Peter Singer & Profound Intellectual Disability

[This post is the fifth in our new series of Thinking in Action posts, the series being devoted initially at least to discussion of talks at the Cognitive Disability conference in NYC in September.]

In a previous post, I questioned that Peter Singer’s position that moral status should be based on the demonstration of higher cognitive powers and not based on merely being human. In this post, I want to address his statement that the decision to keep children with profound mental retardation alive is acceptable as a parental choice but not an ethical obligation because such children have no moral status, since they lack the requisite higher cognitive powers. In making my case against this position, I intend to show that Singer’s arguments are based on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of profound mental retardation or profound intellectual disability as it is more commonly called today. I doubt that Professor Singer has much personal experience with people with profound intellectual disabilities since his impression of them as a group seems very abstract and largely inaccurate. Although I would argue against the denial of moral status (and thereby of universal human rights) to people with profound intellectual disabilities, even if Singer’s assumptions about this group of people were true, I feel that it is important to correct the inaccurate assumptions presented about this group. Here is what Dr. Singer has to say about them:

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