Peter Singer & Vegetarian Dogs (was Re: The Heiress and theAnarchists)

Marta Russell ap888 at
Sat Mar 4 19:07:21 PST 2000

I am not against abortion, those who have been on this list know that I have clarified that one. Diane Coleman who spearheads NOT DEAD YET is a lawyer who has Spina Bifida. If infanticide was legal, she might not be with us today. I do not believe that the medical profession or most parents have the ability to judge what a disabled life is worth after it is born because of biases, lack of nonbiased advice/information from professionals and lack of knowing disabled adults who value their lives with a disability -- so I oppose infanticide completely. The medical profession has historically been far too willing to kill us at any stage of the life game. In today's medical evironment, the societal pressure on parents is clearly to NOT have a disabled baby and in many ways real choice has been removed from them.

We are going out tonight, so I can't write more now but here is NOT DEAD YET's assessment of Singer, I pretty much concur with it.

best, Marta



According to Singer, to be ethical, we must treat all "persons" according to moral guidelines. But not all humans are "persons." Singer claims that in order to be "persons" and to deserve moral consideration, beings must be self-aware, and capable of perceiving themselves as individuals through time.

Singer claims that no newborn infants are "persons." He claims that some people with life-long cognitive disabilities never become "persons" at any time throughout their lives. And he claims that some people who acquire cognitive disabilities through injury, Alzheimer's Disease, or other means cease to be "persons."

Singer says that killing a "non-person," even if it is human, does not carry the same moral weight as killing a "person."


It may be all right, according to Singer, to kill infants. Because they are not "persons," they have no interest in staying alive, and it is only superstition that makes us think that killing them is intrinsically wrong.

Singer is quick to note that it is still wrong to kill most infants, for other reasons. The killing of an infant would, in most cases, make the parents unhappy. Second, in the cases where the parents do not want the infant, there are other couples and individuals who would like to adopt the child, so the child should be kept alive and put up for adoption.

But infants with known disabilities, and especially cognitive disabilities, he says, do not bring the same amount of happiness into the lives of their parents. Additionally, the very fact that someone is disabled means that he or she will have an unhappier life than other people. And therefore the reasons not to kill non-disabled infants do not apply to disabled infants.

Singer argues that it should be legal for parents to decide to have their disabled infants killed up to 28 days after birth. This way, he says, parents could have non-disabled replacements. In addition, the infants would provide a source of organs for transplantation to other infants who could grow up to be non-disabled.


It may be all right, according to Singer, to kill people whose doctors claim they are severely cognitively disabled. Although Singer doesn't give a list, we know that people to whom labels like "mentally retarded," "demented," "persistent vegetative state," and "severely brain-damaged" are applied are likely to have that judgment applied to them.

Singer claims that such people are not "persons," and therefore can not be said to have an interest in staying alive. Unless the benefit to the people who love these "non-persons" outweighs the emotional and financial burden to individuals and society of keeping them alive, they can safely and deliberately be killed.

The euthanasia of people whose minds are judged inadequate would be a way to save money. It would be a way to allow families to "move on." And it would provide a source of organs for transplantation to people whose minds have been judged acceptable. According to Singer, very often people with cognitive disabilities should be killed.

Academic Dishonesty

In building his case, Singer makes many assertions that he does not support, because they can not be supported.

Singer writes as if impairment itself guarantees that people with disabilities will have fewer opportunities in life. He ignores the fact that many of the barriers people with disabilities face every day are created and sustained by the very society he claims should be allowed to kill them.

He leads readers to believe that if some medical professionals judge the lives of people with disabilities as not worth living, that is indicative of how people with disabilities judge their own lives. In fact, study after study has shown that medical "experts" routinely underestimate the quality of life reported by people with disabilities.

But Singer does not include people with disabilities in the discussion of the quality of their lives. He assumes that non-disabled academics and professionals are better qualified to discuss what it is like to have a disability than disabled people themselves.

Singer suggests that decisions about who is a "person" can be made objectively and with little doubt, by doctors. In fact, doctors routinely underestimate the capacity of people who are judged to be mentally disabled.

In short, a lot of Singer's "logic" is smoke and mirrors. It has no more basis in fact than the eugenic models of racial superiority and inferiority that were widely held and respected in the first decades of this century.

Demands for Injustice

Singer is not simply arguing academic theories. He is urging that policy decisions be made on the basis of his ideas. His demands for "academic freedom" are merely attempts to keep the affected people out of the discussion.

If Singer's approach were to be put into law, as he wants, a new class of non-citizens would be created. A group of people with disabilities would be forced to prove that they were "persons" before even being granted the most basic right, the right not to be killed at society's convenience.

When people assume mental capacity, they tend to find mental capacity. When people assume mental incapacity, they tend to find mental incapacity. To demand that people assumed to be incapable pass a higher test than those assumed to be capable merely to stay alive is simply unjust.

Singer claims to be speaking for the vast majority of non-disabled people. He claims he is only saying what everyone else thinks. We in the disability community call for a clear statement on the part of people without disabilities that we are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

Ken Hanly wrote:

> I would appreciate the quotes but I do begin to recall that indeed Singer does take some
> positions in these areaas that I do not support as I suggested in my post to Yoshie.Is
> this later book the one he co-authored with a woman? If he does take this position I
> doubt that it is because he makes anything such as personhood a condition of humanity or
> equal treatment. What he may argue is that the newborn infant would on the basis of its
> defects have a life that is not worth living and that if per impossible it could envision
> its future it would choose voluntary euthanasia. I am just guessing but that argument is
> consistent with his views on moral considerability i.e. you are counting the infants
> interests in your calculation just as much as the mother's etc. Of course given his
> utlitarian bent he also must factor in such matters as social costs. I do not agree with
> this argument. Certainly his position on non-infant disabled would seem to go alojng the
> lines I sketched. As disabled they have special interests and a claim to have those
> interests furthered equitably just as do the gifted and the average. The infanticide
> argument I sketched does not involve making intelligence a marker of social worth but I
> do not want to speculate further without more text to chew on.
> (Richard Brandt is another philosopher who argues for infanticide) Tooley's argument is a
> personhood argument too but it has nothing to do with the question of social worth as
> mark of intelligence either. It has to do with the fact that a newborn infant cannot
> envisage a future self (well that is oversimplified). At least Tooley's argument would
> not help puppies or kittens. Tooley specifically mentions I believe that kittens do not
> have a right to life but they would have a right to be put down painlessly since they can
> feel pain.
> Is it wrong to not want to have a severely disabled child?. Are you against
> abortion -not infanticide-
> of a fetus with severe spina-bifida (sp) or abortions for economic reasons or in cases
> where the continued fetal development might be a threat to the health of the pregnant
> woman? Personally I support abortion on demand (as a legal right) even though I think
> that in many cases that the result will be abortions that are not justified morally. I
> believe that Singer also holds this position but of course he goes beyond that it would
> seem to infanticide, and there I part company with him. By the way do you know the video
> Who Should Choose? or perhaps "WIll choose". It is an absolutely marvelous teaching tool
> for the issue
> of abortion and fetal defects. THe pregnant wife has mild spina-bifida but has sufficient
> capacities to have gotten to the point where she has her own career home-based. The fetus
> is found to also have spina bifida
> but the degree of severity is uncertain but at the very least the fetus (a female) will
> be wheel-chair bound and have at least the degree of disability of the mother. The
> husband wants her to have an abortion. She wants to have the child even though she will
> have to give up her career etc. The husband's family thinks he was absolutely nuts to
> marry his wife in the first place. If they have a disabled child this obviously will not
> improve his relationship to his parents. The mother was planning to come and help with
> the baby I believe and does not know the actual situation-if my memory serves me. You get
> the scenario. It is marvelously done in my opinion. THere is no conclusion. Students are
> left to discuss who should choose and what should be done
> (no relation to Lenin's problem). I think the video was produced by Ontario Educational
> TV. Perhaps someone knows of it. Or if you are interested in it I can probably find out
> from the university library.
> Cheers, Ken Hanly
> P.S. I am over limit so I will pack in a brief response to Tom Waters and Carl. First
> Tom: You seem to have just joined. I made the statement about the MOnarch in reference
> to a long post I made criticizing in detail Losey;s article. The post will be in the
> archives. I suggest you read it. Perhaps you have detailed criticisms of it rather than
> preaching about big bad ugly now Pharmacia-Upjohn Monsanto. Carl: Well I was mightily
> pissed off. In earlier posts I thought you granted that GM technology might be OK under
> socialism but as I pointed out it wouldn't be given your requirements. Maybe you are a
> socialist, just a weird one who requires categorical guarantees of no bad results from
> the introduction of a technology. I have contacted Heartfield. He was on holidays and
> will resub he said. Isn't that droll :) ?
> Marta Russell wrote:
> > Ok I see your point re speciesism, but when one reads Singer further, one comes to
> > realize that he does make intelligence and physical ability a marker of social
> > worth. He openly advocates for euthanizing any infant under one month old because it
> > does not meet his criteria of "personhood" but he particularly singles out disabled
> > infants as subjects for killing. In Should the Baby Live, he makes this clear. If
> > you want some quotes, I can dig them up. Singer bloody well knows that parents are
> > not going to be killing nondisabled children (maybe they would kill females in some
> > countries) - it is the disabled children who are his target.
> >
> > Then if you would apply his reasoning to the animal world - say to dogs - would it be
> > alright to kill a newborn puppy because it does not experience "doghood"? Singer
> > would never carry his same argument over to legitimize killing puppies because the
> > animal rights activists would be all over him.
> >
> > Disabled activists are all over him all over the world for his bias.
> >
> > The thing about these ethicists is that you really cannot separate what they ethicize
> > about from who they are. I believe that Peter Singer, the man, would never want to
> > have a disabled child becuase he perceives that as too much trouble and interfere
> > with his lifestyle, so he has rationalized his ethics accordingly. He has given the
> > "right" to the parent to dispose of it. It was only a couple years ago that he even
> > bothered to get to know any disabled adults. In other words, he doesn't know of what
> > he assumes.
> >
> > best,
> > Marta

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