Singer’s Assault on Universal Human Rights

[This post is the second 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.]

Following Rob Wilson’s Singer on Parental Choice, Disability, and Ashley X , I wanted to add a few thoughts of my own about Peter Singer’s talk at the recent Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy conference. These comments address issues in parental choice and the protection of universal human rights.

Clip 1: Cognitive abilities and moral status. A transcript of this video clip appears at the end of this post. Some parts that are particularly relevant to this post appear in red letters.

Dr. Singer suggests that parents should be allowed to make whatever decisions they consider in the best interests of children who have severe disabilities. This is based on two important assumptions: (1) Parents can accurately determine the best interests of their children, and (2) Knowing their children’s best interests parents will choose to act according to those interests. Before examining these assumptions in regard to the particular case of children with disabilities, severe or otherwise, we need to examine these assumptions in regard to other children.

Clip 2: Parental Choice and Ashley X. A transcript of this video clip appears at the end of this post. Some parts that are particularly relevant to this post appear in red letters.

Do parents always know what is in their children’s best interests, and as a society do we grant parents the unlimited right to determine those interests? Continue reading

Peter Singer on Parental Choice, Disability, and Ashley X

This post kicks off a series of posts at What Sorts that we hope will appear every Tuesday and Friday over the next few months called Thinking in Action. In the first instance, this series will offer commentaries on talks and discussions at the recent conference Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy. The aims of these Thinking in Action posts will be to generate and advance discussion of specific issues that arise in taking up the themes of the conference. The posts will typically feature a relatively short clip from a talk or discussion at the conference, followed by a commentary; transcripts of all excerpted video clips will appear at the end of each post. In light of our experience with this first (extended) round of posts, we’ll see whether we continue the series with clusters of posts with other thematic focuses. We will both tag and categorize each post with the series label “Thinking in Action” so that you can review them together, if you like, and we encourage the use of posts in the series in classrooms, in local discussion groups, and in organizations at the interface of government, university, and community. We will aim to make each of these self-contained, with the conference podcasts themselves serving as a larger reservoir of perspectives on cognitive disability on which you can draw. We hope that you will join in the discussions, both on the blog and beyond it.

To help us get some idea of what readers know about the conference podcasts we’ll be discussing, here’s a quick poll that we encourage you to take before proceeding.

As one might expect, Peter Singer’s talk at the conference Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy, presents ideas that Singer is well-known for. Amongst these are views that draw parallels between animals, on the one hand, and individuals with disabilities, on the other, especially those with “profound mental retardation”, a medical category that includes, amongst other features, having an IQ of 25 or below. I want to kick off this series of blog posts not with a discussion of that general comparison—though Dick Sobsey might well take that up in the next few posts—but by concentrating on something in Singer’s talk focused on the issue of parental rights and disability. Here is Singer, toward the end of his talk, presenting the perspectives of parents. Singer points out that, as a group, parents of children with disabilities divide over their views of their own children. Although it is a little unclear, even from the fuller context, precisely what “this issue” is that parents divide over, it concerns pain, death, and quality of life:

[This clip is from Singer’s talk at the Cognitive Disability conference, podcast #15: 33.30 – 38.02] If you are having trouble playing the video above, the full transcript is provided at the end of the post, and you can also try Youtube directly by clicking right here.

I want to raise three points about what Singer says here. Continue reading