Peter Singer’s talk censored in Canada as shouting students accuse him of “euthanasia”

March 10, 2017 • 1:00 pm

I’m a a big admirer of philosopher Peter Singer, for he deals with philosophical problems affecting the real world, not with arcane stuff like compatibilism; and he really lives his philosophy, donating a substantial portion of his income to charity, not eating meat, and not wearing leather. His work on practical ethics, altruism, and animal rights has been immensely influential. And he’s just a nice guy, as I discovered from a brief correspondence with him.

But some people don’t think so because of Singer’s views on “euthanasia” of newborns, which is that it might be moral behavior to euthanize some hopelessly ill or deformed babies even after they were born—but soon after birth. This has led, as I have noted, to his de-platforming in several places, and even calls for his resignation from Princeton (see also here and here),  The protestors, who accuse Singer of “ableism” and calling for the killing of the disabled, almost always misunderstand or distort his position. Here are two interviews in which he’s clarified his position (see first and second links above):

Q. You have been quoted as saying: “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.” Is that quote accurate?

A. It is accurate, but can be misleading if read without an understanding of what I mean by the term “person” (which is discussed in Practical Ethics, from which that quotation is taken). I use the term “person” to refer to a being who is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future.  As I have said in answer to the previous question, I think that it is generally a greater wrong to kill such a being than it is to kill a being that has no sense of existing over time. Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.  That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do.  It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.

Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment.  That will often ensure that the baby dies.  My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection – but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.

Q. What about a normal baby? Doesn’t your theory of personhood imply that parents can kill a healthy, normal baby that they do not want, because it has no sense of the future?

A. Most parents, fortunately, love their children and would be horrified by the idea of killing it.  And that’s a good thing, of course.  We want to encourage parents to care for their children, and help them to do so. Moreover, although a normal newborn baby has no sense of the future, and therefore is not a person, that does not mean that it is all right to kill such a baby.  It only means that the wrong done to the infant is not as great as the wrong that would be done to a person who was killed. But in our society there are many couples who would be very happy to love and care for that child.  Hence even if the parents do not want their own child, it would be wrong to kill it.

or this (NZZ is the Neue Zürcher Zeitung):

NZZ: Next week, you are due to receive an award for the reduction of animal suffering. This has provoked protests because you, allegedly, want to have disabled children killed. Is that true?

PS: There are circumstances where I would consider that to be justified, yes. For instance, when an extremely premature baby suffers from a cerebral hemorrhage so massive that it will never recognize its mother and smile at her. If such a child requires artificial respiration, almost all doctors would advise to switch the device off and let the child die. The artificial respiration is terminated because they do not want the baby to live. But if the child is already capable of breathing on its own, killing it requires a lethal injection. Why should it be morally relevant whether I switch off a device or give the child an injection? In both cases, I decide over the child’s life. [JAC: People often make a distinction here between a direct action that terminates life and an indirect action that allows life to end, but I consider that a distinction without a difference.]

NZZ: Would you also kill a new-born child with a mild disability?

PS: If the disability is compatible with a good quality of life, it should be possible to find a couple willing to adopt the child if the parents do not want it. Why should it be killed then?

In fact I agree with Singer here for cases in which a child is so horribly deformed or diseased that it will either die very soon or will be an intolerable burden on its parents—as with a baby in a vegetative state, or incurably demented. But people with, say, cerebral palsy or other handicaps, who can live decent lives and enjoy those lives, think—or deliberately misrepresent—that Singer is calling for the euthanasia of people like them.

He’s not. All you have to do is read what he’s written or said. It’s one of those moral positions that at first sounds repugnant but actually makes considerable sense. You can argue about it, of course, but what you shouldn’t do is demonize Singer for a well thought out view—or no-platform or censor him.

But that is exactly what happened to Singer on March 1 at an “Effective Altruism” Club at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, where a presentation of his TED talk was scheduled, followed by Singer answering questions via Skype. The topic wasn’t euthanasia, but effective altruism: how to do the best for humanity you can with your limited resources.

As martlet reports, a group of students interrupted the presentation, standing in front of the stage, making noise, and accusing Singer of ableism. Ultimately, it sounds as if the talk was simply inaudible. As martlet noted:

Prior to the event, a candlelight vigil was set up in the main SUB hallway in honour of the the Disability Community Day of Mourning, which was coincidentally on the same day. A chalkboard with the names of disabled victims of filicide — murder by one’s caregiver or family member — stood on display for passersby to see.

As people slowly entered the auditorium, a small group of students stood on stage with a microphone and read out a list of names of disabled people killed throughout 2016 and 2017.

“People who were their caregivers, who were meant to provide stability and care and love, decided these people weren’t worthy of life,” said Tareem Sangha, one of the students on stage.

Effective Altruism attempted to begin the TED Talk at 3:30 p.m., but were temporarily deterred by the resounding vocal response from the protesters. After a few minutes, they proceeded anyway, with the video’s captions on and sound amplified to compensate.

. . . What began as two conflicting defenses of free speech soon hindered discussion of any kind, as the Effective Altruists and protesters battled with the volume to deafening proportions. Protesters used a megaphone to read prepared text to the audience, and numerous audience members shouted back at them to leave.

One protester even temporarily unplugged the adapter connecting Effective Altruism’s computer to the projector before fleeing out the side door of Cinecenta. The club was able to quickly start the video back up with a replacement adapter.

All the while, Singer’s TED Talk and Q&A continued, and the room grew cacophonous. Shouts of support for Singer’s free speech were met with chants of “eugenics is hate” and “disabled lives matter,” and neither side showed any signs of backing down.

“It’s a trainwreck,” said one student in the audience. “I wanna leave, but if I leave now, [the protesters] get their way.”

. . .Despite the stated focus on the effective altruism movement, Singer was in fact asked to address his views on euthanasia, but his answer was inaudible over the din of the auditorium. Though the club did record a portion of the event, the recording of Singer’s answer has not been made publicly available as of yet.

You can see a video of the disruption by clicking on the screenshot below. What you’ll see is a bunch of entitled whiners trying to censor Singer’s speech. It’s reprehensible:


There was also a petition calling for the de-platforming of Singer because he was advocating “the killing of people with disabilities.” That is a disingenuous summary of his views. (The petition got only 89 signers.)

Will the University of Victoria do anything about this, like disciplining the protestors, or even issuing a statement in favor of free speech? I haven’t found such a statement.

I am sick to death of students trying to censor those whose views offend them, and in this case Singer’s views should most certainly be heard. There was a time when such protests would arise over assisted suicide, an act now legal in several U.S. states and other countries. Society has progressed. We need to consider whether infants of the kind Singer discusses might also constitute an intolerable and unnecessary burden on society, so that they should be allowed to die. It’s surely worth discussing.

h/t: Jiten, Barry

86 thoughts on “Peter Singer’s talk censored in Canada as shouting students accuse him of “euthanasia”

  1. Also of potential interest:

    Why They Kill Their Newborns
    -Stephen Pinker

    And this, written by a NICU nurse, which is very very sobering. I honestly had *no* idea…

    Infants born at 22-23 weeks gestation have a 1-10% chance of survival, with the high end requiring the most advanced NICU care possible. Of those survivors, greater than 95% will suffer profound neurodevelopmental impairment NICHD/NIH. By profound neurodevelopmental impairment, I do not mean the child will have a learning disability, or need to walk with canes, or have mild cerebral palsy. I mean the child may suffer from intractable seizures, need a feeding tube because of being unable to swallow, have varying degrees of blindness and deafness, have spastic quadraplegia and be wheelchair bound, never speak, never crawl, never walk, never run, etc.

    I have cared for many infants at the edge of viability. It is always emotionally draining. There is no justice to it. The extreme measures involved to keep a 22-23 week infant alive is staggering, and it is ugly. I once had a patient who had an IV placed on the side of her knee due to such poor IV access. When that IV infiltrated, I gently pulled the catheter out, and her entire skin and musculature surrounding the knee came with it, leaving the patella bone exposed. I have seen micro-preemies lose their entire ear due to scalp vein IV’s. I have watched 500 gram infants suffer from pulmonary hemorrhages, literally drowning in their own blood. I have seen their tiny bellies become severely distended and turn black before my very eyes, as their intestines necrose and die off. I have seen their fontanelles bulge and their vital signs plummet as the ventricles surrounding their brains fill with blood. I have seen their skin fall off. I have seen them become overwhelmingly septic as we pump them with high powered antibiotics that threatened to shut down their kidneys, while fighting the infection. I have seen many more extremely premature infants die painful deaths in the NICU, then live.

    It’s not all fairy rainbows and unicorns, even with modern technology.

    1. Horrific – saw documentary about what premis go through and touching on their subsequent health risks which I thought was pretty sobering but nothing as brutal and up front as this.

    2. Wow. When you think about it, euthanasia in those instances (assuming the parent approves it) is the compassionate thing. A life of seizures, feeding tubes, and endless discomfort, probably without even an intellectual ability to be aware of why or how, is no life at all — at least not one worth living.

  2. I never knew he was working on that topic. It is a challenging topic – try to put yourself in the position of the parent – it’s really not easy. I have to give up.

    As for the censors : a thought : by censoring the speaker, this can be superficially viewed as proof of the speaker’s guilt. This is another reason that free speech is essential for everyone.

    BTW : I’m two months out with zero meat, eggs, dairy, etc. not super easy, but do-able. Just try it – highly recommended.

    1. “BTW : I’m two months out with zero meat, eggs, dairy, etc. not super easy, but do-able. Just try it – highly recommended.”

      Why are vegans always in sales pitch mode?


      1. Not a vegan, Not selling anything. The diet is technically vegan. Looking forward to some smoked brisket.

      2. And also, not that it’s exactly on-topic, but I only said this because I knew, for a long time that Peter Singer has made a good case to actively stop eating meat. I’m not sure or recalling if he has done the same for all animal products but I think it’d make sense.

      3. Wow, are all non-vegans always so defensive?
        Try it, you might like being less selfish.
        Singer is an example to us all.

        1. Peter Singer advocates for not eating meat. I shared an anecdote about my efforts in that direction. I apologize for the defensiveness and selfishness of my subsequent responses.

          1. Thyroid, Good job!

            Linda, what do you call it when people brutalize, slaughter, and consume hundreds of millions of sentients yearly, simply because they taste good and when there is no health reason to do so?
            I enjoyed reading Animal Liberation by Singer and learned a lot. Speaking as a lazy, selfish, pampered human in a first world country, being vegan is one of many ways to give back and be less cruel. 🙂

            1. Regarding moral dilemmas….our last home was in the Gloucestershire countryside and had with it 16 acres of farmland. Although I had no background in farming I thought it might be nice to “hobby farm” – get some very young cattle and “bring them on” (raise them to maturity). Being beef cattle they would ultimately go to market. I realised that I would be in a process you describe with words like” brutalize, slaughter, and consume”. I did seriously question if it was ethically right to ever do this hobby farming. But I realised that these cattle I raised, really lovely gentle animals, would not even EXIST but for the fact that there is demand for beef cattle for consumption. So it begs the question, for cattle -is two to three years of of a pleasant natural living better than never to have existed at all? I think it is better. But this is not an entirely moral position EITHER way one goes. It is so much easier to give oneself the pleasure of just virtue signalling, than ever having to wrestle with any real moral or ethical choices oneself.

              1. Howie: Firstly, I refer you to Prof. Richard Dawkins who has argued (I paraphrase): “We don’t have a moral obligation to raise an infinite number of potential beings.” And Dawkins again considering not existing: “Do you remember what it was like before you were born?” Maybe your animals would prefer to be alive longer than 2 to 3 years???
                Secondly, I will posit that the trip to the abattoir is decidedly traumatic and we could argue that your plan to sell for meat is exploitive, never the best argument for any action.
                Thirdly, none of this is virtue signaling. This is applied ethics. And man alive is it being applied to the tune of 100s of millions of animals yearly. I’m glad you describe a bucolic existence for your animals, but I implore others to watch Mercy For Animals videos of pigs, not just sentient, but INTELLIGENT, in the TYPICAL pig farm in the USA (let alone other countries). As Paul McCartney famously said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarian.”
                Lastly, your argument (and mine) are not new. Watch Shelly Kagan debate William Lane Craig on youtube, read Singer’s Animal Liberation (from 1975), it’s a fast read!

                “My own view is that being a vegetarian or vegan is not an end in itself, but a means towards reducing both human and animal suffering, and leaving a habitable planet to future generations.” Peter Singer, The Guardian.

              2. Regarding Dawkins’ “We don’t have a moral obligation to raise an infinite number of potential beings.”…

                I’m not sure that entirely applies here, Ron, since nobody is proposing raising an infinite number of beings.

                I don’t think this subject is as straightforward and clear as you do.

                Do we have a moral obligation to ensure the survival of animal species? If we assume that everyone stopped eating domestic animals, would we have an obligation to keep a population of them around? How many would we be obligated to maintain?

                Nearly every creature that lives ends its life in a traumatic way. Are we obligated to prevent suffering among wild animals, too, or just suffering of domestic animals?

                Are we obligated to prevent suffering of animals when imposed by other (non-human) animals when we are able to do so? If not, why not?

                (Note, for purposes of avoiding particular forms of argument: I don’t eat mammals or birds, whether domestic or wild.)

              3. GB: Thanks for some good points.
                Some clarifications:
                I’m simply noting that bringing beings into existence for exploitation doesn’t solve moral problems. Especially when talking about domestics for human consumption. Restoring ecological balance on the other hand, is laudable on its face.
                Regarding your point on suffering (which is excellent) and our duties; Singer simply says we should avoid causing suffering PRECISELY because humans and nonhumans have the ability to suffer (i.e. irrespective of intelligence). So yes, if you see a deer which is in extremis after a car hit, we should strive to address that. Singer addresses this at length in his writing.
                But in “natural systems” most argue that we don’t have a duty to intervene when cheetahs kill gazelles or chimps (who can be very cruel-like us) act in the wild. But note I haven’t said why! Too big a topic for this forum. I’ll only add that it would be ironic if “…as the sole moral species on this planet, we act only in our own collective self-interest toward all the rest…” Holmes Rolston III, Environmental Ethics, 1991.
                Shelly Kagan (Prof. of Philosophy at Yale) also addresses some of this in the debate mentioned above.

              4. Howie, suppose scientists were to discover (or reconstruct) viable DNA samples of Homo erectus. Would you consider it ethically acceptable to clone up a population of them for use as cheap unskilled labor? Would that be better than not existing at all, and if so, do we therefore have a moral obligation to bring them into existence for that purpose?

              5. One other point I neglected to make upstream…

                Regarding the quote from Paul McCartney that “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarian.”…

                This is clever rhetoric but silly if you think about it. Were it true, humans would never have eaten domestic animals and nobody would hunt and there would be no workers in slaughterhouses. People have been slaughtering animals since before there were humans and waaaaay before walls of any kind were invented.

            2. I think what makes Singer, Dawkins, and other public intellectuals so successful is using writing that does not patronize or scold their readers.

              1. Well, first let me address Gregory’s point. A revived Homo erectus species would be far more sentient, far more conscious of its exploitation and the “unnaturalness” of the slave life we would impose than are domestic farm animals. The lives of grazing beef cattle, ideally is to them a very natural life, and in reality is a rather fortunate one compared to a non-domesticated life. Then, of course, comes the chop. Yes, we exploit the nature of cattle but we couldn’t ethically get away with it with our homo cousins.
                I agree with GB. Given the odds against it, any life that comes into existence is tremendously lucky just to become alive. Then it becomes to a question of the quality of that life. In many cases the suffering of living makes it better not ever to have been born, But that is not necessarily the condition of domesticated animals when handled with compassionate farming methods.
                My overall argument is that we can not escape from the realities of our human condition – we are to a large degree a carnivorous species. Just being an Animal is being a parasite. As humans, it is in “our nature” to domesticate animals to provide ourselves food. If we choose not to domesticate for consumption we deny domesticated animals life, alternatively if we raise domesticated animals we ultimately take their life. Compassion in their treatment is arguably the only thing we can ethically get away with. But there is no guiltlessness in our overall predicament.

    2. A vegan I worked with — whose phone answer message was always an advertisement for being a vegan and included critical remarks about non-vegans — voted for Trump because “he would keep us safe”

      1. “Watch Shelly Kagan debate William Lane Craig on youtube”
        Thanks so much for that suggestion Ron. Hadn’t run across this video and it’s the sort of debate on morality that one should absolutely not miss if one has any interest in moral philosophy.
        I also note, with the very greatest of pleasure, that Kagan is a compatibilist.

  3. Geez, is this disturbing – and so close to home! I don’t know UVic’s rules, but I would expect UBC to discipline such censorial behaviour if it happened here.

  4. a) Thanks for the post which had the side benefit of acquainting me more fully with Singer’s work. Now I have some reading/listening to do.

    b) I am trying to figure out how prevalent this censorship is. Each case seems to be reported by people I follow: you, Rubin, Sam Harris, et. al. But is it very common? One such incident per month? per week?

    Cheers and keep up the good work.

  5. The tactics used by these “students” are disgraceful and morally indefensible. Victoria is somewhat of a center for wackiness. These people are mild in comparison.
    It seems the only way forward would be to have a debate on the topic but it is doubtful they would come to agreement on that since the basic requirement would be for all concerned to be willing to listen to the others.
    Those involved in this protest are not interested in allowing others to state their opinions.
    I doubt very much that U Vic would sponsor such a debate. I also doubt the students involved will be censured in any way.

    Conversations which need to be had, will not be had, and that is a shame, a damn shame.

  6. I wonder about the attitude of the protesters that they , and they alone , are correct. They seem to say that if they can not convince others what they feel / believe is the way it should be, they will enforce their views with force. Basically they want to be dictators, the enforcers of morality and action. With this mind set they would do away with laws and elections, ruling from their own sense of superiority. The would become dictators, or are already putting themselves in that role. Such arrogance. They would be the first to speak out against any attempts to do that to them, to their ideas. I once heard what was good for the goose is good for the gander, but not in their opinion it seems. Hugs

    1. Yes, consider – what if some protesters of the protesters showed up, and a third set? And on and on? I think that illustrates the fallacy of protesting talks.

      1. Yes you are correct. I also wonder how they can convince someone an idea is wrong if they don’t let the idea be talked about? You can’t refute something in a vacuum. Hugs

              1. Of how I put the Latin together?

                qui = nominative singular as the subject
                protestatur = third person present for “protest” to go with the “qui”

                protestes = object so accusative plural for protestors.

                I could pick other words but those ones had some symmetry.

        1. Your assumption is that they have to refute arguments. They do not share this assumption. They have been educated to think this way. This is the same mindset as the P Z Meyers thing about “Your math is correct, it’s your humanity that’s wrong.”

  7. a small group of students stood on stage with a microphone and read out a list of names of disabled people killed throughout 2016 and 2017.

    See now, I think that would have been an okay “protest” action in the Q&A session. A bit irrelevant to talk about adults, but still, if someone wants to argue how sanctioned infanticide in the case of severely disabled babies might lead down a slippery slope, I’ll at least listen and consider that response to Singer.

    What I don’t get is why they think drowning him out is a legitimate method of responding to him. If you think your counter-argument is so good, then beat him with it rather than censoring him.

    1. There’s probably a couple lines of thought that can lead to thinking shouting him down is the correct action. If they go the ‘words are violence’ route then allowing him to speak directly equates to actual infanticide. If they go the route that allowing him to voice what they think are dangerous ideas will cause other people who are on the fence to consider what he says reasonable then, again, they would also see shouting him down as the correct course of action. The dangerous ideas spreading is something I see used to justify not allowing Milo to speak. In both routes allowing others to hear him is an immediate threat which cannot be tolerated.

    2. ‘readout the names of disabled people killed’

      That would be absolutely irrelevant and emotive bullshit (as most ‘slippery-slope arguments inherently are) since Singer is advocating nothing of the sort. (And since producing more severely-disabled is likely to lead to more frustrated caregivers at the end of their tether killing their charges, than less).

      An analogy would be a Drumpf supporter reading out a list of every Hispanic murderer’s name in a debate over the Wall.


      1. Also emotive bullshit: names like Drumpf, keying on an ethnic stereotype.

        Someone here asked when this sort of nonsense will end. Well, not as long as discussions of it devolve into childish name-calling virtue signaling about Trump.

        1. Just in case you might not be aware, Drumpf is not merely a play on the ethnic stereotypes, it’s the original Trump’s family name which was americanized as Trump.

  8. Why don’t they just turn the keys to these nurseries over to the students and go home. Someone once said — Who is in charge here? Anyway.

  9. Taking Singer’s definition of “person” at face value, it would be a greater wrong to kill the most depraved, sadistic, unrepentant, psychopathic murderer than to kill a suitably disabled newborn.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but it deserves consideration.

    1. You mean it deserves to be discussed openly and frankly? Whole heartedly agree.

      Would those at this school had thought so too, we would be looking at those Handi Cats of Dr Ceiling Cat and wondering where we could get them too (and WOWing Mark Sturtevant’s insects) instead of commenting once again on the apparent death of open and free speech at our colleges and universities. These almost daily stories suggest that civility is mortally wounded as well.

  10. So disgustingly rude. Its an important topic – especially in the modern era where more and more premature and seriously sick babies are able with modern technology to survive with massive intervention over a very long period/lifetime. And premature babies frequently go through hell before they are even full term – and even if they are “normal” into their first year of infancy.

    I admire Singers work.
    Great point about actively ending life rather than passive and painful end by withdrawing life support. Im unclear whether his definition of cognition and personhood with regard to infanticide is mainly intended to signal that a baby will suffer less from swift death as it can’t apprehend that its going to be killed and fear death (i think though any animal instinctively is terrified at the prospect of death – but non persons are perhaps more easily fooled into not being aware of the prospect of imminent death assuming they can’t smell blood, haven’t been harmed with aggressive expressions etc). He doesnt seem to mean this though. Also normal babies and most even seriously disabled babies will soon (or later) become persons conscious of time and the state of their lives so even if its valuing just the individual intelligence/separate autonomy aspect – this is simply delayed in babies. Besides even non social animals have emotional responses to environmental stimuli and bond at particular times in various ways to others of their species – is this just a value on being smart?-

    I think he puts a little bit too much emphasis on support depending on whether the child is likely to have cognition to the point of ability to see into the future as opposed to say physical pain and suffering of the child and any emotional response to others, signs of frustration etc – and then also the pain and other costs to parents and society (a modern society that can afford elaborate ongoing interventions or support thru life but not in endless or consistently growing cases). So the cost to the child, and then parents and society when the infant is extremely badly handicapped and the likelihood a growing culture of intervention will create more and more people in future generations who are terribly ill. This has to be balanced against the importance of valuing children at their most helpless to promote social and parental investment in supporting families. I think, Sometimes he fails to acknowledge enough role for social taboos as when he considers bestiality ok if the animal appears to be wanting it – (i.e. there could be other consequences in OKing that). Of course taboos need to change or be dropped from time to time but Pinker and Haidt have pointed out they play an important role in social functioning)

    However these students aren’t interested in arguments. They simply attend elite arts colleges to alternately sulk and mass virtue signal – the nouvelle euphoria.

    1. Great comment somer.

      Great point about actively ending life rather than passive and painful end by withdrawing life support.

      I have heard evangelicals say that watching a baby die a slow painful death is a ‘blessing’ because “It’s God’s way of teaching us compassion”

      Anyone who believes that is a narcissistic sadist, as far as I am concerned.

    2. Singer’s point about personhood, I think, is that no plans or aspirations are foreclosed by ending an infant’s life, because infants are incapable of forming plans or aspirations.

      He does acknowledge that loving parents may have vicarious plans and aspirations for their children (and for their own lives as parents), and that that’s a valid reason to sustain the lives of children with a realistic chance of fulfilling such plans (perhaps with technological assistance). But for infants with no such chance, nothing of enduring value is lost by taking affirmative steps to end their lives.

      That’s my understanding of his argument, anyway.

      1. A pro-lifer whose arguments I read argues that embryos are more valuable than born infants because they ‘have a longer life ahead of them’ and that denying an embryo the right to gestate is harm because it is being denied a future to which it is entitled. And that sentience is irrelevant, since the harm is in being denied ‘future experiences, once capable of consciousness’.

        I can sort of see his point, in the general sense, but this can also apply to the sperm and the egg, who are being denied future lives if not fertilized.

        1. Is this pro-lifer also in favor of forcibly conscripting older people as involuntary blood and organ donors for the benefit of the young, who in his view are more valuable by virtue of the longer life they have ahead of them?

          Or is it just uteruses that can be conscripted?

        2. When I think of the vast numbers of future unborns I have condemned to eternal non-existence it makes me more philosophical about so rarely being able to get laid.

          Take that, pro-lifers!



      2. Yes I agree with him about costs in suffering and resources to the child, parents, and/or society – Im just concerned that the repeated and first up emphasis on cognition and plans might be rather overdone so that it can be easy for some to equate it to IQ and those with low IQ be seen as having less value.

  11. My question is when are the college administrations going to stop letting this crap continue? When are they going to start respecting the rights of the students who want to hear what speakers have to say, and the rights of groups who want to invite speakers? When are they going to stop kowtowing to these nutcases?

  12. It is precisely when the public (or a sizable segment thereof) reacts so strongly against an idea that free expression is crucial. If free speech means anything, it means the right to challenge orthodoxy.

  13. Absolutely agree Jerry! Deplorable!

    And in all likelihood, Singer has probably, routinely, acted more benevolently and helpfully to more people than those protesters.

    Btw…I don’t see how the incompatibilism you often write about here is any less arcane than compatibilism. You have to go recon it against all the standard intuitions and arguments that compatibilism deals with, so it’s not like it’s any less arcane to the average person.

  14. I am appalled by this infantile behaviour by these petulant brats. I went to Uvic for my Masters degree. I also have Cystic Fibrosis, so I guess I would be in the group that these censorious children claim to speak for. Even if Peter Singer’s position was the false strawman that they have represented it to be, I would still be vehemently against them shutting down his discussion, which wasn’t even on the topic for they were protesting. He seems to have some interesting philosophical ideas that would be interesting to contemplate.

    1. What is both infuriating and tragic is that if these protestors had engaged Singer & listened to him, they’d realize they were strawmanning his whole position. I’m sure Singer could shut down their arguments in seconds.

      But, really they don’t want that. They enjoy being enraged and acting out.

  15. I happen to agree totally with Peter Singer, from all aspects. Even the ecological – it’s not as if the world needs more people.

    And my mother would have agreed too. She once told me of a brief conversation she had with a doctor in the hospital where she had me – Doctor (exultantly): We just managed to save that (severely disabled) baby! My mother: Will it ever be normal? Doctor: No. My mother: Why did you bother?
    (She – my mother – died years ago of cancer of the throat, demanding euthanasia which she didn’t get. Thanks so much, ‘pro-lifers’.)

    What these idiot knee-jerk disability campaigners fail to see is, they’re pissing in the soup. Medical science can now save severely-damaged individuals who would never previously have survived, and who will need disproportionate amounts of care over their lives. Where do the campaigners think the money for that is going to come from. Out of their budget? Or do they just want us able-bodied to pay more taxes?


    1. I agree too. My second child was born two months premature, at a time and in a place where the facilities for sustaining a premature child were much less than optimum (nearly forty years ago in a small local hospital). My wife and I were warned that she had suffered from significant brain blood starvation during the birth, and that she would almost certainly be severely handicapped as a result, though there was no way of predicting the extent of this, mentally or physically.

      Before our first child had been born we had had the discussion about how we might be able to cope with a severely handicapped child, and this discussion suddenly became reality. Very little was said that night between us and the doctors, but nature was left to take its course, and Kirsty died three hours later. As she was unconscious during this period I don’t think she suffered at all. We were both devastated by our loss at the time, but I believe that the outcome was best for all concerned.

      I don’t often feel I can contribute much of substance to this website, but on this occasion I feel the need to share my experience. I think that had she survived, three lives would have been destroyed. Five if you include the two sons we had (one before and one after).

      1. I can only offer my sympathy. I’ve never been faced with a situation quite like that.

        Whatever the decision of parents in that situation, I don’t think any outsider is able to criticise. From what I can gather, though, attempting to save her in those circumstances would most likely have been a painful losing battle.


      2. Oh, that’s so sad! My second child was stillborn (34 years ago); he died the day before he was “born.” He was full-term–7 lbs, 8 oz., 21″ long…That remains about the worst grief I’ve ever experienced, though of course, by now, I’ve experienced a lot more. At least we didn’t have to make a decision about anything. Like you, we did go on to have a third child.

        I’m so glad you had such decent doctors!

        Sorry to intrude on your comment. It just rang a bell…

        1. You’re not intruding, just sharing. We nearly all go through some tragedy in our lives, and I find it helps to share, so thank you. I understand the grief you experienced.

  16. Free speech (and democracy) is one of the tricks humans use to keep the selfishness of others in check.

    Moral reasoning is a trick humans use to justify actions and social status, benefiting themselves, always at the expense of other humans and animals.

    The Stoic Seneca explained effective altruism some years ago:

    Helping others is helping yourself.

    Not much wrong with that but we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

    It’s no coincidence that a selfish ideology as capitalism has done more to eradicate hunger in this world than all the altruists together.

  17. I’d say the students misunderstand his position. Were the protests to be directed at a person who truly advocates for the euthanasia of disabled people (or babies), i’d support them. It’s not the protests that i object to so much as the reason for them.

    People need to do their “homework” before jumping into a cause that seems, at first glance, to be noble. I see this all too often with todays Liberals. If it’s officially given a thumbs up from some Left wing entity, then it’s blindly supported without question. We need to do some fact checking and vetting before supporting any cause…or we’re no better than tea party Conservatives.

  18. This event illustrates neatly how those who have thought only superficially about an emotional topic often misunderstand someone who has thought deeply about it. Singer’s position on euthanasia, including that of infants, is a compassionate one. It is about reducing suffering. These protesters don’t understand that their confused position makes a virtue of suffering. If they took the time to read and understand Singer’s arguments, they might at least come to understand Singer’s compassion and the cruelty involved in their own position.

    1. Indeed, the protestors somehow give ‘life’ magical attributes that render it either sacred, or outweighing almost any quantity of suffering. Hidden in this is the assumption that life for the sufferer will somehow get better and make it ‘all worth while’.

      This is not always the case. As many sufferers from a terminal illness know only too well, there comes a point when the minuses outweigh the pluses – which is why many demand voluntary euthanasia on entirely pragmatic grounds.

      Exactly the same considerations apply to many severely disabled infants, except that they are in no position to weigh up the alternatives for themselves so somebody has to do it for them. I’ll repeat that – either by action or omission, somebody chooses for them. And choosing to keep them alive is exactly as overriding of their (presumptive) rights to self-determination as letting them die. We do it all the time for injured animals. Some might argue that people are more important but if so, isn’t their suffering equally more important?


  19. It seems that Singer really can’t catch a break with the disability rights people – I have a volume from a few years ago where he explains himself, and it seems from this they are still at it. A missed opportunity to learn another position.

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