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New Princeton prof’s views akin to Kevorkian’s, Baptist ethicis

PRINCETON, N.J. (BP)–Princeton University’s hiring of a professor who advocates euthanasia of terminally ill adults and severely disabled infants in certain circumstances is “a tragedy by any measure,” a Southern Baptist ethicist has stated.
Peter Singer, a 52-year-old Australian also known as the father of the animal rights movement, will become a professor of bioethics in Princeton’s Center for Human Values in July.
A strong link exists between Singer and now-imprisoned suicide “doctor” Jack Kevorkian, said C. Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., and a consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Singer is the brain, Kevorkian is the body. That is to say, Singer gives the philosophical and ethical rationale upon which Kevorkian has been acting all along,” Mitchell said.
Princeton and Singer were the focus of a protest by 100-plus advocates for the unborn and the disabled April 17 at the campus. A week earlier, Singer’s appointment was featured on The New York Times’ front page.
Mitchell commented, “It is almost unbelievable that the same institution that employed the late Paul Ramsey would now hire someone like Singer. Paul Ramsey worked hard to protect the rights of vulnerable human beings, Singer will work equally hard to have end the lives of the vulnerable because, by his definition, they do not have lives worth living.
“What could have led Princeton, that once great Christian institution, to hire someone like Singer? One can only speculate,” Mitchell said. Singer was the top recommendation from a yearlong search involving three committees of Princeton scholars in a range of academic disciplines, The New York Times reported.
Mitchell noted, as did The Times, that Singer holds a “utilitarian” worldview, which The Times said was inspired by a 19th-century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. “For utilitarians,” The Times said, “the morality of an action depends chiefly on its consequences rather than on its intrinsic rightness.” Kevorkian also is a utilitarian, Mitchell said of the 70-year-old retired Michigan pathologist who was convicted of second-degree murder in March on the basis of his nationally televised video tape in which he injected a man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease with lethal drugs.
Singer is a utilitarian “of the most rigorous sort and has written the handbook for the animal rights movement in his [1975] volume, ‘Animal Liberation,’” Mitchell noted. “For Singer, great apes have lives worth protecting, but human babies do not. He not only argues that fetuses don’t have a right to life, but that infanticide can be justified ethically.”
The New York Times quoted an excerpt from one of Singer’s books, “Practical Ethics” (1993), discussing a baby born, for example, with hemophilia:
“When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed,” Singer wrote. “The loss of a happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second.”
Looking at “the total view” through utilitarianism, “it would … be right to kill him,” Singer wrote, referring to the infant with hemophilia.
“The main point is clear: killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.” Singer, in other instances, has used an infant with severe spina bifida as his example.
The Wall Street Journal, in a September 1998 article on Singer, cited another excerpt from “Practical Ethics:”
“… the life of a fetus is of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc. and that since no fetus is a person[,] no fetus has the same claim to life as a person,” Singer wrote.
Concerning euthanasia, the Associated Press noted Singer wrote in “Practical Ethics:”
“Ending a life without consent may also be considered in the case of those who were once persons capable of choosing to live or die but now, through accident or old age, have permanently lost this capacity and did not, prior to losing it, express any views about whether they wished to go on living in such circumstances,” Singer wrote.
Among protesters at Princeton April 17 interviewed by the AP was Marca Bristo of Chicago, chairwoman of the National Council on Disability who uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal cord injury.
“If Dr. Singer was advocating killing female infants or African American infants, the country would rise up in opposition,” Bristo said. “But because of false assumptions about us and our quality of life, people think it’s an act of compassion. It isn’t.”
“Nazi Germany did the same thing to the disabled, judging their lives not worth living,” protester John Scaturro, a New Jersey law enforcement officer, told the AP.
Princeton spokesman Justin Harmon, in defense of Singer’s hiring, told the AP, “According to the experts in the field, he is the one of the strongest bioethicists out there. He’s been hired because of the strength of his teaching and his research, not because of any particular point of view he holds for or against any issue.”
Singer’s career, according to a bio on the Internet, has included teaching assignments at New York University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of California at Irvine.
Singer is joining Princeton’s faculty “to foster public discourse on a set of issues that matter a lot to humankind,” Harmon told the AP. “We expect he will encourage much discourse among our students and faculty.”
Harmon told The Wall Street Journal that “many of the faculty who participated in [Singer’s] search process disagree with his conclusions and the process by which he comes to those conclusions,” but: “It’s not the university’s position to make people comfortable.”
Perhaps on the positive side, The Journal wrote, “Who knows what may happen when Princeton students begin to think critically about what Peter Singer is saying? The inconsistencies of the liberal worldview may begin to strike them in a horrifying way.”
Singer, a father of three who teaches in Melbourne, Australia, is a graduate of Oxford University in England and the founder of the International Association of Bioethics and has been a Green Party candidate for Australia’s senate. Three of his grandparents perished in the Holocaust, The New York Times reported. Singer also donates one-fifth of his income to famine relief agencies, according to The Times.