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Singer gives the okay to kill disabled babies.

Filed under: Activism
Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Earlier this week, animal rights advocate and ethicist Peter Singer restated his position on killing disabled babies for the UK Independent “You Ask the Questions” column. In response to a reader’s question “Would you kill a disabled baby?,” Singer replied:

Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole. Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion. One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the fetus and the newborn baby.

This isn’t really news since for some time now Singer has been promoting euthanasia of the disabled. But I thought I’d share this just in case some people didn’t know about Peter Singer’s unflinching ethics.

Folks interested in doing civil rights activism related to the disability community or just learning more about why life with disabilities is still worth living should get in touch with the local group Disabilities Network of NYC or the national group Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.


  1. Comment by


    on #

    I think the main point Singer is trying to get across is how our ethics are completely out of line of what we purport to believe in. I don’t know enough about whether he actively promotes euthanasia or baby-killing of disabled people (which I find offensive if it involves making quality of life decisions for disabled people) but I think his critics make this the sticking point to ignore his real ethical contributions. As I understand it, Singer feels there is a moral imperative, linked to utilitarianism, to actively help people and animals as much as we physically and financially can. It’s the important step of recognizing our duties as moral agents to help, not simply not harm, that Singer wants us to acknowledge.

  2. Comment by


    on #

    The above is not a case of Singer’s critics misquoting him, after all, they didn’t make the point.

    What I (and many others) find most disturbing are the apparently unexamined assumptions on which his views seem based. Views which ultimately boil down to if you are disabled, your quality of life is bound to be so misearable or difficult it isn’t worth living.

    I beg to differ.

    Whether Singer realizes it or not to disability advocates whether or not a parent has or hasn’t given birth isn’t the point of contention or the nexus of the debate.

    The crux of the matter actually boils down to this:

    We never get a guarantee. If you’re not willing to “run the risk” of giving birth to a disabled child — don’t have children. Period.

    And if people find the thought of having a disabled child troubling, they need to stop, reflect and ask themselves why.

    In the end, what Singer’s view does is highlight a frightening adoption of prejudices against disability and a modern example of eugenic ablest privilege.

    Concepts we would all do well to examine more closely.

  3. Comment by

    frank language

    on #

    Well, my main comment was going to be that the picture of Peter Singer selected for this article is?uh, dare I say perfect, Dracula lighting and all.

    PosterBrat’s comments are right-on, however; people through the ages have had a multitude of reasons to have children?to work the farm, to care for you in your old age, to inherit your money (if any)?but more than ever, people want their children to be a reflection of themselves, how they want to be seen, and a perfect pet.

    If they can genetically-engineer their progeny to have as few physical problems in life as possible, most people will; and until then, they’ll just kill the mistakes. We’ve seen it happen with Indians who feel an acute need to have sons?to avoid having to pay a dowry?and if the fetus turns out to be a girl, too bad; they’ll abort. I would guess that Peter Singer says it’s okay to kill a girl fetus if you really wanted a boy. In fact, I sometimes look at little girls from India with amazement, that their parents allowed them to live.

    As a disabled individual who acquired my disability after birth, not before, I say it’s a sad statement that people can’t accept reality; anyone who hasn’t read Brave New World, I think you’d better: it’s a quick read, and it’ll knock your socks off, becaus it’s happening now.

  4. Comment by


    on #

    Don’t you wish that all those “f——” who are against the freedom of “euthanasia” would feel the pain….then maybe they’d see….

  5. Comment by


    on #

    Comment by ned on September 16, 2006 2:44pm:
    “Don’t you wish that all those “f——” who are against the freedom of “euthanasia” would feel the pain….then maybe they’d see….”

    Ned – Interesting point, but in terms of *this* discussion something of a non-sequitor.

    There’s a big difference between someone deciding to kill his or herself and advocating infanticide of disabled babies based on bigoted assumptions about their as yet unlived quality of life.

    What exactly is your point here?

  6. Comment by


    on #

    There is more than meets the eye with this quote:

    “Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.”

    When this is ignored, then it becomes the title of the post:

    “Singer gives the okay to kill disabled babies.”

    There are many situations in the developed world where a child is born with severe enough problems that the proverbial ‘plug is pulled’. To deny this right would be denying the right of a sentient lifeform to not live in pain. This is the point that he is making. The problem is that the logic of Singer often takes many days of careful reading and comprehension before it is fully understood.

    What I’m getting down to is that the title of this post unfair and is infact a Straw Man argument. It is easy to say ‘Killing disabled babies is wrong’, but harder to argue against ‘Pulling the plug on severely disabled babies when it is in their and their families truly best interest to do so is OK.’ Is different. The second implies that the CHOICE should exist. The first says that if a child is born with their brains pouring out their ears, and their parents decide to pull the plug, then they are murderers.

    Singer is an excellent ethicist, and more time must be devoted to understanding his points, because he is a great gift to the world and to the understanding of morality and ethics in our modern age. Try to be fair.

  7. Comment by

    Patrick Kwan

    on #

    A good feature essay by disability rights advocate Harriet McBryde Johnson from the New York Times a few years ago may help shed some light on Singer’s views. Let’s not oversimplify the complex ethical issues involved in euthanasia.

    UNSPEAKABLE CONVERSATIONS: He insists he doesn’t want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child. It has nothing to do with me. I should not feel threatened.

  8. Comment by


    on #

    Good points. But by allowing Singer the easy out that his opinion isn’t personal, we also run the risk of letting him conveniently skirt around the possible consequences of those views.

    There is great danger in attempting to apply utilitarian theories mechanically, as any real application of Singer’s view would seem to do.

    Case in point, every death is personal to someone.

    Let’s not oversimplify the complex positioning which surrounds the issue of infanticide. Calling infant killing by a more merciful name does not necessarily make it so – however noble one’s underlying intentions may be.

    Female babies are killed at birth in many so-called Third World nations because the family cannot afford another girl. Clearly, this is in the short term best interest of that family and tribe, but does that make it right?

    We all know where the path of good intentions is reported to lead to…

    But rather than pull on rather obvious heartstrings, or get loose with the use of cliches, let’s dig a little deeper and address the core trouble spots inside Singer’s philosophy which seem to inform and support his position.

    At the core of Singer’s world view seems to be the belief that if one is born with a disability they are somehow worse off.

    This begs a few important questions: Worse off than what? Than WHO? And by whose definition? The same could be said of people born into poverty or of an unpreferred gender, for example. Should infants in those circumstances be killed, too? If the answer is no, we need to ask ourselves why not?

    Moreover, it seems important to spend at least a little time to attempt to understand what the pre-established views of the parents and medical professionals which inform the decision to abort disabled infants after the fact might be. And what role they might play. We can’t be certain their views are based on evidence any more representative than Singer’s.

    Under even the most bleak circumstances, how can we profess to be able to judge an infant’s future, or what the longterm interests of a family may be, if they’ve not yet lived it?

    Why is it presumed that less than ideal circumstances automatically translate to a life which would be better if not lived?

    Who are we to decide who is worthy of life based on our own far from objective criteria?

    The contributions of those who are different from the imagined norm, apart from their own inherent and individual merit, could be that their inclusion in the mix strengthens us as a society. Their very presence requires us to be more inclusive, less rigid, more open to that which we have not yet experienced, but may still encounter someday.

  9. Comment by

    Mother to be

    on #

    As a mother who is expecting a baby I feel that if I give birth to a baby that has any sort of disability that my child would have a better life then most adults that don’t have a disability. They would have no responsiblity, no worries, just love.

    I work at a school with kids that have little to severe disabilities. Most of them are so severe that they don’t know any different and they are more happy then the general ed population because they only know love. They all are happy. The students that do know that they are disabled get so much love and support from home and friends that they don’t care. What “normal” adult has a perfect life? What “normal” family has perfect kids? If a family wants to kill their baby because it’s disabled they would be missing out on so much love that that child could and will give them. Then let’s say those parents who kill their disabled baby choose to have another baby and it turns out “normal” what are they going to do when that child grows up and comes home with drug problems or any other problem that parents of “normal” kids have? Do these people know that life is going hand you problems no matter what? and that killing your disabled baby does not get rid of your family problems?

    I will love and support my children no matter what. I hope to raise my children to know and understand that not everyone is going to like them and that’s ok. We as people have to be the best examples for this next generation of kids and what are we telling them when killing the not so perfect babies is ok….where do you draw the line? What is normal? Won’t this next generation then be expected to have perfection in everything? That not life, that’s not learning.

  10. Comment by

    David Olivier

    on #

    Time and time again I have heard the following reasoning (see comment #7 above):

    – Singer believes that I should have been killed at birth or not been born;

    – consequently, Singer believes that I should not be living now;

    – consequently, Singer believes I should be killed now.

    That is a plain fallacy, as can be seen by applying the same reasoning to various other cases. For instance, I happen to be the third and last child of my parents. However:

    – Because of global overpopulation, some people believe that couples should have no more than two children;

    – consequently, those people believe that I should not have been born;

    – consequently, those people believe that I should be killed now.

    That is plainly absurd; and actually, I myself believe that couples should have no more than two children! There is no contradiction with the fact that I am myself a third child. My being born a third child does not imply that my reasoning must be overwelmed by my personal situation, and that I cannot, like anyone else, venture to reason from an universalistic point of view! To adopt such a parochial attitude is self-degrading and is a form of intellectual blackmail.

    Singer does not propose to kill adult competent people, whether they are disabled or not. It is up to them to make their decisions as to the quality of their lives. He does propose to kill infants who cannot make such decisions, when it appears that such decisions would be “in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole”. Anyone can recognize that, whether disabled or not.

  11. Comment by


    on #

    Any human that kills a living soul should be killed themselves!

  12. Comment by


    on #

    Wow, Debra. Thank you so much for your insightful commentary. You’ve really made me rethink the issue.

  13. Comment by

    pamela bibby

    on #

    peter singer is disabled i think and he should be killed he is worst than a pidofile and how dare he incourge women to have abortions abortions is worst than rape in my eyes disabled ppl should have more rights than ignorant normal ppl its peter siingers fault im disabled

  14. Comment by


    on #

    Well, Peter Singer (as well as Steven Pinker) does make a good point. Why is it okay to kill an older fetus (after it has developed all of its organs and s sense of pain) out of convenience or “choice,” but not a human neonate? A neonate isn’t anymore sentient than a late term fetus, and no one but the mother and possibly the father have any emotional attachment to it. Does popping through a vagina magically give a human organism the right not to be killed, even if it is less sentient than a chicken and no one wants it? Isn’t it best to be killed than grow up unwanted? Wouldn’t it be best not to use our time/resources on unwanted non-sentient beings and focus on the sentient children who need homes?

    Of course, no one would be forced to kill their neonate, but only if they wanted to, and I can’t say it’d effect me personally one bit if some couple wanted to kill their newborn or even donate it science, just ike a woman getting an abortion doesn’t.