Saturday, February 15, 2003
A good read: Sunday's New York Times magazine has an excellent first-person article by Harriet McBryde Johnson, a lawyer and disabled rights activist. Johnson recounts her experiences with Princeton professor Peter Singer -- the man who maintains that animals have more right to life than infants (if their parents don't want them).
It is a chilly Monday in late March, just less than a year ago. I am at Princeton University. My host is Prof. Peter Singer, often called -- and not just by his book publicist -- the most influential philosopher of our time. He is the man who wants me dead. No, that's not at all fair. He wants to legalize the killing of certain babies who might come to be like me if allowed to live. He also says he believes that it should be lawful under some circumstances to kill, at any age, individuals with cognitive impairments so severe that he doesn't consider them ''persons.'' What does it take to be a person? Awareness of your own existence in time. The capacity to harbor preferences as to the future, including the preference for continuing to live.
At this stage of my life, he says, I am a person. However, as an infant, I wasn't. I, like all humans, was born without self-awareness. And eventually, assuming my brain finally gets so fried that I fall into that wonderland where self and other and present and past and future blur into one boundless, formless all or nothing, then I'll lose my personhood and therefore my right to life. Then, he says, my family and doctors might put me out of my misery, or out of my bliss or oblivion, and no one count it murder.
Like Johnson, I find Singer's views despicable -- something not to far from Nazi Germany -- that someone who espouses his views is a professor at a prestigous university like Princeton is also disheartening (though not unsurprising). However, through the course of her interaction with Singer, she is less outraged about Singer and his views.
The change in her attitude reminded me of something Rod Dreher recently wrote at National Review Online about "The Mouth from the South" CNN founder Ted Turner. After reading Dreher's piece, I don't despise Turner, for his anti-Christian statements, like I once did. Instead, I feel more pity for a really sad man.
I don't quite pity Singer, because the ideas he espouses are dangerous, but he is a human being.