Princeton professor advocates euthanasia of infants with severe disabilities

Photograph of the hands of a baby and an adult
Advocates call for Singer’s resignation

Bioethicist Peter Singer’s latest controversial comments have triggered an avalanche of backlash from disability advocates.

In a radio interview, aired April 16 on Aaron Klein Investigative Radio, Singer argued that it would be “reasonable” in some circumstances for the government and private health insurance companies to deny treatment – even life-saving treatment – for infants with disabilities.

In a lengthy rebuttal, the National Council on Disability, a federal agency, accused Singer of advocating “what amounts to a return to eugenics.”

“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,” the NCD stated. “The attitude of ‘I don’t see how you can live with that’ — sometimes expressed more dramatically as ‘I’d rather be dead than have [X disability]’ — is one that people still shockingly profess openly in encounters with people with disabilities.”

Singer is most known for his animal rights activism, most famously in his 1975 book “Animal Liberation.”

Under Singer’s philosophy, however, some people with disabilities have so little intellectual capacity or ability to use the senses that they do not fall under his definition of personhood. Therefore, as Singer sees it, is is morally preferable in to kill people with severe disabilities rather than certain animals.

From a policy standpoint, Singer’s philosophy translates not only into support for assisted suicide laws, but for the rights of parents to allow medical professionals to terminate the lives of their children if they have severe disabilities.

Singer openly admits that his views are motivated in part by cost considerations. In a widely debated 2009 NY Times article, while the Affordable Care Act was being debated in Congress, Singer argued that his health care reform should begin with premises that rationing health care is morally acceptable and that quality of life considerations should play an explicit role in determining who receives certain health care services.

According to Not Dead Yet, Singer first began espousing such views around 1980, When Princeton offered Singer a tenure-track position in 1999, ADAPT held protests on the university’s campus.

Disability rights activists have launched a petition, calling on Princeton University to denounce Singer’s statements and call for his resignation.

“Peter Singer has the right to say anything he wants but a prestigious university is under no obligation to give him a platform to promote the killing of people with disabilities. Would you have him head of a department if he justified the Nazi “final solution” by coming up with an inferiority equation on who lives and who dies?,” ADAPT leader Bob Kafka said in a letter published to disability rights activists.

An audio recording of the interview with Singer is available only with a paid subscription.