C-Fam reports on a debate between two philosophers
“An infant has no moral status because he is not self-aware,” said Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics.
Singer argued this point at an historic conference he co-organized at Princeton University last weekend, seeking new dialogue on the heated issue of abortion. Remarkably, for a conference examining abortion, there was virtually no discussion about the act of abortion itself.
“We have to get rid of the idea of evil,” said Frances Kissling, an abortion rights advocate turned bioethics scholar, who also organized the conference.
The headline panel featured two heavyweight Australian philosophers – Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton, and John Finnis, a professor emeritus of philosophy in the University of Oxford. The two debated the “Moral Status of the Fetus.”
Finnis argued that biology and metaphysics determined the status of the fetus, not ethics as suggested by Singer. Finnis objected to the very use of the term “fetus”, saying that it is an “F-word”.
“As used in the conference program and website, which are not medical contexts, it is offensive, dehumanizing, prejudicial, manipulative,“ Finnis said. “A website describing ultrasound for expectant mothers doesn’t talk about her fetus but her baby, and so do her doctors unless they’re her abortionists or think she has been or is interested in abortion.”
Finnis underscored the point that rights are recognized, not conferred, and rejected Singer’s “moral status” approach, which negates the personhood of unborn children.
Singer defended his support for infanticide, stating that self-awareness confers moral status, and not species membership. Abortion is the killing of a human being, but is not immoral because the child does not meet the self-awareness test, said Singer.
In his utilitarian view, Singer believes that there can even be a moral duty to kill humans lacking self-awareness, including the disabled, which he has been criticized for not following in the case of his mother.
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