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Letter from an alumnus about Peter Singer's Views

Date Posted: March 25, 2005

Given Professor Peter Singer’s views

Given Professor Peter Singer’s candor (feature, Jan. 26), I am constantly amazed by the efforts of University spokesmen and others to sanitize or hide the professor’s most unpalatable views.  A good example is Christopher Shea ’91, writing in PAW. Shea reports on an article in World magazine in which Singer is quoted as saying that there is nothing inherently wrong with people having sex with animals and even corpses.  According to Shea’s account, Singer slightly qualified his moral approval of these sexual practices by saying that they are “no doubt unfulfilling.”  But when I looked at the World article, I discovered that with respect to necrophilia, Singer made no reference whatsoever to its being “unfulfilling.”  He simply said, “There’s no moral problem with that.” With respect to bestiality, Singer (while expressly denying any moral problem with the practice) did not say it was unfulfilling.  He said simply that he would ask someone, “What is holding you back from a more fulfilling relationship?”  Presumably the answer to that question could be anything from a sheer preference for sex with animals to an inability to find a willing human sex partner.

But worse even than these efforts at sanitization is Shea’s failure to disclose to his readers Singer’s most shocking statement of all.  Although Shea reports that Singer would be willing to sanction the infanticide of handicapped newborns (which might, I suppose, be considered a kind of “mercy killing”), he does not reveal to PAW readers that Singer explicitly denies that there would be anything wrong with gestating human beings for the purpose of killing them in infancy and harvesting their organs for spare body parts.  The World magazine reporter asked him:  “What about parents conceiving and giving birth to a child specifically to kill him, take his organs, and transplant them into their ill older children?”  Singer replied:  “It is difficult to warm to parents who can take such a detached view, [but] they’re not doing something really wrong in itself.”  The reporter then asked:  “Is there anything wrong with a society in which children are bred for spare parts on a massive scale?” Singer replied:  “No.”

I personally abominate Singer’s views and regret that Princeton has given him a forum to promote them.  But this much can be said for him:  He makes no effort to hide his beliefs or sanitize them.  In fact, Singer's line of thought on infanticide provides a beneficial thought experiment: Once a person disregards the fact that human biological life (and therefore human “personhood,” which is inseparable from human biological life) begins at fertilization, any other line of demarcation for the beginning of human life is arbitrary and unprincipled, and harvesting infants for body parts becomes as tenable as is the killing and harvesting of a 5-day-old living human embryo for stem cells. It is a shame that people who speak for Princeton and write for PAW are afraid to state Singer’s views plainly.

Elizabeth Cason Cheely (Crosby) '03
Chesterton, Inc.

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