Princeton University Professor Peter Singer has a long history of advocating for the legitimization of bigotry in public and healthcare policy arenas. Since about 1980, Singer has promoted public policy that would legalize the killing of disabled infants. At that time, his “claims to fame” were basically twofold: 1) his work on “animal liberation,” which, among other things, defined “personhood” in a way that would make it less moral to kill some animals than to kill some disabled humans, especially infants; and 2) his advocacy of public health policy that would offer parents of a disabled newborn the opportunity to have medical professionals kill the infant.
20 years of that advocacy and accompanying notoriety worked out well for Professor Singer. It worked well enough for Princeton University to offer him a tenured position at that university to teach bioethics in 1999. The appointment met with a large protest at Princeton – in which hundreds of disabled activists protested on the campus on his first day of class, culminating in the blockading of the Princeton administrative building and the arrests of activists who refused to move when ordered to do so. Princeton responded in faux shock – as though they hadn't hired in him due to – in large part – his near-celebrity status.
Singer's policy assaults on disabled people have broadened in scope since 1999. In 2009, the New York Times Magazine published an article by Singer titled ‘Why We Must Ration Health Care.’ In the article Singer spoke “hypothetically” of assigning a life with quadriplegia as roughly half that of a life without any disability at all. On this “hypothetical” basis, Singer laid out a case for denying health care to people with significant disabilities on the basis that our lives have less value than the lives of nondisabled people. A response signed by 20 national disability rights organizations was submitted to the magazine, decrying the decision to seek out Singer as an analyst of healthcare and for the specific content of the article.
At the time, this was probably Peter Singer’s most direct assault on the value of the lives of people with physical disabilities past the age of infancy. His policy proposals allowing for the killing of newborns with disabilities and people with significant cognitive disabilities were already well known.
Singer's latest assault on the lives of people with disabilities occurred while on a radio talk show on April 26 that is broadcast live in New York City and Philadelphia. The show, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio,” is also broadcast and archived on his website. Singer's remarks from the show were first reported by WND in a story. Not Dead Yet paid a subscription fee to Klein's website to access the show and verify the quotes.
Singer was on Klein's show as part of his media promotion of a new book, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically. Unlike most interviewers, Klein decided to explore some of Singer's earlier writings and to discuss them.
On Friday, April 23, the National Council on Disability issued a press statement on Singer's comments during the show, which read in part:
Singer told Klein that health care rationing is already happening, and surmised that hospitals routinely make decisions not based on need, but rather on cost. He then used the presumed practice to rationalize the killing of disabled infants by arguing in support of “non-voluntary euthanasia” for human beings who Singer contends are not capable of understanding the choice between life and death, including “severely disabled infants, and people who through accident, illness, or old age have permanently lost the capacity to understand the issue involved.”
When asked whether denying treatment to disabled infants has become more common in the United States under the Affordable Care Act, Singer speculated: “It does happen. Not necessarily because of costs” and continued: “If an infant is born with a massive hemorrhage in the brain that means it will be so severely disabled that if the infant lives it will never even be able to recognize its mother, it won’t be able to interact with any other human being, it will just lie there in the bed and you could feed it but that’s all that will happen, doctors will turn off the respirator that is keeping that infant alive.”
“I don’t know whether they are influenced by reducing costs,” Singer said before using what critics claim is inflammatory and speculative language to defend the practice. “Probably they are just influenced by the fact that this will be a terrible burden for the parents to look after, and there will be no quality of life for the child... We are already taking steps that quite knowingly and intentionally are ending the lives of severely disabled infants. And I think we ought to be more open in recognizing that this happens.”
Klein followed up by asking whether the killing of severely disabled infants should be encouraged to reduce health-care costs. “Do you think in the future in order to ensure a more fair rationing of health-care and health-care costs,” asked Klein, “that it should actually be instituted more? The killing of severely disabled babies?”
Singer responded, by stating if “you had a health-care system in which governments were trying to say, “Look, there are some things that don’t provide enough benefits given the costs of those treatments. And if we didn’t do them we would be able to do a lot more good for other people who have better prospects,” then yes, I think it would be reasonable for governments to say, “This treatment is not going to be provided on the national health service if it’s a country with a national health service. Or in the United States on Medicare or Medicaid.”
Without offering any concrete measure on how quality of life could or should be determined, Singer admitted, “I don’t want my health insurance premiums to be higher so that infants who can experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”
While Aaron Klein was undoubtedly aiming toward something to specifically condemn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Singer made it clear that some killing through neglect already occurs in American hospitals (and did so for decades before the ACA came into being). Now he is advocating that both government run healthcare and private insurance can and should deny care to some people based on real or alleged cognitive and/or physical disabilities for economic reasons.
For those who may worry that Singer’s words deserve the protection of academic freedom, Princeton’s own policy on Respect for Others strikes a balance which the University has sadly ignored: “As an intellectual community, [Princeton] attaches great value to freedom of expression and vigorous debate, but it also attaches great importance to mutual respect, and it deplores expressions of hatred directed against any individual or group.” Rather than challenging Singer’s advocacy as a form of hate speech, Princeton University has provided Singer with a prominent platform and increased access to US media and policymakers for 16 years, establishing itself as the home for the worst of overt – and deadly – bigotry against disabled people of all ages.
Enough is enough. It’s long past time for this outrage to end.
We, the undersigned, demand the following:
That Princeton University officials should immediately call for Professor Singer's resignation;
That Princeton University officials should publicly disavow Singer’s statements that both devalue the lives of people with disabilities and advocate public policies that would end those lives through denial of healthcare; and
That the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Chris Christie publicly denounce the lethal and discriminatory public health care policy advocated by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer.