Singer’s views on disability protested

Demonstrators protested Peter Singer’s visit to campus because he advocates letting parents euthanize their disabled infants.

JP Leider

As an over-capacity crowd filed into Ted Mann Concert Hall to hear morality philosopher Peter Singer’s take on ethics and animals, dozens gathered outside to protest Singer’s take on euthanasia and infanticide.

Uriah McKinney, a protest organizer with the Disabled Student Cultural Center, said demonstrators protested Singer’s visit Thursday specifically because he advocates allowing parents the choice to euthanize disabled infants.

“He uses the language of pity to explain why his idea and why his utilitarian philosophy would be (to the benefit of) the child,” he said. “But we believe that the pity model has been consistently rebuffed and rebuked by the disability rights community. We believe it is a false beginning point (for debating) who should live and who should die.”

Utilitarianism is an ethics theory that promotes decisions that would maximize the amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Singer said his views on the value of the lives of disabled infants are no different from “the overwhelming majority of Americans,” because of how frequently would-be parents decide to abort a pregnancy that would yield a significantly disabled child.

“They’re making exactly the same judgment about disability,” he said.

The reason his position is more controversial, Singer said, is because it extends to termination of a newborn infant, if the parents choose.

Singer said his view would not require euthanizing disabled infants, but would allow for parental choice.

“My argument is only that this choice should be open to parents – and if it is today, it’s only in kind of a somewhat underhand way through stopping life support rather than taking any active measures,” he said.

Thursday’s demonstration should not be seen as an assault on academic freedom or free speech, said Emily Smith, a Disabled Student Cultural Center member who helped organize the protest.

“We encourage academic freedom, but there isn’t equal space on this campus where another voice can be heard criticizing Peter Singer,” she said.

She cited the consistent lack of support for a disabilities studies program as one of the most frustrating aspects of the issue.

“We have tried to get a disabilities studies program on campus for almost 10 years now, and it’s been repeatedly ignored and neglected,” she said.

Geoffrey Hellman, chairman of the of the philosophy department, said the department has and will continue to offer a forum for alternative views from “highly qualified individuals.”

He said people shouldn’t expect an issue to be covered in one evening.

“It’s over the course of multiple events, over time, that a comprehensive and in-depth exploration of a variety of perspectives is possible,” he said.

Karissa White, who attended Thursday’s protest, said Singer’s views on ethics are inconsistent.

“It’s hypocritical to be an advocate for animal rights but not for human rights,” she said.