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It's only fair to recount that Singer is aggressive in pushing many noble causes -- providing relief for famine victims, for example. There is, however, a chilling corollary to his declaration that your dog and cat -- not to mention whales, pigs, monkeys and a whole menagerie of not-so-dumb critters -- are persons. According to Singer, human beings who have lost their capacity for self-awareness or never had it, don't have a claim on society's resources to keep them alive. By his logic, Schiavo has less right to life than Fluffie or Fido.
Moreover, the movement of which Singer is the reigning diva, "utilitarian" ethics, holds that folks whose birth defects, illnesses or injuries make their enjoyment of life marginal would be better off out of their misery -- even if, as they're wheeled into the euthanasia chamber, they're screaming, "No, wait, really, I don't mind living in a wheelchair. Please dooonnnn'ttt... urk."
More important, society would be better without such unpleasant people around because, with utilitarians, all that counts is raising the overall level of happiness.
Thus, among the absolutely and perfectly logical extensions of Singer's theories: Defective infants should be offed (before their 28th day, Singer declares). They aren't yet cognizant of their own existence, and their early exit would mean that a family's other children and parents would have happier lives. Society, meanwhile, would be spared the expense of caring for these, to Singer, un-persons.
Some utilitarians, although not Singer, even tout a brave new world in which the organs of social inferiors are harvested so that those more worthy can have longer, productive lives. Think of Strom Thurmond living to 300, thanks to all of those poor folks and dummies who gave their all, literally.
When I asked professor Singer about Terri Schiavo, his answer wasn't a surprise.
"Is there any point in keeping someone [like Schiavo] alive?" he mused. "In a previous age, she would have been dead long ago. I don't see any reason to keep the tube in place."
Where did this appalling thinking hatch? One answer is the eugenics movement. This ideology -- fostered by America's elite families, including the Bush clan -- held that we should cull the herd by inhibiting breeding among the socially inferior.
One of the more ghastly applications of eugenics was the mass, involuntary sterilization of Americans, beginning in 1904 and continuing even after the Nuremburg trials, which declared such acts crimes against humanity. Altogether, about 60,000 Americans were sterilized, including 3,000 in Georgia after the state passed a eugenics law in 1937.
"Overwhelmingly, the only crimes of these people were that they were poor and black," Edwin Black, author of a book on eugenics, War Against the Weak, told me.
Elsewhere in the world, some peculiar folks perked up at the idea of improving the race. "American eugenic crusades proliferated into a worldwide campaign, and in the 1920s came to the attention of Adolf Hitler," Black writes. "Under the Nazis, American eugenic principles were applied without restraint, careening out of control into the Reich's infamous genocide."
For "progressives," there are disturbing tendrils of eugenics that are still evident today. Planned Parenthood -- an icon of the left -- was founded by Margaret Sanger, who endorsed the sterilization of "genetically inferior races."
Back to Terri Schiavo. Those who want her kept alive (if that's what she is), include the usual battalions from the anti-abortion/ right-to-life movement. I'm pro-choice, but reluctantly so. To me, a fetus is potential, not yet a human. Tempering my view are my five adopted children -- and the horrible knowledge that many would have urged their birth mother to have abortions.
Among the right-to-lifers, I have profound respect for some -- those who consistently oppose all homicide, including wars, capital punishment and, as they define murder, abortion. Pope John Paul II comes to mind.
I have an equal measure of disdain for the selective killers -- the religious right that gnashes its teeth at the thought of abortion, but sees no problem in executing people, including (as happened this month in Georgia) the insane. Nor do the very un-Christian preachers see much wrong in killing thousands in a war based on deceit.
But while these sensational disputes provide hints at the philosophical divisions in society, you have to look elsewhere to view the hidden depths of what's really happening.
You'll probably never see Bush welcome Peter Singer to the White House. Nor will Bush ever publicly speak about his family's long-time (and never disowned, much less discontinued) fascination with eugenics. And the Republican Party continues to fanatically embrace the anti-abortion movement -- it's good politics, especially when the Democrats offer so little in the values department.
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