Friday, 18 September 2009

contra Singer

John Wyatt presented a neat introduction to Peter Singer's moral philosophy on Hope 103.2 Open House recently.

He summarises the foundation of Singer's ethics thus:
  1. Instead of treating all human life as equal, recognise that the worth of human life varies. 
    • Value depends on an ability to choose.
  2. Take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. 
    • Utilitarian
  3. Respect a person's desire to live or die.
    • Supports euthanasia both for those who wish to die and for those with no value.
  4. Bring children into the world only if wanted.
    • Parents can decide whether their foetus or even baby should live or die
  5. Don't discriminate on the basis of species.

And in response, he proposes his own 7 principles:
  1. The Christian perspective on the sanctity of human life provides a holistic perspective on human identity.
    • The essential thing about being a human is not the ability to choose but the wondrous integration of mind, body, relationship that mysteriously reflects the image of God.
  2. The Christian view of humanity, made in God's image, provides a stability of human identity throughout the whole of life
    •  In Singer's model, a human with brain damage becomes a non-person and of no value. But if you later recover, you become a person again. But person-hood ought not depend on such contingent, random events. You are the one person, known and loved by God, from beginning to end.
  3. The Christian understanding promotes social cohesion and mutual respect
    • In Singer's world, everyone seeks their own good and consequently views other people as competition. In contrast, Christians see the importance of relationsips in which the strong have a duty to care for the weak.
  4. The Christian understanding provides the basis for a consistent legal framework for protecting human beings from destruction.
    • For instance, in UK law, killing a brain-damaged baby is viewed the same as assassinating the Prime Minister. How could a legal framework differentiate effectively in a Singerian world?
  5. The Christian understanding fits our intuitions about human relationships
    • We naturally hold emotional stances that over-rule rational, value-based judgements. Peter Singer himself admitted that he could not bring himself to apply his own philosophy in the case of his ailing mother.
  6. The Christian understanding motivates sacrificial and empathic caring by professional and lay carers
    • If you held Singer's view, how could you care for those in severe physical need with real love and respect? 
    • Good to ask peiople: if you were given the choice of being admitted to a Christian hospital or a Singerian hospital?
  7. The Christian understanding provides a safeguard against the abusive and manipulative possibilities of advanced medical technologies.
    • Technology has a tendency to instrumentalise human beings, e.g. using cells from aborted foetuses to assist others -- this treats the foetus as a mere instrument rather than a valued being.
(See Wyatt's upcoming book "Matters of Life and Death".)

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