The Current

Ethics not just a discussion for philosophers, says Peter Singer

Philosopher Peter Singer has never shied away from controversy: he's defended euthanasia for disabled infants, pushed for veganism, and called out the rich for choosing luxury over helping the poor. Today, we explore Singer's thoughts on real world ethics.
Philosopher Peter Singer on parental decisions 0:53

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From laying out the ethics of veganism, to making the case for euthanasia for some severely disabled infants, Princeton University philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singerhas never shied away from controversy.

In fact, he's made a point of taking ethics out of the ivory tower and into the real world — even if he's met with protests.

"Ethics is about how we ought to live," Peter Singer tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"It's about how we ought to act, what we ought to do, what choices we should make with our lives, and how we can do more good by doing one thing over another. So it's really important that everybody thinks about this." 
Ethicist Peter Singer believes it's vital for philosophers to speak publicly on issues we deal with in real life, from veganism and animal right, to the real impacts of globalization. (© 2006 derekgoodwin.com)

"This is not just a matter for philosophers in universities to think about."

Many of the protests Singer has faced have been from disability advocates, who object to Singer's view that the decision on whether to keep a severely disabled newborn alive should be mostly up to the parents. 

"Parents make decisions about their future children all the time," says Singer, explaining his position.

"And I think it's right that parents should make those decisions. I don't think parents should be stuck with having to look after a severely disabled child because of a decision that a doctor makes. Because doctors now have technologies that maybe they didn't have 30 or 40 years ago and those infants would not have lived."

Amy Hasbrouck, from the group Not Dead Yet, has concerns about Singer's position.

"There's already a very predominant view that life with a disability is a fate worse than death," says Hasbrouck.

"It puts people in the position of having their quality of life judged by non-disabled people who don't understand the experience of living with a disability."

But Peter Singer counters that he is not in fact taking the judgment into his own hands.

"I agree that it's not up to me," says Singer. "It should be up to the parents... They're the ones who, in addition to the child itself of course, are most affected by that decision. I think they should be fully informed."

"I think it would be good for disability organizations to provide information to parents to make their case."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.