Where a dad of two great kids (one on the autism spectrum) muses about life.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Eugenics With a Smile
When I was younger, I used to wonder how people who lived in Germany let the Holocaust occur. Over the years, I have come to believe that it was a series of small steps which seemed somewhat reasonable at the time, combined with a sense of "that doesn't apply to me" when many things came up, and finally, a tendency to believe those in authority.
Today I think I saw up close and personal how things like the Holocaust get started.
Peter Singer gave a talk today on a local campus. His topic was "Medical Decisions in Life and Death". After watching him today, I don't think that the devil wears Prada. Instead, he wears a rumpled shirt, smiles, is generally pleasant, and advocates for things like puppy dogs and poor people, right before he tries to convince the audience that some people are more valuable than others, and killing babies is OK if their parents decide it's the right thing to do.
OK, maybe Singer isn't the devil. But it was somewhat chilling to see students sitting in the audience quietly listening while Singer glibly tried to show that the definition of death is shifting and arbitrary, and that what we should be using to determine whether someone's life is worth living is Singer's somewhat nebulous definition of "personhood" which depends not on brain activity but on the ability of the person to be self reflective. Since he doesn't believe that humans are self aware before they are several months old, they are not persons, and therefore it's OK to kill them, especially if they are disabled.
Singer started by questioning the definition of death, then used selected quotes from (and pictures of) George Bush to (not so subtly) suggest that those who oppose Singer's definition of death and personhood are right wing religious wackos. Singer then quickly reviewed several cases where people with persistent vegetative states had their feeding tubes removed, and suggested that there was no difference between removing the feeding tubes and letting them die, and actively killing them. He finished by talking about assisted suicide, and how Oregon's law is leading the way forward.
There was time for questions at the end, and after waiting a respectful 4 seconds (so it wouldn't appear that I was gunning for him) I went up to the microphone to ask him a question. I was hopping mad, and I could hear my voice shaking just a bit. I asked him how he could place so much importance on preventing what he terms speciesism (discriminating against other animals merely because they are members of different species) while he so freely engaged in disablism by advocating that parents should be able to decide to kill their children up to several months old just because they (the parents) decided selfishly that their own lives would be better, and that the child's life was not worth living. After all, when disabled adults are surveyed, the majority of them report being happy. Singer was not fazed at all, and thanked me politely for the question. He then proceeded to respond with a bland recounting of why babies weren't persons (because of the lack of self response) and how we should respect the parents' wishes. He then moved on to the next question.
I looked around the room at the audience, which was composed mostly of students. Some seemed to get the point I was making, but most just sat there.
And I think that's what happened in Germany, too, when people heard that the Germans were killing the disabled, and later the Jews.
For a much better account of how Peter Singer is up close and personal, read Harriet McBryde Johnson's account of her time with Singer here.
Me- Joe, husband of a great wife, and dad to two great kids, who were both adopted at birth.
Liz- My ever understanding wife, who manages to wear many hats (mom, advocate, therapist, teacher) for our kids.
Buddy Boy- Born in 2000. Funny, intelligent, inventive, and autistic. Loves machines.
Sweet Pea- Born in 2002. Typical little sister. Competitive, outgoing, and smart. Loves anything pink.