About 70 disability-rights activists marched Wednesday on Princeton University to demand the resignation of famed ethics professor Peter Singer for contending in a recent radio interview that it is “reasonable” for government or private insurance companies to deny treatment to severely disabled babies.
As WND reported in April, Singer, speaking to weekend talk-show host Aaron Klein, asserted the health-care system under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act should be more overt about rationing and that the country should acknowledge the necessity of “intentionally ending the lives of severely disabled infants.”
Throughout the interview, Singer repeatedly referred to a disabled infant as “it.”
In response to the interview and citing other similar remarks about the disabled in previous years, disability-rights activists, many in wheelchairs, marched on Princeton with placards and even a coffin filled with mock dead infants.
Messages on the posters included, “I was a disabled baby,” “Don’t play God. You’re not that smart!” and “No price on children’s lives.”
The protesters demanded that Princeton ask for Singer’s resignation and denounce his remarks about disabled babies. The demonstrators also called for Princeton to hire a bioethicist from the disability community in a comparable position to provide a platform for views that contrast with Singer’s.
After a meeting with the dean of bioethics ended with no clear conclusions, the protesters temporarily blocked Nassau Street, the main access to the university. The activists disbursed from the street after local police threatened some with arrest.
The protest was led by the Pennsylvania chapter of Not Dead Yet, a disability-rights group specializing in direct action that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia for people with disabilities. Also joining the protest were groups representing parents of people with disabilities.
“If any professor would start using racial or sexual slurs or epithets, such a professor would be fired. It’s time for Princeton to recognize disability hate speech against the disabled,” said Alan Holdsworth, an activist from Not Yet Dead.
Asked for Princeton’s response to the protesters’ demands, the university’s spokesman, Martin Mbugua, told WND, “Princeton is strongly committed to ensuring the academic freedom of members of its community and to ensuring that the campus is open to a wide variety of views.”
Singer did not respond to an email request for comment.
In addition to the protest, Not Yet Dead also circulated an online petition, signed by more than 250 disability activists, denouncing Singer for his remarks.
States the petition: “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. … Enough is enough. It’s long past time for this outrage to end.”
Singer’s interview with Klein aired April 19. “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” broadcasts on New York’s AM 970 The Answer and Philadelphia’s NewsTalk 990 AM.
Feds slam Singer’s remarks
The disability rights activists are not the first to protest Singer’s controversial remarks on Klein’s show.
The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, in April contested Singer on the facts and contended his comments to Klein could foster discrimination against the disabled.
“Professor, do your homework,” the NCD said.
“Discrimination because of disability is not likely to be reduced by Singer’s positions, or the logical policy positions that would emerge from them,” stated the NCD. “Discrimination is not solely a philosophical concept; it remains a regular occurrence for individuals with disabilities.”
Singer essentially argues the right to life is based on a being’s capacity for intelligence and to hold life preferences, which in turn is directly related to a capacity to feel and comprehend pain and pleasure.
The NCD “categorically reject[ed] any calculus that assumes to ascribe a measurable, immutable quality of life to another human being – disabled or not.”
“There are simply too many variables to consider in making ‘quality of life’ assumptions.”
The agency said one of “the hallmarks of societal attitudes toward disabilities has been a tendency of people without disabilities, including media savvy philosophers, to overestimate the negative aspects and underestimate the positive features of the lives of those who have disabilities.”
Kill disabled infants under Obamacare
In the interview, Klein asked Singer whether he believes health-care rationing under Obamacare will become more prevalent.
Singer replied that rationing is already happening, explaining doctors and hospitals routinely make decisions based on costs.
“It’s different in the U.S. system, in a way, because it doesn’t do this overtly; maybe it doesn’t do it as much. And the result is it spends about twice as much on health care as some other countries for very little extra benefit in terms of the outcome.”
Klein quoted from a section of Singer’s 1993 treatise, “Practical Ethics,” titled “Taking Life: Humans.”
In the section, Singer argued for the morality of “non-voluntary euthanasia” for human beings 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.”
For Singer, the wrongness of killing a human being is not based on the fact that the individual is alive and human. Instead, Singer argued it is “characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference.”
Asked whether he envisions denying treatment to disabled infants to become more common in the U.S. under the new health-care law, Singer replied: “It does happen. Not necessarily because of costs.”
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. 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.
So 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 institutionalized to reduce health-care costs.
Asked Klein: “I know that it happens and it happens certainly if the family gives consent. But do you think in the future in order to ensure a more fair rationing of health-care and health-care costs, that it should actually be instituted more? The killing of severely disabled babies?”
Singer replied that such a plan would be “quite reasonable” if it saved money that can be used for better purposes. He contended that most people would say they don’t want their premiums to be higher “so that infants who can experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”
Singer’s full response:
I think 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.”
And I think it will be reasonable for insurance companies also to say, “You know, we won’t insure you for this or we won’t insure you for this unless you are prepared to pay an extra premium, or perhaps they have a fund with lower premiums for people who don’t want to insure against that.”
Because I think most people, when they think about that, would say that’s quite reasonable. You know, 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.