UK publication The Scotsman published an article by Peter Singer earlier in August (Wednesday, Aug. 15).
Singer, who is professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, postulates the notion in his article that being human, (being a member of the species Homo Sapiens) does not constitute the right to life and he argues that restricting access to legal abortion leads many poor women to seek abortion from unsafe providers. He concedes the weakness of arguments based on the so called ‘right to choose’ but argues that legalisation of abortion causes numbers to drop citing South Africa as an example.
Singer claimed: “The fallacy in the anti-abortion argument lies in the shift from the scientifically accurate claim that the foetus is a living individual of the species Homo sapiens to the ethical claim that the foetus therefore has the same right to life as any other human being. Membership of the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life.”
According to Singer, in his book “Rethinking Life and Death” unborn babies, or neonates, lacking the requisite consciousness to qualify as persons, have less right to continue to live than an adult gorilla. By the same token, a suffering or disabled child would have a weaker claim not to be killed than a mature pig.
In one of his most controversial statements Singer says that human babies are not born self-aware or capable of grasping their lives over time. They are not persons he claims hence their lives would seem to be no more worthy of protection that the life of a fetus. Writing specifically about Down syndrome babies Singer advocates trading a disabled or “defective child” (one who is apparently doomed to too much suffering) for one who has better prospects for happiness.”
Patrick Buckley, writer for the ‘Europen Life Netwok’ introduced a response against Singer: “I profoundly disagree with Singer, every human being born or unborn possesses the right to life from the moment of their conception onwards. This is a fundamental and imprescriptible right superior to all positive law. I am not alone in this view it is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)”
Buckley continued: “On the issue of consciousness once again I disagree with Singers reasoning and whilst I would like to see the lives of animals protected, I reject the comparison he draws between humans and animals. I would also argue that nature does not revolve around function; function actually revolves around nature.”
In his arguments Singer suggests that one’s right to abortion is based on three things:
– The absence of any ethical status for the unborn.
– Human life is valued according to it’s consciousness.
– The amount of suffering the unborn may impose.
However these ideals fail to suggest the exact moment at which a foetus becomes a ‘valid’ member of the human species.
Much of the abortion debate stems around the moment at which human life begins. Interestingly, Singer himself believes in the scientific conclusion that life begins at the moment of conception. What is alarming is his inability to exclaim that such a life has any moral status.
What singer fails to suggest is what factors are required for individuals to become an ‘eligible’ member of the human species. However, it is clear that simply being human, is what constitutes an individual to be a valid member.
His ideals on consciousness and suffering does not only dehumanise the unborn it does also to those in vegetative states, infants and less able adults. With a lack of objective truth… Anything goes!
From this we can see that there is a correlation between the self-interest of society and the line drawn between humans and non-humans. This is often driven by economic, social and political factors. Such motivators therefore feed the notions of moral relativism and subjectivity on when a life is considered …a ‘worthwhile’ life.
On a side note, Singer conveniently disregards the maternal death rates from abortions, it also does not include the greater risks associated with abortion procedures.
If the foundations of a society is built around Singer’s justifications for abortions, then we can only expect a radical decline in the quality of life. The significance of a life can not be determined by the exterior burdens it may impose.