Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Depends on what you mean by "people" [Megan]

Peter Singer's recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, "Should This Be the Last Generation?", explored whether or not it would be "good" to bring more people "into existence" given the circumstances of the world today.
The piece itself was clearly meant to be thought-provoking, and Singer does end on a positive note — one that is hopeful of the next generations making changes for the better for the environment and the world at large.

What concerns me most is what Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, has proposed elsewhere — that "personhood" is not even attained by human beings until a period after birth, and is actually extended to a number of other species based on self-awareness. Though he begins by using language like "to bring a child into existence," he later writes: 

"Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that's a different issue. Let's assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one's rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have the right to come into existence?"

What I understand Mr. Singer to be proposing is that all the "sentient beings" (aka "persons") should be able to get together and decide not to reproduce, as to rid the world of sentient beings. If such a consensus were reached, "no one's" rights would be violated in carrying it forth.

Maybe so.

But the problem comes from the exclusion of the unborn, newborns, the comatose, and patients in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease (to name a few) from what Singer has defined elsewhere as "people."

I'm left with a few questions, not the least of which are:
If newborns are excluded from the decision, what happens when they cross the invisible barrier into "sentient"? Do they then jump on the wagon?

And  — "to get fictitious" — how might "persons" like dolphins and chimpanzees reach such a consensus?

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Mr. Singer would consider my daughter, born with most of her brain missing, a person. You know, I think he could benfit from meeting her. I will have to read his article to her and ask if she thinks she should be living. She has quite a temper for a "non-person", maybe that's a bad idea! :)


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