Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Famine Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer

This is a famous and controversial essay by Peter Singer from back in 1972. It seems to undermine completely the idea of private property. It also, on the basis of utilitarianism, undercuts the idea that we have duties to our family members, or countrymen, that we don't have toward those who are outside those relationships.

18 comments:

steve said...

"At the same time, he believes that euthanasia can be a morally correct choice, particularly at the beginning and the end of life. The issue hit home when his mother, Cora, became ill with Alzheimer's disease and deteriorated to the point where she was no longer able to recognize him. After her (natural) death, he admitted that the decision to end a person's life is 'different' when it's your mother."

http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/interviews-debates/200611--.htm

im-skeptical said...

I love my mother. I'd rather see her die than to endure horrible lingering pain.

William said...

This a generally false dilemma,, similar in that respect to other idealized ethical conundrums like the trolley problem: there are usually multiple alternative approaches to the problem in the real world that are better than EITHER false alternative :).

im-skeptical said...

Sure, I suppose laying in bed, senseless, drugged up, connected to your life support machine with tubes might be a decent alternative.

BeingItself said...

"I love my mother. I'd rather see her die than to endure horrible lingering pain."

Amen. Usually, the doctrine of double effect comes in to play here. Suppose a person is dying of respiratory failure, a particularly brutal and slow way to die. The physician will prescribe high doses of morphine for the purpose of alleviating suffering. A side effect of such treatment is a quicker death. And that is a good thing.

im-skeptical said...

If there really is a good alternative, that's fine, but there isn't always. Making someone suffer needlessly is morally wrong.

William said...

How about them deciding on their own to be living as long as practicable (with tubes or not, as they want), and as awake as practicable, in none or only little pain? Without the state's economy making the choices for them?

William said...

Here's someone who said it all better than I:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/2xh/the_problem_with_trolley_problems/

im-skeptical said...

"Without the state's economy making the choices for them?"

I don't know where that came from. It's not what I was suggesting. I would like to have the right to make my own choice, and to carry out my mother's wishes, if it comes to that. I wouldn't want the state to decide, nor would I want any church to dictate what I must do.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

Four years ago when my wife was dying of cancer, she demanded to be taken off the morphine she was on. "You only get to die once," she said, "and I want to be awake for it." She never got her wish, being unconscious for the last 24 hours or so of her life.

My maternal grandmother in her last days secretly stopped taking all the medications she was on, not wanting her life to be artificially prolonged. After her death, we found the unused pills in her bedroom where she had been hiding them.

These are terribly personal choices. I am opposed to "active" euthanasia (by which I mean a Kevorkian style killing of a patient) on practical grounds. I fear that the elderly would be vulnerable to pressure to kill themselves if the option were legally open to them. (For instance, from family members who did not wish to continue to care for them.) But I see nothing wrong in allowing nature to take its course. I do not believe we are morally bound to receive unwanted medical care.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

I'm very sorry to hear about your wife. Your comments show that people want to decide for themselves how they will go. There are those who would choose to end it. That should be their right. Although Kevorkian was vilified, he was compassionate. The fear that people will be coerced or subjected to pressure is a concern, but I think it is overblown, and well-designed laws can help to prevent such things.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm a little concerned that with the availability of active euthanasia, insurance companies would use that as an excuse to deny payment for end-of life treatment, since the patient had the choice to go for PAS instead.

B. Prokop said...

I agree, Victor. Im-skeptical thinks that "well-designed" laws could prevent such things, but let us just say that "I M skeptical" that they could.

steve said...

OpenID im-skeptical said...

"I love my mother. I'd rather see her die than to endure horrible lingering pain."

Irrelevant to the quote. The point of the quote is that Singer could take a very detached position about euthansia when it didn't concern a real person he cared about, but when he was confronted with the case of his own mother, he abandoned his abstract position and made an ad hoc exception for her.

Try to follow the actual state of the argument.

Whether euthanizing your mother is a good idea or a bad idea is a separate issue.

BTW, what makes you think those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease "endure horrible lingering pain"?

And if there's no connection, how is your comment responsive to the quote?

im-skeptical said...

Steve,

"BTW, what makes you think those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease "endure horrible lingering pain"?"

The point is that they don't. So why would he contemplate it at all? He seems to have come to the conclusion that euthanasia isn't the right thing to do, because it wasn't right for his own mother.

Victor,

Your point is well taken. It would be far better for everyone if the profit motive were removed from decisions about how to dispense (or not dispense) healthcare. This goes far beyond questions about euthanasia.

steve said...

OpenID im-skeptical said...

"He seems to have come to the conclusion that euthanasia isn't the right thing to do, because it wasn't right for his own mother."

Which goes to show that he still has a streak of residual humanity that trumps his ruthless philosophy. Now he needs to extend that to other mothers.

Victor Reppert said...

From the Philosopher's Lexicon:

peter song, n. Related to the patter song (e.g., "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.") a popular ditty exhorting one to love all creatures great and small, except those born deformed. Hence peter singer, n. a singer of peter songs.