetuses. But remember the abortion laws. In the UK, the law was brought in for special cases only. A doctor had to be convinced that there was a medical reason for the termination before it could go ahead. Now we have lunchtime clinics where one can have a termination simply because it isn't convenient. I'm not saying that Singer's suggestion would lead to young children being executed because they cried too much (!), but I think that the boundaries would be stretched before too long.
  • Amazing. You'd think the Dutch, after being fucked by the Germans not even 60 years ago, had a little more brains when it comes to these things. Sad, sad..... :(
  • ..I find it difficult to put much stock into someone who consistently plays the Hitler card in this arguement. Singer is not advocating the wholesale slaughter of people, but the option to euthanize a newborn child who is clearly not fit to survive in the world. I believe that in the natural world, you won't find this to be so "insane" a notion. Nor is homosexuality, for that matter. Does anyone here happen to realize how many female sea gulls are lesbians? According to many religious people, does this mean the are "the bird of Satan"? After all, why would "God" create such a creature to be "sinful" by nature?

    Disclaimer: I became disgusted with religion at an early age. All attempts to "reform" me have met with actual thought and much subsequent criticism.

  • It took russia to create communsism as we know it.
    I have to wonder exactly what you think the People's Republic of China (is People's Republic an oxymoron) and North Korea are.
    Deja Moo: The feeling that
  • On the contrary, you can attack the conclusions even if the premises are right IF the conclusions leads to morally questionable results or, more importantly, if the logical model that permits such premises is not sound. Singer thinks that consciousness doesn't begin until a month or more after full-term birth. How did he come to that conclusion? What's consciousness to begin with? We are tying consciousness with life, and at the same time position consciousness above life itself. And based on what? What is the scientific basis for such thinking? A 5 year old child is not aware of the consequences of education? Should it not matter whether he/she gets an education, then? A handicapped 3 year old child will definitedly not be aware of the difficulties that lie ahead. He/she will be conscious that he/she exists, all right, but he/she will not know what the full implications of his/her handicaps are. Would that make this child less unconcious and then more suitable for euthanazing?

    Singer's premises will be valid (or wrong) if and only if we clearly and unquestionably know:

    1) what consciousness is in the first place,
    2) whether there are degrees of consciousness or there are just absolute consciousness or unconsciousness,
    3) that we know for sure a newborn is unconscious, and that such fact stop us from treating a newborn and a 1 year old as equals,
    3) that human life can be quantify and qualify in terms consciousness, and MORE IMPORTANTLY,
    4) the fact that the possibility, however narrow, that a supossed unconscious (and therefore non-sentient) handicapped baby would have prefered to go on living is of no consequence and irrelevant compared to the benefits and whatever moral reasons one would have to kill him/her.

    Singer is drawing conclusions using some form of logic which soundness is not that clear, at least to me. There are more thinks to take into account, more questions that remain unanswered or even stated! How can we then make such a leap? Prove me what consciousness is and how it quantify and qualify life. Show me that the benefits of killing a handicapped newborn outweights whatever future choice this baby would have made.

    Luis Espinal.
  • The hubris of being exempt from natural selection? Most of civilization is an attempt to evade natural selection. Do you favor no one having eyeglasses, since that would help weed out the poor sighted? Is it a "disgusting way of thinking" to come up with allergy medication, or to treat possibly fatal congenital diseases, helping them spread to later generations? Like it or not, most of civilization interferes with natural selection.

    The comparison to Hitler is more apt that you apparently think. Yes, he killed the Jews, whom he thought inferior. However, the sick, the weak, those with congenital diseases, the alcoholic, the mentally or physically infirm, these were all separated, prevented from reproducing (under the various German Health Acts), and were planned to be killed.

    As you point out, Singer isn't saying to make this mandatory. However, unless people disagree with him, his views could easily be adopted by the majority and become mandatory. Secondly, due to the statistical and biological fact of "regression to the mean," eugenics is unlikely to work with massive coercion, and its proponents would realize that. Finally, I simply find it strange that a bunch of supposed geeks, who often seem to take offense at the idea of parents controlling the lives of teenaged children, find nothing wrong with parents having complete control over their children's life and death.

    I also wonder how, if "morality is wholly in your mind" and "there is nothing natural about it," why Hitler was evil? Certainly the Jews couldn't resist his power; weren't they being selected against in a social sense? Why do you seem to claim it's a good thing to give to Oxfam; shouldn't natural selection weed out those who can't fight to survive when food is scarce?

  • This is a horrific idea. I have a cousin who, when born, had a cerebral palsy-like condition due to his mother being clinically dead for several minutes during birth and the ensuing lack of ocygen to his brain for that time. For the first several years of his life, no one knew what exactly this would mean for him, since he had obvious motor coordination problems and appeared to have some sort of mental retardation.

    He's now in his mid-20's, holds a B.S in Accounting (from a real university, not a mail-it-in type), lifts weights, serves as a deacon in his congregation, and is a useful, productive member of society, not to mention a hell of a guy (he was the best man in my wedding). He's not Stephen Hawking, in either direction, but I'd venture to guess that there are a lot more folks like him than like Hawking. And by this prof's lights, he should have been killed before finishing his first month.

    We are not the same as animals. Humans have inherent value. If the word "humanity" has so little meaning for someone, then I for one am ashamed to have them as part of my species.
  • The fact of the matter is that there are some things that just seem wrong to us.

    Perhaps so, but this isn't one of them, at least not to me, anyway.

    Then is it fair to the child to kill it and deprive it of everything.

    Everyone comes into this world with but one natural right -- the right to die. Everything else is a bonus. The universe isn't fair, so fairness doesn't come into it when deciding whether or not to allow killing a disabled baby. All you'd be depriving the child of is a bonus to which it has no natural entitlement anyway.

    Sorry Mr. Singer, but you are wrong.

    Actually, no. He's right. Whether society can see past it's own prejudices to agree with him is another matter entirely.

  • By bestowing a life long burden on the taxpayers to support a child that should have been naturally un-selected, we
    are in essence creating a life where there should never have been one.

    Basically what you say is that children should be killed because they cost the taxpayer money. This is probably the
    most disgusting attitude a human being can have. You should be ashamed of yourself. I can't even come up with a
    good term to describe you. You disgust me.

    So maybe you and all other likeminded folks should adopt all these defective and unwanted babies, and raise and feed them till their deaths entirely at your own expense.

    Maybe one day, you can even let one of them marry your own daughter, without any concern for any of their disabilities and shortfallings, since they're just as good as anyone else to you, and produce you some wonderful grandchildren, for whom you shall also pick up the tab if necessary.

    This all reminds me of an incident that took place around here not too long ago. A woman tried to stage an accidental fall of her Downs syndrome-afflicted baby daughter by dropping her off a 45-meter-high suspension bridge. The baby somehow miraculously survived. Apparently, the mother had attempted to put her up for adoption three times in the past, unsuccessfully. Now, where the bloody hell were the folks like you to pick up for her and adopt this child and avert a tragedy like this from ever occuring in the first place???
  • However bright we may be, it is not for us to decide. Consider: every civilization that has successfully evolved has done so with strong restrictions against infanticide. That alone should prove the dangers. If a society could gain a competititve advantage by killing defective children, why has this practice never taken hold? The answer is simply that it does not confer any net advantage to a society.

    Even if some babies would be "better off dead," any society that allowed such things would suffer other maladies. The bright white line between life and death is one of those absolute values that people must have in order to work together and prosper. Allowing infanticide blurs that line, coarsens people, and reduces their trust of each other.
  • This man, unfortunately, has tenure at Princeton, so there's little use in demanding that he leave his field (they can't fire him and it's doubtful that he will resign). But to promote infanticide for selfish reasons: that's the mark of a mind that should be watched very carefully.

    Who the hell does this man think he is that he can decide who is human and who is not? Let's take, for instance, Stephen Hawking. He wasn't born with Lou Gherig's disease, but let's say that he was found to be susceptible to it at birth. Furthermore, let's say his parents euthanized him because he would eventually "cramp their style" or someone else's. Think of what the world would have lost.

    While we're at it, what about Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder, two men who became talented musicians, even though both were blind?

    This man has no right whatsoever to decide that handicapped children have no potential. Every human does, even those with severe cases of brain damage in one form or another. To snuff out that potential, particularly when it's involuntary, to decrease the parents' "suffering" isn't simply inhumane; I think this one qualifies as inhuman.

    While we're at it, I think it calls upon us to define what is human. to start, let's say that a two-year-old is human. Why? Because I don't think anyone will argue that it isn't, so we have a convenient baseline for comparison. Is a newborn human? Genetically, it certainly is. Morphologically, it's as human as a two-year-old (who, I remind you, is still not fully-developed).
    An infant carries on all of the same biological processes as a two-year-old (meaning all of the biological processes of an adult except those involved in reproduction; but since this isn't counted against a two-year-old's humanity then it's not fair to count it against an infant's). Granted, the average two-year-old is toilet-trained, but I don't think anyone here is going to say that toilet-training makes someone human.
    Its brain, while still maturing, has the capacity to learn, even if the child hasn't learned how to vocalize yet. Since people who are born mute for one reason or another are considered human, it's not fair to count the inability to speak against an infant.
    It can't survive on its own, but neither can a two-year-old (or most animals at a comparable stage of development) so that cannot be counted against it either. If you want to take the "parasite approach" then I must remind you that parasites are still considered alive, and that there are many full-grown adults who are just as parasitic yet still couunted as human.
    Does it have consciousness? I'd love to see how he proposes to test that question(assuming he's ever tried; I've found that many philosophers tend to go on convenient assumptions and leave the testing to others). Just when is this "magic moment" that the brain develops consciousness? I'm in the camp that believes the brain is pre-wired for consciousness, and has it as soon as it develops to the point where it could possibly posess it (which is probably, to be honest, still in the fetal stages; I don't claim to know exactly when).

    Oh, and let's get to the "suffering" bit, while we're at it. Who, exactly, suffers? I do quite a lot of work with Down's Syndrome children (my uncle had one of the more severe cases on record, in case you're wondering how I got started in this). The children don't seem to be suffering; they make the best of the situation. And the parents... well, the parents of the children are frankly among the happiest people I've ever seen; they aren't suffering either. Yes, it's an extra burden; I never argued that it wasn't. But it's pure selfishness to reject a child because of something which will mean an extra burden for yourself.
    There are risks involved in having a child. When you decide to have a child, you accept those risks. To remove the risk... that's a grey area at best; it reduces burdens, but at what cost? Perhaps a disrespect for human life? I see something of that in this professor.

    But enough of this rant. I don't agree with this guy. I'll respect his right to say it, but I don't believe it should be from the professorial position he currently enjoys. There's nothing that can be done about it, of course (he has tenure, after all). And as long as he teaches this as only one philosophy out of many, that's one thing. But if this man starts indoctrinating his students, that's quite another.
  • Indeed, the argument can be extended further back. Now I'm putting this in QUOTES because I DON'T BELIEVE THIS, okay?

    "Women should be made continuously pregnant because otherwise a Stephen Hawkin might miss being conceived."

    That's the logical extension of the argument.

  • Seeing as I can't moderate you, I'll reply instead.

    He was not talking about autistic children, he was talking about a person of 17 with the mental age of 1, who will remain that way for the rest of their life. Autistic is quite different.

    You are relating this sort of thinking to Hitler, yes? Hitler and his ideas are almost incomparable (I say almost). Whilst he wanted everyone of a certain race or races killed (genecide) here we are talking specifically about killing children who are severely handicapped (euthanasia). Whilst genecide is almost (again, I say almost) globally accepted as wrong, euthanasia is still a hotly debatable issue.

    Now for my personal opinions on this (or are they my personal -feelings- on this? Perhaps there should be clearer destinction).

    1)I think that this sort of action should be legal, but HIGHLY HIGHLY controlled. Allowed only in the most severest of severe cases.

    2)I believe also that there should be distinction between physically handicapped, and mentally handicapped. Severely mentally handicapped children we have little to no hope for, in helping them to lead a normal life. We cannot replace their brain, they will always be handicapped and ALWAYS require supervision, support, assistance, etc. Whilst severely physically handicapped people can eventually benefit from advanced technologies that allow them to move around, communicate, etc. And physically handicapped people at least have the one organ functioning which we have the least ability to replace or correct - the brain.

    Still, it's a complex issue, with no easy cut and dry answers.

    el bobo
  • 1. Who could and who should decide when to end a childs life?

    IMHO: The parents - if they can afford to pay the bills from the hospitalization et all. If they cannot, I don't think they should have a choice.

    Like my father always said to me "I brought you into this world, I can take you out".

    2. Might this actually happen someday, will we start 'giving involuntary euthanesia' to children who might become criminals or something else 'undesired' (aka killing them)?

    Anything is possible. I don't see it going that far, but I do see us eventually NOT treating infants that are born with problems that would cost over $10k to fix. It sounds sick, I know - but if you think about the initial cost, and you think about the family's costs over the (possible future) life of the child, it is *enourmous*. I know a family that was, and still is very much bankrupt from such a child. The child unfortunately never did improve.

    Then again, my step son is a-ok after having been born premature. Because his father was in the military, taxpayers paid for his treatment - the bills would have been astronomical in the private sector. He was on oxygen for many days - in the hospital for about 6 weeks - the doctors ended up giving him a 90% chance of braindamage. He's fine now - but would *I* have insisted that the doc's let him go as is? Yes.

    Just let them grow up, they'll probably be okay.

    Define probably - is that probably if someone shells out a million or so for treatment for those first few months? What if it's not treatable, and it's a lifetime problem?

    There is no probably. Babies are born screwed
    up all the time - it's just that you never hear about them in the media - and society ignores it for the most part. You will hear about the women who was impregnated and is going to have 12 kids and the couple cannot afford it and someone's taking a collection for them and companies are donating cars and a house etc to them.

    After all, they can always ask for assisted suicide later.

    What if they can't talk? What if they can't hardly communicate at all?

    There are no guarantees here. There never will be. Its like playing the lottery - the only difference is that as time passes the chances of medical technology helping to improve the situation increase dramatically. And the thing is - if you lose - and your child is severly disabled - who's going to take care of that child after you're gone?

  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @03:30AM (#1634835) Journal
    The life not worth the living? Does this kind of thinking remind you of anyone?
    That's not it at all. The issue is "the life not yet begun", and the burning social question is "When does life as a human being begin?" (And the associated personal question is "Do we have any business making a new human being with X, Y and Z inherent problems and the consequent disadvantages and suffering?")

    People have a lot of different attitudes about this. The Right-To-Life position is that it begins at the union of gametes (which I've heard parodied as "Life begins at erection"), and some even take issue with interfering with the gametes getting together. To the Warren Court, life which could be protected by the power of the state without reservation began at viability.

    Singer starts with the premise that life qua human being is tied to conscious existence. In this he is not alone: The entire USA and the courts have no problem with proclaiming a body that's still metabolizing just fine, but can never be conscious again due to brain death, to be legally dead. Singer thinks that consciousness doesn't begin until a month or more after full-term birth and draws conclusions from this. You have no business attacking his conclusions unless you can find something wrong with his premises.
    Deja Moo: The feeling that

  • Also, thinking about all the vegans and vegetarians out there. They don't want to eat animals (ok, that comment was broad-sweeping.. I'll admit right now that that is not the rationale for all of them.. for those that it is, that is who the following is concerned with, alright?). Well.. guess what? Plants are alive too! Just because they can't run off, they aren't "deserving" of life? Because they can't scream, you assume they can't feel? By that line of reasoning, a mute amputee would not be deserving of life either. Think about it. (also think about how sick vegans and such get because it's so hard to maintain a healthy diet without eating any kind of animal product)

    The question is not whether the organism is alive, but whether it has significant enough cognitive abilities to experience suffering. Plants have no brains, therefore they cannot suffer. Insects have a sort of rudimentary brain, but clearly not enough to allow any sort of consciousness. Fish and reptiles would appear to be in a gray area. Mammals, however, clearly can feel pain and react in ways similar to humans. Perhaps they do have enough cognitive ability to suffer. Hopefully you can see the distinction here between life and cognitive ability which is the ethical basis for my being vegan. And I am a healthy vegan even after 10 years of doing so.

  • You're not the editor.. you wanna be an editor, dump a shitload of time and money into creating a new "News for Nerds" site..

    Slashdot is pretty much about anything that's interesting and not just the latest AMD K-999 6.5-tittyflop, cryogenically-cooled, uranium-based Intel-compatible microprocessors..

    I'm a nerd.. a bioengineer. This story interests me. It matters to me.. my wife and I are trying to have kids.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The real irony here is that our present knee-jerk response to infanticide is unique to our time. In the past, when our standard of living was lower, children weren't recognized as humans -- read any anthropology text if you don't believe me; just learn _some_ history. Until a child had grown to 8 or 10 years old, (and thus passed through the most dangerous part of life, disease-wise) he or she was not given a 'real' name, they weren't really considered members of the family, and they weren't buried with the family. Specifics vary from culture to culture, but the concept is true everywhere there's a high infant mortality rate. Just a few decades ago, India still gave names to children when they had passed their first 7-8 years. France didn't have a word for infant until the middle of the 19th century. Even here in America, until the 1950's, stillborn babies below a certain weight didn't need records -- they just threw the corpse out.

    But I digress. My only point here is that the morals of our time are not the only morals, nor have they always been as they are now. Think about it.
  • what's the difference between a baby 2 seconds after it's born and a fetus 2 seconds before it's born?
    Mostly, huge (and irreversible) changes in the pulmonary and circulatory systems.
    What, exactly, is the difference between abortion and infanticide?
    That one's easy. Abortion (also known as "miscarriage") is the termination of a pregnancy before term; implied is the failure of the embryo/fetus to survive, otherwise it is known as premature birth. Infanticide is the killing of an infant, implying that it is already born alive. The really sticky issues, such as "What do you call the deliberate killing of a fetus before birth" cannot be resolved by appealing to the historical terminology.
    Deja Moo: The feeling that
  • (also think about how sick vegans and such get because it's so hard to maintain a healthy diet without eating any kind of animal product)

    ..for that oversight. Please insert the word "many" right before "vegans". In a post this long, however, I'm bound to make mistakes like these. *sigh*

    The question is not whether the organism is alive, but whether it has significant enough cognitive abilities to experience suffering. Plants have no brains, therefore they cannot suffer.

    Even if I were to agree with you, which I don't, having never been a plant, I can safely we say "we don't know anything for sure about what it's like to be a plant". People who haven't been raped can't even understand what it's like to be a rape victim. They can say they do, but do they truly understand ? I think not. Therefore, it seems a little.. well. It seems untoward to assume one can assume what it's like to be a plant. Humans don't even fully understand how the human brain functions.

    Besides which, to me, most ethical concerns are largely religious concerns. Most religious seem to agree on the notion that humans have souls. Is there proof to back this up? No. Even if it were true, is there proof that other life forms don't have souls? No. Perhaps plants have souls and their souls allow them to feel? No way to know for sure. We're not plants.

    However.. as I stated more clearly farther down in the article, I could care less one way or the other if someone is vegan. It's their choice. To me, neither choice is any more "ethical" than the other.

  • You know, I wouldn't worry about Dr. Singer so much if he was a lone crackpot. The trouble is (as is shown already on this Slashdot discussion) that so many people are willing to go along with this nonsense. Pope John Paul II is right to warn that we have a "Culture of Death", where our answer to problems is to simply kill. [No, I am not Catholic; however, I believe JPII is absolutely correct about this.]

    This is exactly what the pro-life movement has been warning about for decades now. I can date my conversion to a pro-life viewpoint pretty exactly; it was when, as part of a "bio-ethics" class, I was exposed to the viewpoints of Joseph Fletcher, Peter Singer's predecessor in such positions as the alleged morality of infanticide. I hadn't really thought about abortion very much, but I concluded that, if there was such a consensus about the fact that there really isn't any ethical difference between a fetus and a baby, that there is no magic moral pixie dust that confers personhood and humanity by a trip out of the uterus (something Singer and Fletcher would agree with), then either we arrive at a viewpoint where, if human life is sacred at all, we must treat life in the womb as sacred, or else humans are simply animals that may be killed when they are too much trouble, and there is no logical reason not to kill unwanted children, or unhappy and unwanted old people, or anyone that enough of us feel are inconvenient.

    The only reason that Singer stands out is that he boldly embraces and proclaims this logical conclusion, rather than stopping short of it. So the man is not a hypocrite. I don't consider this much of a virtue. I'd rather have a person who is hypocritical and inconsistant in refusing to follow a bad premise through to clearly evil ends, than someone who in the name of "boldness" or "consistancy" or "integrity" follows through a bad premise to consistantly evil ends.

    (Side note -- I'm bothered by the subtle and not-so-subtle ad hominem attacks going on here. It seems as if, according to Dr. Shapiro, Roblimo, and the majority of Slashdotters, that by definition anyone who holds to the traditional Christian position that it's simply wrong to kill children, or anyone else, because they are "defective" by some standard is "unthinking", whereas anyone who's willing to entertain Dr. Singer's philosophy is by definition an intellectual. This is nothing more than name-calling.)

    At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, I would like to know how this differs in any essential way from Nazi philosophy. The Nazis declared that ceratin people were defective, and therefore that killing them was not an immoral act, since they weren't really "human" or "people" anyway. Singer is saying the same thing, he's simply replaced "Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone who doesn't get along well with the Third Reich" with "children of any race who don't measure up phyically and mentally, or whose life might cause their parents too much suffering."

    I propose a simple alternative philosophy. It's not new, but neither is Singer's. It is this: that human life is sacred. It is sacred because it is a gift of God, and we are made in His image. It is a gift, and therefore we have it by simply being born into this world. As a gift, we do not earn it by being smart enough, or fit enough, or pain-free enough. We simply have it, and to deny this is to deny legitimate human freedom and dignity.

    The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
    -- G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With The World []

    Almost every contemporary proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny into the world. ... I may, it is true, twist orthodoxy so as partly to justify a tyrant. But I can easily make up a German philosophy to justify him entirely.
    -- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy []

  • On the contrary, you can attack the conclusions even if the premises are right IF the conclusions leads to morally questionable results...
    Wouldn't that be better cause to question the validity of the prevailing morality, instead of the conclusion?
    or, more importantly, if the logical model that permits such premises is not sound.
    But how do you measure the soundness of premises? It is one set of premises which produces the proofs and conclusions of Euclidean geometry, and another set of premises which produces the proofs and conclusions of other geometries (Riemann geometry is one such, if I have my terms right - IANA mathematician). Both are applicable to different things.

    So what premises are applicable to the ethics of intervention (pro or con) in the lives of severely handicapped newborns in the here and now? That, my friend, is the $64,000 question, and Singer is certainly not doing any harm by forcing us to think about it.

    Finally, perfect knowledge of what premises are right is not within human capability. The best we can do is to know something is pretty good, not that it is the ultimate. I have no trouble living with that.
    Deja Moo: The feeling that

  • by fable2112 ( 46114 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @03:55AM (#1634889) Homepage
    *deep breath* OK, here goes.

    This is, in some ways, a bit like the "partial birth abortion" debate. Third trimester abortions are NOT done in this country unless there is a severe risk to the life of the mother, or the infant is not viable (ie is going to be born without a large portion of its brain). It does, however, make a nice strawman for those who are against abortion. And I *do* think that in the case of a VERY severe handicap, in some cases it is kinder to let the child die. It's easier on the child, it's easier on the parents, and it's easier on society as a whole.

    BUT ... the problem quickly becomes one of line-drawing. My boyfriend's mother works with mentally retarded adults, and they might not be the MOST productive members of society, but they aren't completely UNproductive either -- many of them have jobs, many of which us "more intelligent" folk would consider beneath our dignity to hold once we got past the age of 18. Another good example is cystic fibrosis -- 40 years ago, a "CF kid" was lucky to see an eighth birthday. Now, the average CF patient survives into his 30s. Should we kill off babies born with CF?

    Which brings me to my next point: There are "severe disabilities" that are NOT apparent at birth. How old can the child become and still have the parents allowed to kill him, or at least to "let him die"? One year old? Five? Thirteen? Seventeen?

    Last but not least, I am bisexual. My housemate is gay. If a "gay gene" is ever found, those who consider us "undesirable" might engage in selective abortion or infanticide. This gives me the chills on a very irrational, personal level. Likewise, I know that in ancient Scandanavia and in modern China, babies are killed or left to die for the "defect" of being female. Since I'm female, this does not sit well with me at all. "But those abuses won't happen!" How do you know that?

  • by bigdaisy ( 30400 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:06AM (#1634908)
    Singer has been advocating this for years, it's hardly breaking news. (See his book Practical Ethics, for example.)
  • If Stephen Hawking was euthanized as a child (granted he wasn't born with his illness... not in it's worst stages) the scientific community would not have the insight into the universe that his genius has given us.
    Luckily he was born relatively normal.

    Parents should consider long and hard if the only reason they are going to euthanize a child is because they feel that the child may be physically maladjusted for our society. There is no reason to assume that the child, were it "normal", would even want to live in today's norms, maybe it would want to be a recluse....
    basically the parents are deciding if THEY want to deal with the burden of raising a child who will not coincide peacefully with our society.
    In this case, if doctors were to be able to figure out a fetus' social opinions or orientation, would the parents have the right to euthanize the child if he were not to become what they desired, or if he were to become a recluse?

  • Why is the ability to take care of oneself equated with the ability to make a contribution to society? I don't see a connection at all. The obvious counterexample is Stephen Hawking- clearly he cannot take care of himself due to gross and costly physical disability. Now, would you care to make his contribution to society for him so we can put 'im down? Go on, knock yourself out- you can do it! :P
    My own take on the difference between infanticide/culling and abortion is this- abortion is a woman saying "Whoa! I DID NOT WISH to do this. At all. I never made a decision to bring a life into the world and I'm not prepared/equipped to cope with that, no matter what the baby would be like. Stop!" I also feel, if you're going to do that, best do it as early as possible.
    I don't think 'intelligent' culling of the human herd is a reasonable plan. It is a severely stupid and shortsighted plan, because few people advocating it believe in any sort of higher authority that can pass judgement on what's worthwhile and what's not. The inevitable result of this lack of judgement would be babies destroyed because they would have missing fingers, babies destroyed because they were female (but a better story would be made up), babies destroyed once someone figures out how to predict that the baby would probably be a computer geek, etc etc. These decisions would not be _made_ by educated, wise people. They'd be made by just random people, some of whom will be unreasonable. The result would be a great deal of abuse of the system.
  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @03:59AM (#1634929) Journal
    Sir, you keep typing that word wrong. You mean "anencephalic".

    Which does bring up a burning question. Anencephalic infants cannot survive; many die before birth, and the rest are all dead within weeks. This is all due to failure of the skull and brain to form correctly; there is no cure.

    Some women carrying anencephalic fetuses have tried to donate their organs. This has not happened yet, because hospitals refuse to take the organs before clinical death (the heart stops), and by the time the heart fails the organs have been damaged by lack of oxygen and cannot be transplanted. Meanwhile, other babies die for lack of hearts, livers and kidneys.

    Should we:

    1. Define life as "natural circulation" and allow the current situation to continue?
    2. Define life as "presence of a living cerebral cortex" and allow parents to donate their anencephalic babies' organs immediately at birth?
    3. Define life as "conscious existence" a la Singer, decide that massive surgical intervention to save malformed newborns is too expensive for society to bear, and allow the parents of babies with biliary atresia (a fatal malformation of the liver) a choice between euthanasia or natural death? (Most babies with this problem die, due to lack of donor livers or rejection of transplants.)
    4. Other?
    Sometimes there just aren't any easy choices.
    Deja Moo: The feeling that
  • Whan my wife was pregnant with our son (second child), her waters broke at just shy of 26 weeks and he was expected to be delivered shortly. My wife and I were discussing that if he did arrive early, should we allow him to die on his own if that was the way it was going to be (ie, minimal intervention) so that he wouldn't later in life suffer from any disabilities caused by his premature birth. Fortunatly, he held in there (with only bed rest, steroids (for his lungs, just in case) and lots of antibiotics (to prevent infection from the torn sack)) and wasn't born until 4 days before his due date (the sack closed up again). Mind you, he came out backwards, with a knot in his cord (which broke as the doctor was trying to extricate the placenta), and was rather blue (due to the knot), but only needed 6 hours of O2. He's been basicly fine since; if he suffered any brain damage, I'ld hate to see what he would have been like without it. He's a real terror @ 4 :), real geek material.
  • Thank you for being brave and coming out in support of Singer.

    That's why we need AC posting.

    The problem is that most people are in the grip of an irrational, non-utilitarian way of thinking that ignores the horrible consequences of inaction. I know that we have very strong intuitions against killing babies - I have them myself - but a previous poster was spot on in saying that the moral distinction between babies and foetuses is very shaky. In some cases, permitting a baby to live that would suffer horribly, cause others to suffer horribly, and not contribute anything to the world to make up for that suffering, is a monstrous decision. Yet those advocating infanticide are seen as the monsters. No, we are only being compassionate. It's monstrous to put people through so much suffering for no good purpose.

    It's the fallacy of "the default option cannot be immoral, because it is the default" (the default option being letting the baby live). It's akin to saying "it cannot be immoral to eat meat, because that is the default option in our culture". The latter is not a rational argument for the former. If a billion people say a false thing, it is still false.

    I wish someone would explain why infanticide is always morally worse than ANY amount of suffering.

  • Communism is the belief that we could eliminate poverty, hunger, warfare, and many other "bad things" if people worked together for the good of all.

    I don't believe in communism, mostly because people suck. I don't exclude myself from that belief, either. I _know_ that if I lived in a communist society, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning to go to work; I have trouble enough when my having a bed depends on getting out of bed.

    But I get away from my point. Communism is NOT bad. Its the idea that a society can be beneficial for all involved. It doesn't work, but that doesn't make the IDEA a bad thing. Maybe someday, people will aspire to be greater than we are currently, and it WILL work. Maybe it will STILL be a bad thing.

    The fact is, that the people in power in the USSR, (and historically, in China) have followed a policy that I would fight against with all my being; namely the belief that "IDEAS CAN BE DANGEROUS"

    If you're not following me by this point, go, read "1984" by Orwell, and then come back.

    There is a quote, and I'm sorry to say that I don't remember who said it, but it goes something along the lines of: "I would give my life to defend the rights of a man to shout at the top of his lungs that which I would spend my life arguing against." The original was more clear, and if anyone knows the exact quote, please share it.

    I don't believe that anyone in power during the Red Scare actually was afraid of communism. It was merely a political tool; a way of getting the people worked up into a frenzy; mob rule which gave them almost unlimited power.

    The symetry of the whole scheme, in retrospect, is that which the people feared so much, was EXACTLY the cause to which they were assisting!

    My points are: Communism is not a bad thing. Ideas are a great thing. If hope is the best thing, _THINKING_ is not far behind it. Ideas lead to thinking, therefore censorship prohibits thinking. QED

    >>>>>>>>>> Kvort
  • by The Big D ( 26921 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:17AM (#1634939)
    This is an interesting field. People on both sides of the debate are often fueled by religious influences - and/or through knowing people with physical or mental handicaps.

    I know a couple of people who were born with partial limbs due to thalidomide (sp?). When the big thalidomide scare was in progress, parents with "malformed" foetuses were often advised to have them aborted (by doctors). They were told that the children would have no quality of life and it was kinder to kill them at that stage.

    Well, the two peeps I know are now in their 20s and very happy and successful.

    Friends who have worked with the handicapped tell me that despite being restricted by communication abilities or learning difficulties, most people seem very happy.

    It is too easy to think to ourselves, "Gosh, if I lost the use of my eyes I would rather die than go on like that."
    A fair question does arise as to how reasonable it is to transpose those feelings onto someone else.

    On the other hand, anyone who has seen/heard One by Metallica may well be able to understand this professor's attitude to the matter.

    I think that the main difficulty in legislating for euthanasia is in control...what will count as severely disabled?...who should decide?...Are the parents' feelings of difficulty in coping with the child overriding the rights of the child who, with appropriate assistance, may well be very happy in life?

    I'm not pro-life but do feel that there are serious questions that are difficult to cope with as regards the law.

    In the Republic of Ireland, abortion is illegal. However, if a judge permits it, a pregnant woman may travel to another country for an abortion.
    If the US were to introduce pro-euthansia legislation, how would it cope with parents from other countries bringing their children over to have them euthanised?

    Many, many questions all round.

  • I think you raise an important point here, which is the distinction between a sentient creature, a human, and a person. A baby born without a brain is human, but very likely not a person.

    I agree that personhood and intelligence are two different things. Deep Blue is arguably in its domain more intelligent than any human, but it is clearly not human, nor is it sentient, nor is it a person. A coyote in its domain is likely more intelligent than 90% of the humans on the planet, but while it is sentient it is neither human nor do I think it is a person. A chimpanzee is sentient, in the human domain of expertise not very intelligent, and while it is not human, I'm not altogether sure whether some chimpanzees should be considered persons or not. If intelligent beings from another planet were to contact us tommorow, I'd think there'd be a good case for them being persons.

    I think that sentience (the ability to experience sensations) confers one set of rights on a creature, and personhood another.

    Is it wrong to torture a dog? I would say yes, because it a dog is capable of feeling pain, and by the most basic rule of morality (do unto others) it would be wrong. Is it wrong to torture a tree? It is impossible to torture a tree, for it is not sentient; it cannot feel anything. At worst you may be vandalizing the tree, which may be wrong, but not for reasons of sentience.

    Is it right for one person to kill another person? No, because that person is a conscious entity and you are terminating that consciousness, something you would not want done to yourself. We call that murder.

    Is it right to murder a dog and eat it (as they do in a very famous restaurant in Guandong)? Well, if the dog is not a person, it cannot be murdered. It may only be killed. Which gets to the crux of the matter. Is it possible to murder a newborn infant, or is it mere killing?

    I'm not sure what personhood is, but I think it may be a quality of intelligence rather than a degree. After all, RMS is probably arguably more intelligent than most of us, but I don't necessarily consider him more of a person than the rest of us, nor do I think this confers upon him any special rights. I do not know whether this quality is innate or learned, or at what point it comes into play. Perhaps it is consciousness, as a I suggested above, or perhaps something else.

    Psychologists tell us all kinds of things about what an infant is capable of, for example subitization (a kind of primitive counting by associating like numbers). I can believe these assertions because the presence of a faculty can be empirically tested. However, I find accepting assertions of an absence of a faculty such as consciousness a very different kettle of fish. It requires proof of the nonexistence of something. Logically, this is possible, but only through inference and not through observation. In the absence of basic motor faculties, much less commincation abilities, it's very hard to see how a _conclusive_ case can be made for a newborn's non-concsiousness.

    To assume lack of consciousness in absence of proof positive of its existence, as you suggest, may not be a fair burden of proof for our putative person. For one thing we may not be subtle enough to notice the very first indications of consciousness. I know as a parent of two, I'm constantly surprised by what my children can do, and I'm very sure I don't know the exact instant when they can do it.

  • Up until not too long ago, people _could_ "euthanize" babies right after they were born (or during birth). Even healthy ones. It was called partial birth abortion. I know some places have banned this, but I'm not even sure that all states in the US have done so, much less the state of the world. Some (but not all) abortion-rights people supported the mother's right to do this. I think it would be interesting to see where they come down on this issue, too.

    Would he be received differently, if he advocated early amniocentisis and other tests to determine disability, and then abortion of those babies?

    Please note, I have tried to leave my views on abortion out of the above paragraph, they are not relevant to my point here.

    My point is that the man's job is to incite debate on bioethical issues, at least in the class he teaches. This is the most important duty of academics, and universities in general. We go to school to expand our horizons, to learn things that might never be useful in a specific sense, except that they teach us to think critically. If I was just going to school to learn programming and networking, I would be done now, but I have 2 more good years of it, and I look forward to having a teacher as colorful as this gentleman. I doubt I will, because OSU is a public school, and more subject to the whims of popular opinion, and that is a shame. Disagree with the man if you wish (I do), but he would be lax in his job if he did not say what he believed. I will be severely disappointed if Princeton bows to public pressure and censures or fires the man.

  • All those that are proponents of a Pro-Life, no euthansia, movements should especially take a look at this post.

    This professor proposes that we kill our defective offspring to ease their suffering. Has the audience ever heard of infanticide? This is a naturally occuring side-effect of those suffering from post-pardum depression. They view their children as defective, and therefore attempt to eliminate them.

    This fits right into the 'survial of the fittest' theory. Parents sub-consiously wish to produce the strongest offspring (physically and mentally).

    This is noted in Darwin's work. Why should we resist the natural processes of life? The pro-life and religious right would say that to terminate the pregnancy, or let the child die, might deprive the human race of the next Einstein or Hawking. I will tell you this: There will be no anasyphallic genuis, there will be no quadriplegic who can be self-reliant.

    So I ask you all this question:

    Could you, in good conscience, knowingly bring a severly disabled child into this world? And if so, would you not feel the least bit guilty?

    By bestowing a life long burden on the taxpayers to support a child that should have been naturally un-selected, we are in essence creating a life where there should never have been one.
  • That's the way to tell 'em: Put up or shut up.

  • Huh? Steve Forbes isn't telling anyone what to believe. He's simply choosing the way he wants to dispose of his own money. This is the way America works. Princeton has no right to his money at all.

    And as a matter of free speech, why are you criticizing Forbes (or anybody else to the right of your opinion) for exercizing the right you think Singer should have?

  • ...somebody has to take the other side so I'll sacrifice myself (for the greater good of the discussion).

    I would say there could be very good arguments in support of this concept. Children born severly disabled are very likely to either die very young after much suffering or require extensive and expensive care though the entirety of thier lives. The most severly disabled will not be able to contribute to society and instead become dead weights consuming resources that could be put to other use. The most severly disabled will most likely encounter a great deal of suffering; not just physical, but mental as well. So, in all practicality exactly what purpose does letting the severly dissbled live serve.

    Now the theological aspects of this are a whole different and very complex argument and I'm not going to delve into that, but other than those reasons based on religion or morality (typically derived from religion) there are no reasons not to do this.

    Now, before you fire your flame thrower let me just say, I'm not disabled (other than slight shortsightedness). Neither am I a parent (as far as I know ;). So I'll be the first to admit I haven't the slightest personal insight in this issue. But hey, that's why it's in a disscussion. So if you think I'm moraly corrupt please feel free to enlightenment me and other /.'ers with your insight.

    Also, I never said I personaly adgree with this, I'm only saying that it makes logical sense and seems practical.


    P.S. I'm really glad such an interesting and contravesal topic got post (even if it wasn't really news for nerds). It is a great mental exercise and should allow us to step away from our petty computer issue and discuss a really meaningfull issue. I hope that we will all leave this thread somewhat enlightened.
  • Well, we don't have any choice in the life thing. It is, as another Slashdoter put, a 100% fatal STD. So who would deny that a life of suffering is preferable? One of the few things I value is my mind- if I had Alzheimers, I would be VERY disappointed in anyone who stood in the way of me taking my own life. Everyone says "It's your life. Do what you will." UNTIL it comes to ending it. Excuse me people, but since I got out and figured out what death was, it's been MY decision to keep waking up, and I would very much like it to be my decision to STOP waking up. This is a basic right that I think many, many people are being denied.

    If a disability is acquired later in life, then it should be the choice of that person to end his/her life if that person so desires. I don't see the state or some pro-life idiot paying my medical bills, so if I reproduce, and that reproduction is severely flawed and would be better off dead, then so be it. If the state or anyone else wants to pay my bills and medical insurance, THEN I will seriously consider what they have to say when they get all huffy about the "sanctity of life". If they do not have a part in it, then they do not have a right to interfere in it- it's a simple equation that is older than our present "civilization". And something the uptights cannot understand, for some reason. Figure that one out, and cold fusion isn't far behind.
  • This is the most immature point of view possible. What you are saying is that you are unwilling to be responsible for your imperfect offspring unless someone else foots the bill. Which is to say, really, that you just refuse to be responsible for your actions at all.
  • by Blade ( 1720 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:37AM (#1635003) Homepage
    Isn't the issue with that, "where do we draw the line".

    Ooops, wrong colour hair guys, get me the gas.

    Ok, so that's an extreme view, but it helps to illustrate my point - with 6 billion people in the world, everyone's going to have a different opinion about what constitutes 'fit to live'.

    The other point of course is that right up until the point of death, you have no real idea what your potential is, you might, at that last dying moment have an insight which has far-reaching effects.

    You can *not* manage life on a 'return on investment' basis. IMO.
  • by rde ( 17364 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:39AM (#1635012)
    Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject. Some of them may be contradictory (in case the fact doesn't come through in these musings, btw, I disagree with him).

    1. Citing individual cases as reasons why it's a bad idea is usually, well, a bad idea. For every Stephen Hawking there is probably someone made radical contributions to humanity which would not have happened had they devoted their time to maintaining their disabled child. A similar argument, which I've seen on several occasions, is the guy who would have died in a car crash had he been wearing a seatbelt.

    2. As a species on this planet, we're genetically encoded to react against anything that endangers the next generation (and I don't mean the borg). This is why all those ridiculous "for the children" pleas are so effective. And no matter what your feelings on the subject, you'll have to agree that this is no longer necessary for the perpetuation of the human race.

    3. Ethical is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Eugenics of the sort espoused by Singer, in a fascistic darwinian sort of way, contribute to the future viability of the species. However, see point two.

    4. Points two and three above refer only to the continuation of the species, and ignore what could happen should indiviual human life become devalued through practices such as abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. This isn't my view, but it's one I'm willing to listen to with an open mind.

    5. All laws and ethical systems are for the good of most members of society. This tyrrany of democracy inevitably has adverse consequences for the minority. Attitudes to those minorities decide whether this is viewed as a good or bad thing.

    6. I'm an athiest, but that doesn't mean I can't steal the good bits from various holy books for my own philosophy. As far as I'm concerned, all philosophies that don't involve killing everyone else boil down to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.
  • It's not that we on Slashdot are largely ad hominem; we just happen to (largely) argue that accepting views and beliefs because someone tells you that "This is how it is" is at the very least unthinking. I can tell a five year old advanced physics theory until he can recite to me every word that I tell him; does that mean that he understands what he's saying? Not at all. I for one have no particular disrespect for members of organized religion, but I do question the various methods that the religious members use to propogate themselves.

    In case you haven't noticed, I'd say a pretty good amount of the Slashdot community is Atheist or Agnostic, as far as religion goes. Does that make us smarter? Does it mean we'll end up in Hell? Who knows.... but this debate was originally meant to argue whether or not this is an ethically correct option. (At least, that's how I had thought of it...) About that, here's my opinion...

    We all are born, as someone earlier stated, with one option guaranteed: we're going to die at some point in our lives. Whether that's God's decision or not is a matter of belief/opinion; but the main thing is that we do die. Humans don't have any more right to life than animals do; and we happily slaughter cows and various other farmland animals so that we ourselves might eat food and perpetuate ourselves on this planet, and perhaps in the future other planets as well.

    However, if we DO have a chance to live, it's my personal belief that we should make the most of what we can. But, and this is also (still) my opinion, if we have no chance of enjoying life, should we live? Why should we live, if there is nothing that we can produce for the benefit of humanity or ourselves? In today's culture and world, more and more people seem to care less about humanity than they do themselves. For the most part, this is understandable- because Humanity as we know it is not in any great imminent danger, and the next thing that we should look to (according to a certain Hierarchy of life) is enjoyment. Once hunger, thirst, shelter, safety, and peace have been achieved, people look to entertainment. But what do all of these things have in common? QUALITY OF LIFE. If a reasonable quality of life is unattainable for any individual, should they abandon life? I think that this is the real question.

    Furthermore, if one's quality of life (the infant's) is in such a poor condition that it worsens the quality of life for others (the infant's parents) in several ways (money that they can't afford to spend on decent healthy food; money they can't spend on time to get away, and relax, which is also important to quality of life; money they can't spend on helping others) then is it unreasonable and unethical to halt the one's life? If bringing the infant's life to a close is a way of improving the quality of life for others, is it unethical and wrong?
  • ...basically the parents are deciding if THEY want to deal with the burden of raising a child who will not coincide peacefully with our society.

    That's all well and good until you realize that the cost of rasing a seriously disabled child are great. This often leaves the parents destitute. Sooner or later the state has to interviene on their behalf, in the form of welfare/disabilty/medicare. So ultimately the parents are making the decision for ALLof us.

    In this case, if doctors were to be able to figure out a fetus' social opinions or orientation, would the parents have the right to euthanize the child if he were not to become what they desired, or if he were to become a recluse?

    This reminds me of the Orson Welles movie where they try to prevent Hitler from being born... Who is to say that this isn't a good idea.


    Watch out, once we start pre-screening our children, we are on a slippery slope to an Orwellian world. (1984, Gattica).
  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:40AM (#1635019)
    As noted, this topic is sensitive and people's views are going to offend each other. This is where it's very important that we remember that different thoughts are to be encouraged even when the actions they contemplate may be reprehensible to us. Exposing some values that lead people to end up on the different sides of this issue may be helpful.

    Some people deeply believe that is wrong for a full adult in irremediable acute pain to decide to end their own life.

    Others may be deeply empathetic with the pain they imagine in a seriously handicapped child, and think it mercy to kill the child instead.

    Another group will think that this kind of euthansia will benefit society, and rather coldly decide it is a good idea for that reason.

    I find all three views expressed above at least uncomfortable. I don't wish to assign a value of "true" to any one. I think you have to look at each individual case, weigh the options carefully, and make a hard decision, knowing you could be wrong. What I am sure of, personally, is that I don't want the government mandating the "one true" practice. I think the choice needs to be made at a much more local level -- between the family concerned, and their doctor, with legal advice. My pro-choice bias undoubtedly shows here, and I realize this will be no less controversial than abortion.

    Note we've already had to deal with this problem in the form of acephalic babies. IIRC, It's been decided that they are braindead, and their life support may be legally terminated currently.

    So it may be that the question isn't whether it is ever acceptable, but rather under which circumstances, and for what reasons. Decision where there is no obvious right or wrong should be made at the family level, with government supplying reasonable guidelines for that choice.
  • It's Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels), not Thomas. The text can be read here [] and here [] and here [] (probably more).

    Swift argues that babies could be a delicacy for the upper classes, and a source of revenue, instead of a resource drain, on the working classes. Sounds morbid, but it's quite amusingly done too.

    And it is relevant to this debate. Swift too was trying to argue against contemporary attitudes which counted certain people as worthless, although in his case it was the poor rather than the disabled.

    You can read a short introduction to the proposal here [].

  • At issue here is not simply Singer's complete disregard for the value of human life (which should be enough in itself, and should greatly concern everyone here), but also the fact that Princeton still (in claim if not in fact) is a Presbyterian institution, and Singer's views are anathema with the stated goals and values of Princeton and the Presbyterian reformed theology worldview it ostensibly represents.

    It is completely right and appropriate to protest Singer and his appointment, and Princeton should be ostracized as an aberration because of Singer's hideous views. Furthermore, it is *completely* appropriate to fund "higher learning" and place bounds on what is consistent with the values of the institution. Under your logic, the *only* thing that can be taught is that there are no values at all (no objective truth, or as Dostoevsky put it, "If God does not exist, then all things are permissable"), which of course points out the implicit logical fallacy: It cannot be objectively true that there is no objective truth.

  • While I'm sure this makes a lot of sense to you, not everyone shares your religious beliefs.

    I am well aware of that fact.

    It's fine to use those beliefs to determine the parameters of your own behaviour. What's not fine is to use the tenets of your religion as moral backing for public policy.

    Why not? Am I supposed to have to pretend to be a secularist to participate in a public debate? That's hardly "freedom of religion."

    Since we are talking public policy here, I suggest that you either limit your proposal to countries with explicitly religious governments, or try again with a secular support for your position rather than a religious one.

    Sorry, I'll pass on that suggestion, for a couple of reasons. One is that I think the problem of "what is a person? what defines humanity?" is irreducibly religious. Any answer will ultimately boil down to religious (or irreligious) reasons, to our beliefs about ultimate reality and meaning. To pretend otherwise is a fraud, and I think we'd get further if we just admit that this really is a religious debate. Then there might be at least the possibility of clear definitions and real working compromise.

    We have actually contrived to invent a new kind of hypocrite. The old hypocrite ... was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious. The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical... It is a fight of creeds masquerading as policies.... We are all, one hopes, imaginative enough to recognize the dignity and distinctness of another religion, like Islam or the cult of Apollo. I am quite ready to respect another man's faith; but it is too much to ask that I should respect his doubt, his worldly hesitations and fictions, his political bargain and make-believe.

    -- G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World []

    The other reason is that I'd really rather write plainly about what I believe on this issue, rather than translate it into secular terms. I trust that people who don't share my particular religion are perfectly capable of translating into their own terms, and seeing what makes sense to them.

    I cite as an example Richard Stallman [], who, although an athiest, has based his Free Software philosophy squarely on the Golden Rule (a Christian teaching). Why? Because it makes sense to him. Look at the abolitionist and civil rights movements as well. Those were religious movements, which others who did not share the same religious views still joined in because the argument made compelling moral sense to them anyway.

    I recommend that people who think all public discourse ought to be stripped of the religious basis of its participants go read The Culture of Disbelief : How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion [] by Stephen Carter.

    "These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own."
    -- G. K. Chesterton
  • by ObsoleteHuman ( 99166 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:55AM (#1635100)

    An important question is what good is the life of a terminally demented child. Say, we are talking about infants who have no hope of recovery (with current standards of medicine), and will probably remain dysfunctional for the rest of their lives. These infants cannot think -- we can demonstrate that they do not think by means of any number of tests for neural activity. The question to ask is whether such a life is worth anything to the fuzzy cloud of Humanity. The child certainly would not mind if he were (painlessly) removed -- he would barely know that he was being killed. The parents certainly, in spite of their terrible sorrow, might not want to be burdened by a child that denies them all the pleasures of parenthood. Is the child any better than any other anthropomorphic living dead, for example a brain-dead accident victim? We do not seem to mind the fact that many brain-dead people are unplugged all the time; should we really have a different standard for brain-dead babies?

    Of course this classification of "mentally-useless" is a dangerous one. I understand fully well the implications of a mis-classification, even one caused by a lacking in our current state of knowledge.

    I am sorry, however, I cannot easily dismiss Singer's viewpoints as entirely invalid.

    (Notice that few of us have any ethical problems with purging brain-dead programs like Microsoft's operating systems...)

  • by jsm2 ( 89962 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @12:57AM (#1635103)
    Hmmmm ... I think you're blunting the point of Swift's actual satire. His essay was a commentary on the famine in Ireland, and his actual suggestion was that famine could be alleviated by producing children and selling them to be eaten. He in fact suggested that the babies should be considered a delicacy by English landlords in Ireland because they had already (through giving over tracts of farmland to beef) "eaten" the children's parents. Not actually material to your point, but I hate to see a sharp political point ground down into a blunter ethical one.

    A few comments, more on-topic:

    One person has had a chance to lead a full life while the other has not

    I'm not sure we're actually discussing cases where "the chance to lead a full life" is the issue.

    Pain tells us that we are alive

    I'm reminded of Joseph Heller's views on this from Catch-22 (transcribed from memory, may be wrong)

    "God made everything with a purpose", said the nurse. "Even pain has a purpose, to tell us that our bodies are being damaged".

    "Bullshit", said Yossarian "If that's all it's for, why does it hurt so much? To tell us that we were being damaged, we could have a set of blue and red neon lights on our foreheads. Any half-competent jukebox designer could have put that together. Why can't God?"

    "Well", replied the nurse "People would look pretty silly walking round with red and blue lights sticking out of their heads, wouldn't they"

    "And I suppose they look just lovely now writhing around in agony or stuffed full of morphine", snarled Yossarian"

    My personal view is that the real mistake here is to try to make general moral rules about these things. I personally feel revulsion at this sentiment; but I wouldn't necessarily presume to tell parents facing this problem what their choice should be. On the other hand, I don't want to say that "anything goes"; there should be some moral statements which are actually true. I guess that a lot would depend on the motives -- I would not like to see disabled children become the victims of infanticide because they were "inconvenient", but would mind less if euthanasia were carried out because the parents simply couldn't cope. There is a distinction there.

    Of course, perhaps the answer is that there is no right thing to do when such an unfortunate child is born. Perhaps either decision is very badly morally wrong. I'm not aware of any obligation on the universe to always provide us with a "right thing to do" -- perhaps genuine "moral tragedies" can exist.

    Thank heavens that the immediate question -- that of academic freedom -- is much more clear cut. I refer all present to Mill's On Liberty, which says all that needs to be said on this.

  • porkchop wrote: People are getting really upset with this professor, but that just begs the question: What, exactly, is the difference between abortion and infanticide?

    Well, that's kind of the point. There isn't any. Nor is is possible to draw any sort of meaningful distiction. Partial Birth abortion makes this abundantly clear: the baby is completely viable, but abortionists stretch legality to ridiculous extremes by letting the baby be "mostly born" and then suctioning out its brain while the head is still inside the mother. What exactly *is* the difference between this and sucking the brains out of a baby after it's born? Nothing at all, and any claims to the contrary do not stand up to even the most cursory examination, but are reduced to "It's OK for me to kill this other person because I simply want to". The absurdity of that claim falls on its own.
  • I don't think that the above is really flamebait, and I regretfully suggest that any and all negative moderation points will be needed for the real hardcore unpleasantness that I suspect this topic will launch.

  • I am amazed at the number of people here who seem to think that moral decisions are influenced by economic or other concerns. Allow me to ilustrate:

    My killing you would be wrong. (I think we are all in agreement here.)

    My killing you would be just as wrong if I were paid $10 million for the act. (Some would claim this is worse, since I am now guilty of covetous greed as well as murder.)

    The act would *still* be just as wrong if it netted the entire wealth of the planet, to be used solely for the purpose of helping others and eliminating human suffering worldwide. (Any disagreement on this point is an implicit agreement that "the end justifies the means", and ultimately nullifies any claim of the existence of right and wrong.)

    The "unclear on the concept" problem prevalent here at /. is also revealed in another way - the numerous attempts to detract from Singer's ridiculous proposition through arguments such as, "what about Hawking?" While I have great respect for the contributions of this theorist (so far as I am able to understand his thinking), his contributions to society (and many would argue his contributions are minor) are entirely irrelevant.

    From the only logically consistent moral point of view, Hawking has no more or less worth than you, I, a German Jew, a Sudanese Christian, or even a deformed infant. (I would argue, counter to Singer, that all of the above have sustantially more worth than, say, a cat or a porpoise.) If you do not believe this, then I respectfully request that you reevaluate your value system, at least to the point that you admit you are a bigot and do not hold all men to be created equal, for that is the only logical conclusion that can be reached.

    Slashdot is a funny place: despite all the "expertise" in computers and logic, a logical, well-thought-out argument is quite hard to find, but wooly thinking abounds, especially if wrapped in the latest trendiness.

    THINK, people!

    Finally, has it occured to none of the morallly challenged here that because of the gravity of the issues at debate, it might be best to fall on the "safe" side, and grant life the benfit of the doubt? Surely those who are not entirely sure (and I think if they are honest, most of Singer's supporters fall into this camp) should realize that life and death decisions are final, and if there is even the slightest chance they are wrong, the only morally correct thing to do is to support the position that grants and affirms life, for there is no reprieve from death.
  • Which do we value more? Humans or potential humans? This is a major component of why both this and abortion are contravertial.

    Society has invested a lot of resources into making a typical 20 year old. At this point in their life, they have passed through primary and possibly secondary school systems, costing taxpayers money, and using up time of people qualified and willing to educate them.

    The theory behind the continuation of society is that society invests the time and energy into helping an individual develop, after which this person repays this debt through productivity and taxes. At this point in history, this exchange is creating a net surplus of resources - people get to retire when they get old, standards of living go up, etc. Resources ARE distributed unevenly, but that's a different issue.

    Having kids is gambling. You invest time, love, and money, and maybe they fall ill and die, and maybe they win a noble prize, and maybe they become a mass-murderer. You can influence the odds, but you can't control the outcome.

    The question our Ivy league friend raises is how this equation changes as the weights shift - what if there's only a 1% chance this child will reach maturity? What if there's a 1% chance that this child will ever be able to communicate with others in any way? What if there's only a 30% chance that this child will ever be a 'normal' member of society?

    This child quite likely WILL take up more of the caregivers' resources. Is the child worth it if [s]he is unlikely to ever be develop a mental or emotional capacity beyond that of a goldfish? a poodle? an 8-year old?

    At what point does the potential for a human to survive/succeed become small enough that the burden to actualized humans outweighs it?

    -- end of post (I hope you weren't expecting me to try and answer any of these questions) --
  • While I'm not exactly a barrister on retainer for a nether power...

    I *do* have to disagree with you here; frequently, the ends *do* justify the means. In fact, this is commonly recognized, if not often admitted, in society. The character of intent is a admissible and admirable purpose in society.

    For instance, even you would probably agree that teaching somebody basic electronics and chemistry, with the intent of training them to construct explosive devices for use in killing civillians for the sole purpose of extortion, would generally
    be considered wrong. Training, however, the same person with basic electronics, chemistry, biology and more, however, is a commonly accepted practice in high schools. The difference is intent.

    For all you know, it may be perfectly ethical for somebody to kill me. After all, what do you know of my capabilities or intent? While I may, truly, be what I claim to be -- a mildly eccentric graduate student -- verifying that might be non trivial, and even with that information there is no evidence that, say, I am not evil incarnate. Were I to pose a dire threat to society, perhaps trading threatening skills or information as currency among those who violently oppose it, then another principle takes over: that of self-defense. Here, we have a recognition of means.

    Killing me without reason would, most likely, be wrong on most moral compasses; doing so on the basis that I *may* be evil, the same. However, if I were to lash out against society via bomb or bullet, it would be as justified to stop me through incarceration or worse as it would be unjustifiable to randomly incarcerate the innocent; or would you rather that the many sacrifice *their* rights and lives, upholding one principle so that one may throw down the rest?

    If you wish to make moral judgements, then to ignore the ends is willful blindness.
  • You forget that it's an old idea. The last to try it plunged the world into a long and bloody war. Yes, such ideas are what made Hitler and his minions famous. This professor should be resigned from his position, such suggestions and ideas are highly dangerous.

    Besides it'd be a violation of human rights. But who cares about such petty details. Another example of the bigots that make up America these days. Blame China for human rights violations, but when an American professor suggests killing handicapped babies, he gets cheered and it's all covered by free speech and a great thing to be protected and fostered. Bah! I am disgusted.
  • by Zach Frey ( 17216 ) <zach AT zfrey DOT com> on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @10:39AM (#1635139) Homepage

    My turn to be a touch "reactionary," as you put it ...

    What hubris it is for humans to even dare suggest that they are indeed exempt from natural selection.

    Who made "natural selection" God that we ought to be subject to it? Since when is "might makes right, all hail the surviving lifeforms" a moral philosophy immune to criticism? Do you truly think that is is "hubris" to believe that it's wrong for us to murder each other?

    This man is a genius. To think people condemn him for having a view that conflicts with their own.

    I see little evidence of "genius" on Singer's part. Oh, I'm sure his IQ is respectably above 100. But he's not really developed anything new here. At most, he's articulating the logical conclusion of a line of thought that's fairly obvious given the premises. And he certainly has a knack for publicity-generating pushing of hot buttons, but that doesn't count as "genius" in my estimation.

    I don't condemn Singer for having a viewpoint that's different than mine. There are lots of folks whom I don't agree with that I can respect. But I do condemn Singer for the particular viewpoint that it's OK to kill kids if they don't measure up. Same as I (arrogantly, no doubt) would condemn other people for viewpoints that say it's OK to kill people if they're not of the Chosen Race, or that it's OK rape women, or any number of other things.

    [On the comparison of Singer to the Nazis:]
    Oh please! This man is talking about the ending of suffering, not the complete opposite: torturing an entire people and putting them to death. The Jews weren't "unfit" to live.. Hitler was simply a sick, very sick, man.

    Hitler was not simply a sick man, he was an evil man. That's a distinction that tends to get lost these days.

    Keep in mind that one lesson we ought to have learned from the Nazis is that concerns about "suffering" and "compassion" can go hand in hand with a willingness to see millions die. Adolf Hitler was not a drooling monster, despite his great evil. He was apparantly nice to animals and children, didn't kick the dog, was even vegetarian. Somehow, this tenderness of heart failed him when looking at the Jews, though. And Himmler had a "compassionate" reason for ordering the construction of the gas chambers, because he felt sorry for the anguish that German soldiers were feeling carrying out the orders to execute the 'human-seeming' Jews. So he found a way to automate the process, to reduce the amount of suffering in the world ...

    Singer talks about reducing suffering, but the result, if his ideas are adopted, will almost certainly be the death of millions.

    Throw off the shackles of conventional "thought", and actually ponder these weighty issues before making a snap judgement. The world will be better off for it.

    This is namecalling. It's a sophisticated way of saying "if you don't think like me, you're obviously not thinking."

    This also assumes that we get to declare answers based upon any sort of moral tradition out of bounds, as "shackles" to be thrown off rather than foundations to be built upon. Personally, I find a moral tradition that says society does not have a right to have me or my children killed because we might not measure up to some "standard" to not be much of a shackle at all. Liberating, even.

    And just to show that I have spent some thought on this, let me point out that Singer himself is not being entirely consistant here. Would he begin to eat meat or wear leather if we could assure him that the animals were killed "painlessly"? If not, then why the insistance on "painless" euthanasia for children? Why not simply throw them to the dogs, or expose them to the elements, as was done by earlier tribes? It would seem that he values bulls over babies.

    What should give parents the right to decide to kill their child? Is the child property, as a dog or a goat is property? What magic criteria would have to occur before parents can no longer kill their kids? Age five days? five months? five years? Fifteen years? Passing a standardized IQ test and a physical? What is there about the parent-child relationship that gives a parent the right to kill a "useless" kid, and doesn't give an employer the right to kill a useless employee? ("Termination" would have a whole new meaning ...)

    Oh, but since I think it's actually wrong to kill people, I guess I'm just incapable of "thinking" about these issues. Or perhaps simply incapable of being heard.

    We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers.
    -- G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World []
  • Would your opinion change if this were limited to disorders that were known to either be fatal within a short period of time (i.e. not Huntington's, for instance), or those that lacked either the capacity for thought or to express it?

    If you're focusing on viability and output, there are diseases which render infants essentially will not procreate at all due to longevity issues, or permanent dependence on 24/7 life support, and from a gene pool point of view don't matter.
  • Well, here's food for thought. If we eliminated all the physical flaws in humanity, then where would we find our heroes?

    Simple example. We all like Stephen Hawking, right? He's suffering right? From his book, A Brief History of Time, A Reader's Companion, he reveals how little he would have done with his life if he had not gotten sick. He was brilliant, brash, and unmotivated. It wasn't until he realized that he might only have a few years left that he got busy. Funny how it's dragged on for all these years, almost like somebody's wringing all that good research out of him.

    Now, tell me honestly, if his mother had had the ability to "weed" him out before birth to spare him a horrible twisted existence, wouldn't it have been a huge disservice to our understanding of the very nature of the universe.

    The only problem with applying the law of nature (natural selection) to humanity IMHO, is that we end up being way too complex in terms of what is considered a trait of survival and what is not. Physical stamina, sperm count, fertility, or physical constitution don't matter as much as they once did. Today, some things like patience, empathy, mental strength and kindness are actual survival traits as we move forward from brutish physical definitions of what made a human worthy, to more abstracted and and enlightened definitions. The really interesting thing about life today is that greatness comes from some unexpected and tough places.

    Now this Princeton guy is certainly no Hitler. He's the educated person of moral conscience, and good intentions that Hitler quoted to get well meaning people to sign on to his ideology. He doesn't want people to suffer. That's noble (truly), but to me more constitutes curing the disease by killing the patient.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have relatives to whom this happened-
    they had 2 out of their 4 children born severly
    retarted. Of course, there was no way to kill the
    child (it was not known beforehand that the
    child was damaged) and anyway they didn't believe
    in abortion. I have since watched the two parents
    slowly be destroyed by their kids (and I only
    visit them once a year or so) and have watched the
    normal kids get really fucked up. Of course,
    everyone in the family goes on about how affectionate
    the retarted kids are, and sure, they are, but
    they are also horrors. I don't really want to go
    into details but I'm sure you can imagine. More
    to the point, they have little intelligence to speak
    of. One kid, who is now 17, can't count, can't
    read, can't reason or perform basic functions. She
    is functionally a 1 year old or worse, and to
    boot she has a 17 year old's strength and she
    is often very angry at the world, for obvious

    Now all things being equal, is it better for her
    had she been killed at birth? Maybe, maybe not. But
    all things aren't equal. She exacts a huge toll
    on everyone around her. And also, don't forget
    that there was a normal kid who was not born, as
    a result of her consuming a certain amount of
    family resources. Instead of a year of the trama
    of killing an infant, her parents have suffered
    nearly two decades of horror, and will continue to
    do so forever.

    As an aside, the parents are still avid
    christians. It never ceases to amaze me
    that people will continue to worship a god
    who fucks them. (of course, I am an atheist, so
    I think their misfortune is just bad luck)

    At any rate, I hope this becomes legal, since I know
    I'd kill any of my kids who were retarted. It won't,
    of course, since the US is filled with weak-minded
    xtians. So, I guess I'll be stuck doing weekly
    amniocentheses (mispelled) with a hand
    on the ripcord.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I hate to tell you guys this, but many parents are already practicing infanticide to get rid of 'unwanted' (e.g. unaffordable, handicapped, and/or illegitimate) children.

    An infant cannot defend itself against an adult. All you have to do is press its mouth against a pillow or blanket and it will die of hypoxia in minutes. And then the coroner rules "SIDS" (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) to get the parents off the hook.

    How do I know this? Well, I'd rather not say. But believe me when I say that this is a common occurrence. All Singer is doing is trying to get society at large to stop being hypocritical and admit that this stuff happens. Parents assume the role of God and Grim Reaper over their child for the first 1-2 years of the child's life. To pretend otherwise, is to be ignorant or a hypocrite.
  • by atamar ( 2709 ) on Wednesday October 06, 1999 @01:36AM (#1635170)
    > If Stephen Hawking was euthanized as a child...

    This thinking always strikes me as odd. How many healthy Hawkings have been lost in wars? How many healthy Hawkings never got their chance due to dysfunctional families, sickness, disinterest, poorness?

    If you base your protestation on the potential of genius, or, indeed, the potential of any quality at all, you should pine for all the potential that never bloomed, be the loss by accident or by euthanasia. Extending the line of logic, we should demand ending all wars (basis: loss of potential) and redistribution of wealth to third world countries (who knows how many geniuses are lost to malnutrition, disease, insufficient education...). There is nothing wrong (or right) with the demands as such; it's just that basing them on the premise of unknown talent that just might, conceivably, exist or come to exist somewhere isn't a sound argument.

    The ethics of terminating the life of a person or a newly born infant is a separate matter, well worth discussion.
    Personally, I'm glad to see people think for a change. =)

  • I have it on good authority that He was at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth recently:

    Despite several "attempts" to walk up the aisles to where most of the people were, the gunman by all reports was unable to do so. Police claim this is responsible for the much smaller number of deaths that would ordinarily be expected in such a circumstance.
  • One thing to note -- if memory serves, the National Socialists did not _expand_ their objectives throughout their rule, so much as follow an agenda that already had been largely outlined in "Mein Kampf".

    I might be wrong about this, but my suspicion is that while the specific, detailed plans may not have been formed, Hitler and company had intended to eliminate or enslave pretty much everybody non-Aryan from the get-go. They'd planned almost everything else...

    The difference here, is that Singer and supporters are most likely not planning genocide, and thus the comparisons are slightly specious.
  • Up until not too long ago, people _could_ "euthanize" babies right after they were born (or during birth). Even healthy ones. It was called partial birth abortion.

    That's either an inaccurate one or a deceptive one. "Partial birth abortion", as it is referred to by abortion opponents in the U.S., refers to an abortion done by essentially sticking a large needle into the fetus's brain and "pithing" it. To do so, the body of the fetus is pulled through the vaginal opening (thus the "birth" label.) However, most early term abortions are done via a vacuum system I believe, which essentially vacuums the fetus off the uterine wall and out the birth canal, yet that isn't called a "birth abortion." The alternative for late stage abortions is generally intact dismemberment, where the fetus is chopped to pieces inside the womb and then the pieces removed (somehow this doesn't generate the same outrage among abortion advocates as something they can label "partial birth."

    Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of abortion beyond the beginning of cerebral brain activity. If life ends when the brain stops, shouldn't it be considered as beginning when brain activity begins? I just dislike argument by emotion rather than reason.
  • , such suggestions and ideas are highly dangerous.

    Suggestions? and Ideas? Are Dangerous?

    Suggestions and ideas are dangerous?

    No. Whatever else we think, we ought to be able to agree that suggestions and ideas cannot be dangerous, and attempts to suppress them certainly can be. There have been a few people who have tried to sack university professors for advocating controversial views, but I rather suspect that their names are going to be over-used in this discussion, so I won't contribute to wearing them out.

    Bill Gates thinks that fragmentation of operating systems is dangerous. Rev. Fred Phelps thinks that tolerating homosexuality is very dangerous indeed. A fair few people think that allowing non-Christians to hold positions of political power is dangerous.

    And I don't have much time for arguments to the effect that "sacking Prof. Singer isn't the same as censoring him". If you make it more difficult for one idea to be expressed than another, then you are censoring. And you don't have to be the government to be a censor, either. By far the majority of censorship in the world today is carried out through implicit rather than explicit means, through taboos, selective funding of different sides of an argument and social pressure. And it is ourselves we harm when we allow ideas to gain acceptance based on their palatability rather than their merits.

  • Question:

    If it costs 3 million dollars to help a severly disabled baby live a decent live and this money can be used to stop 1000 people from starving, what is the moral course of action.

    What if the amount is $ 5000.

    It seems to me that if you look at the economics of the situation and the position of Singer regarding poverty, it is clear where his position on the killing of severly disabled baby's is coming from.

    The way I see the argument is not whether it is moraly just to kill a baby because it is severly disabled, but if it is moral to spend a lot of resources on one severly disabled baby that could be used to stop a lot of people from starving to death.

    If you talk about moral positions you should always look at the bottom line. It's the same with abortion. If you are able to provide state support for unwanted children, then you can have the moral luxury to forbid people to abort a child.

    But in a situation where the mother cannot feed her other children, it is hypocritical to forbid abortion, knowing the child will starve to death.

    The whole debate is a lot more complicated when you are considering the economics of moral issues like this in the whole world and not just in the rich country's.


    PS I am not saying that it is moral to klll severly disabled baby in general. What I say is that this question is undecideble, because you are not just deciding about the life of the baby but also about other lives. And I do not know a way to decide what lives are better or even if you can say that saving one life is better than saving many lives.

  • Unless she's actually gone and killed herself, it sounds to me like she doesn't really believe her own hype.
    Not at all. The thing you're missing is that sunk costs don't count. You would never set out to go bankrupt. However, if you've blown a hell of a lot of money on something that turned out to bankrupt you anyway, you might want to build on it anyway because it still puts you a little bit ahead.

    And that's her take on it. From where she is she still thinks that life isn't bad, but she doesn't feel that getting to where she is through the trials and pain was worth it.
    Deja Moo: The feeling that

  • > Who gets to decide the official measure of a
    > "defect"? Heart problems? Deformed limbs?
    > Nearsighted eyes?

    IMHO this is quite clear. A severely handicaped child is one that can't live without continuous high-effort medical aid, and even then has a severely reduced live expectation. A hundret years ago, the worst of those childs (after they died) where shown (conserved) in curiousity cabinets as "monsters". Today, we can keep them alive for years.

    It's not a matter of evolution* - these poor creatures can't breed anyway. I think it's more a matter of luxury - can you afford it to keep someone alive? Normal childs can be kept alive by giving them to eat and drink, a worm place to sleep, and intellectual challange and social contact to learn.

    And since resources are limited, you really should think about the luxury to keep a severely handicapped child alive some years for a million dollars. You could probably spent the money better by donating a $5/child vaczine to the third world and save hundrets, if not thousands of lives.

    There are a lot of serious questions with high-tech medicine. Is it ok to lengthen one's live by painful 6 weeks for $100k, which is a typical statistic for some sort of cancer operations, or is that just a lot of money wasted and even denying a death in peace? Or is it ok to give them poison (or illegal drugs) instead so that they can die without pain?

    This isn't just about money, it's also about live quality. You can't ask non-concious people, but sometimes, you can ask concious. I once worked in a hospital (instead of military service), and we had a 86 year old woman, who had a very serious disease - she was operated every second day for over a month, and to our all surprise, she actually survived that. Some months later, still bound to bed (with little hope to recover much more), she asked us why we didn't let her die. Sometimes, suffering is worse than death.

    *) ordinary, cheap medicine matters to evolution. It keeps people healthy and attractive who aren't really that strong.
  • We just need to *discourage* the unfit from reproducing. As it is today, we give enormous benefits, discounts and payouts to people to *do* have children. We ENCOURAGE it.

    It would be nice to have a society where people would be smart enough to think about the greater good in their family planning choices. If I had some horrible genetic defect that would cause all of my offspring to have a 50 IQ, I would either not reproduce or I would (via genetic engineering) fix that defect.
  • Altough I admit I'm not an expert on Darwin or evolutionaru theories the point about "survival of the fittest" is not always valid. Evolution always draws from diversity which makes everything thats not "normal" quite interesting to preserve.

    The problem is that the definition of "fittest" in these days is constantly changing.

    At a point were ideas - mental abilities - change evolution a lot faster then physical abilities a classic interpretation of "survival of the fittest" doesnt get you anywhere.

    So, while someone might not be self-reliant he might still produce a lot of good thoughts. Hawkins is actually a good example although not really relevant to the "euthanizing babies" discussion. But if you'd bring him out in the woods he would starve. Which brings me to the next point - I would probably starve in the woods too because I just barely know how to use a microwave. Yet I think my life is quite worth preserving ;).

    The problem is where to draw the border to what is "severly disabled". And I'm pretty glad I dont have to make that decision.

    Well, its a pretty philosophical discussion and I'm used to be drunk when takeing part in those discussions. I'm not right now, so I'll stop here :).
  • You are exactly right in that opinions are like assholes, eveyone's got one. And most people don't want to see anyone else's.

    The only opinon that matters in this sense is that of the Parents. As I mentioned, infanticide is still common in less developed nations, especially in China.

    You can *not* manage life on a 'return on investment' basis. IMO.

    I should be able to manage my OWN life on an ROI basis. (Physician assisted suicide)

    I should be able to manage my unborn children on an ROI basis. (Abortion) After all, offsping mainly exist to provide for the continuance of our genetic heritage. Healthy ones have a better chance of achieving that goal.

    And as a government, we all should be able to measure our social progams on an ROI basis. If the govenment sinks tons of money into a dying cause, there will be outrage.

    Basically the needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the one.

    Personally, I would rather my tax dollars go to cancer research or transplant operations rather than keeping a vegtable on life support for the rest of his/her life.

  • Peter Singer starts from a premise (utilitarianism) I do not agree with, works his logic flawlessly, and comes to conclusions that make me shiver. Yet he is doing all of us a service. He unflinchingly deals with issues that we all think about, but seldom speak about. In our silence we often toy with the same ideas he expounds, but fear to speak them.

    Sometimes we come close to practicing them. Everyday, grieving parents and doctors agree that a baby is so deformed that they should not take heroic measures to save it. This is only a short step away from euthanasia. What of an encephalitic baby (one that is born without a brain?). Would it be a sin to kill such a baby? Why?

    Peter Singer forces us to confront the issues that modern medicine is throwing into our lap. For that we should be grateful.

I came, I saw, I deleted all your files.