Friday, August 17, 2012

Controversial article by Peter Singer: claims that being human does not confer the right to life

The Scotsman on Wednesday August 15th published an article by Peter Singer titled

Analysis: Why it’s irrational to risk women’s lives for the sake of the unborn
Singer who is professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne postulates the notion in his article that being human, (being a member of the species Homo Sapiens) does not confer the right to life and he argues that restricting access to legal abortion leads many poor women to seek abortion from unsafe providers. He concedes the weakness of arguments based on the so called 'right to choose' but argues that legalisation of abortion causes numbers to drop citing South Africa as an example. He also argues that the development of abortifacient drugs such as misoprostol and mifepristone has been a "positive" development.
[…] we cannot simply invoke a woman’s “right to choose” in order to avoid the ethical issue of the moral status of the foetus. If the foetus really did have the moral status of any other human being, it would be difficult to argue that a pregnant woman’s right to choose includes the right to bring about the death of the foetus, except perhaps when the woman’s life is at stake.

The fallacy in the anti-abortion argument lies in the shift from the scientifically accurate claim that the foetus is a living individual of the species Homo sapiens to the ethical claim that the foetus therefore has the same right to life as any other human being. Membership of the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life.
Singer has consistently expressed radical views
According to earlier published comments Singer has opined that some humans are non-persons, while some non-human animals are persons. The key he says is not nature or species membership, but consciousness. A pre-conscious human cannot suffer as much as a conscious horse.

According to Singer, in his book “Rethinking Life and Death” unborn babies or neonates, lacking the requisite consciousness to qualify as persons, have less right to continue to live than an adult gorilla. By the same token, a suffering or disabled child would have a weaker claim not to be killed than a mature pig.

In one of his most controversial statements Singer says that human babies are not born self-aware or capable of grasping their lives over time. They are not persons he claims hence their lives would seem to be no more worthy of protection that the life of a fetus. Writing specifically about Down syndrome babies Singer advocates trading a disabled or "defective child" (one who is apparently doomed to too much suffering) for one who has better prospects for happiness:

There is so much amiss in Singers thinking that its hard to know where to begin.
First I profoundly disagree with Singer, every human being born or unborn possesses the right to life from the moment of their conception onwards. This is a fundamental and imprescriptible right superior to all positive law. I am not alone in this view it is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

"Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life."  ICCPR, Article 6-1
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”UDHR Article 6 and ICCPR Article 16
“The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”. CRC preamble
I would add that personhood exists from the time of conception. Sadly there is a connection between the self-interest of certain groups or communities & a line drawn between persons and non-persons which may be driven by eugenic, economic, social and political factors such that those a society wishes to exclude are deemed to be non-persons. There are many examples of this in human history such as Chief Justice Taney [US Supreme Court & Dred Scott (a Negro slave), Egyptian Pharaohs & the Israelites, Hitler & Jews, Gypsies, the ‘degenerates’ and the 'asocials', just to mention a few examples.
On the issue of consciousness once again I profoundly disagree with Singers reasoning and whilst I would like to see the lives of animals protected, I reject the comparison he draws between humans and animals.  I would also argue that ‘nature does not revolve around function’; ‘function actually revolves around nature’

Additionally the Catholic Church, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  says in its 1987 instruction Donum Vitae: 
The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. 
With regard to the other issues raised in Singers article there is no such thing as a life saving abortion   Abortion is not medical treatment and never has been a treatment for any condition or disease. Ireland Malta and Chile have excellent maternal mortality statistics and have among the lowest maternal death rates in the world in spite of having either no abortion or extremely restrictive abortion laws. Chile changed its laws and outlawed abortion but continued to have improved maternal mortality statistics. 
The article also ignores the solid body of research evidence in respect of the problems associated with the availability of legal abortion
The claim that the introduction of legal abortion has cut maternal death rates in South Africa is spurious.This may have happened initially but the universal availability of legal abortion is now increasing maternal mortality rates there,