Paradise or Animal
By Deborah Danielski
(Published in Our
Sunday Visitor, November, 1998)
"Save the whales" and kill
the unborn children.
For years Christians have remarked upon
the irony of two such disparate movements being promoted
at the same time and within the same circles. But just
when you think youve heard it all, up jumps an
Australian bioethics professor eager to offer the
"right-to-life" to all "great apes"
and to normalize infanticide, and out comes Princeton
University to offer him an American platform.
Sound appalling? The brilliant and
erudite Professor Peter Singer manages to make it all
seem quite reasonable. So much so, that Princeton
officials say the University "would be impoverished
without professors whose work is intellectually astute,
morally serious, and provocative, as is Professor
Singers." Though few would argue that
Singers work is "provocative," renowned
Catholic ethicist Fr. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M.Cap suggests
that "absurd" would a better way of describing
it than "morally serious." And bioethicist Dr.
Diane Irving prefers intellectually "shoddy" to
Singer began his career more than 20
years ago as an animal rights activist. It is morally
unconscionable to inflict unnecessary pain on a
chimpanzee, Singer proclaimed. St. Francis of Assisi
would seemingly agree. Singer goes a step further,
however, in asserting that it is equally wrong for man to
kill fish or beast only to satisfy the desires of his own
palate. He also fervently denounces consumerism and
actively promotes feeding the hungry. He does all this in
the name of "compassion." Its all about
eliminating suffering, he claims. But a horse isnt
necessarily a horse, of course, and Singers is a
horse of a different color indeed.
"All animals are equal,"
writes Singer who will assume a tenured position next
fall at the Princeton University Center for Human Values.
And in proper Darwinian fashion, when Singer says
"animals" he doesnt mean just the
nonhuman kind. In his book, Animal Liberation written in
1975, Singer wrote:
"The aim of this book is to lead
you to make a mental switch in your attitudes and
practices towards a very large group of beings: members
of species other than our own. I ask you to recognize
that your attitudes to members of other species are a
form of prejudice no less objectionable than prejudice
about a persons race or sex."
"Peter Singer levels the moral
difference between man and animals," said Dr. Brian
Scharnecchia, coordinator of Human Life Studies at
Franciscan University of Steubenville. "This may
seem like a harmless boon to animals, a benign
sentimentality. However, if animals are equal to man,
then man is equal to animals. Therefore, what is morally
permissible in the treatment of animals is also morally
permissible in the treatment of human beings."
Which is exactly the ethical viewpoint
Singer unapologetically promotes. To accomplish his
purpose of liberating mankind from "specieism,"
a term he coined in "Animal Liberation," Singer
acknowledges in "Rethinking Life and Death"
(St. Martins Griffin, 1994), that a
"Copernican revolution" will be required. Just
as Copernicus discovery in the 16th
century that the earth revolves around the sun led to
mans realization that the earth is not the center
of the physical universe, Singers new revolution
will "change our tendency to see human beings as the
centre of the ethical universe."
"It will be once again, a
revolution against a set of ideas we have inherited from
the period in which the intellectual world was dominated
by a religious outlook," he wrote.
To create this brave new world, Singer
says, the first step is rewriting five commandments of
the "old ethic" and making them conform to the
new. "Thou shalt not kill" becomes "if you
kill take responsibility for the consequences of your
"[S]ince a womans reasons
for having an abortion are invariably far more serious
than the reasons most people in developed countries have
for eating fish rather than tofu, and there is no reason
to think that a fish suffers less when dying in a net
than a fetus suffers during an abortion, the argument for
not eating fish is much stronger than the argument
" Singer wrote.
And he doesnt stop there. Singer
not only includes humans in the circle of
"animals." In defining "persons," he
goes far beyond the Roe vs. Wade exclusion of the unborn.
The circle of "personhood" should include all
"great apes," he claims, and should exclude
certain other elements of humanity.
Singer and other contemporary
bioethicists draw a line between "human beings"
and "human persons," said Irving, a professor
at the DeSales School of Theology. To be considered a
"person" according to Singers definition
requires the exercising of rational attributes and/or the
exercising of sentience, including the ability to feel
pain, she said. That rationale would also exclude from
"personhood" the newly born, the mentally ill,
the mentally retarded, people with Alzheimers and
Parkinsons disease, paraplegics and even alcoholics
and drug addicts, Irving added. In short, anyone whose
mental and emotional faculties could be considered below
those of an adolescent ape.
What Singer does is "define a
person in a way that no intelligent person ever
would," said Lawler, director of adult and family
catechesis for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. "Everyone
when he is sleeping is incapable of doing [the things
Singer claims are necessary to being a
By including newborn infants in the
same "nonperson" category as fetuses, Singer
also blows the whistle on the "hypocrisy" of
pro-choice activists who base their position on the idea
that the unborn are not fully human, said Lawler.
"In the modern era of liberal
abortion laws, most of those not opposed to abortion have
drawn a sharp line at birth. If, as I have argued, that
line does not mark a sudden change in the status of the
fetus, then there appear to be only two
possibilities," Singer asserts, "oppose
abortion or allow infanticide." He proceeds then to
argue for the latter. "[S]ince neither a newborn
human infant nor a fish is a person, the wrongness of
killing such beings is not as great as the wrongness of
killing a person," Singer contends.
The very absurdity of such statements
makes them a "wonderful weapon" for the
advocates of life, said Lawler. "Armed with these
weapons, we can say to pro-choice activists, Look
at what hes saying. Hes saying things that
you know are horrible. And hes put you in that
If society were to accept Singers
"ethics," where would we draw the line? Suppose
scientists succeed in isolating a cancer-causing gene,
Our Sunday Visitor asked Singer, would it become
acceptable to kill an infant who carries that gene?
"Thats a difficult
judgment," Singer said. "Depending on how long
the child would live until it developed cancer, etc. But
I dont try to make these decisions. I say the
parents should be able to make them, in consultation with
their doctors. And only if the parents and the doctors
cannot reach agreement, should the issue be referred to
some other body, such as an ethics committee."
Singer said he would never consider a
"gay gene" as a reason for killing an infant,
but added that "These questions are not specific to
someone like me who accepts killing a newborn infant in
certain circumstances. They are just the same for anyone
who accepts prenatal diagnosis and termination of
Dr. Amy Gutmann, director of the
Princeton University Center for Human Values chose not to
answer specific questions asked by OSV. Instead she
offered a written statement including the following
"In appointing Professor Singer,
Princeton University and the University Center for Human
Values reaffirm our dedication to open, careful, and
critical intellectual inquiry into the most difficult and
controversial questions regarding our individual and
collective lives. The appointment of course does not
imply our endorsement of the conclusions of his
scholarship. We certainly hope that his critics are not
seeking a University or University Center where faculty
members defend only positions with which they and we
In a press release issued September 29,
the National Catholic Office for Persons with
Disabilities said it "joins thoughtful Americans in
opposing" Singers appointment at Princeton.
"The idea that human
values at Princeton will be advanced by giving
Professor Singer a tenured position is appalling,"
said Kent A. Peters, STL, chair of NCPDs board of
directors. "American advocates of death, whether
members of the Hemlock Society or friends of Jack
Kevorkian promote death as the cure for
disabling conditions. Starting in the fall of 1999 we
face the dreary reality that our brightest young people
will be indoctrinated by this proponent who seeks to
normalize euthanasia and abortion."
"My fear is that what would have
been considered outlandish and very, very dangerous in
human values should become just one of many points of
view presented. The drive to use death as a way to solve
human problems is growing and this is just another
manifestation of it."
Many of Singers colleagues at
Princeton are "understandably ashamed,"
suggested Lawler. "When you set up a blind man like
Singer as a super-moralist a man who would tell
all the mothers and fathers in the world that if they
want to kill their babies its okay because babies
arent worth a damn anyway -- its
"Animal rights puts a cuddly face
on eugenics," said Scharnecchia. "But beware of
Bambi. If the human race is merely another herd of
animals, then the earth as a big zoo requires a few
benign managers. Singer may not be a Nazi as his critics
claim, but his ideology is not incompatible with a new
totalitarianism that seeks to spay the third world for
the sustained hegemony of the elite of the first world.
As Orwell said in Animal Farm, Some animals are
more equal than others.
"To the extent that Singer
succeeds in consolidating in law and custom the
utilitarian ethics of animal rights he
furthers the eclipse of the sense of God and
man," Scharnecchia said. "[His]
insistence upon mans equality with animals closes
the horizon on mans transcendence and advances a
culture of death. In this sense animal rights lead to
spiritual despair. The Good News is that God became man
so that man might become one with God and share his
divine life. Because man is destined for beatitude with
God, no one may treat him like an animal. Those who would
blind us to our spiritual transcendence further our
enslavement. We are destined for paradise, not animal
on Peter Singer