Response to Peter Singer's Ethics

(excerpt from Why ProLife? by Randy Alcorn)

Peter Singer is a fascinating man wielding an extraordinary influence on college students and academics. (Here are three passages referring to Singer in my book Why ProLife?)

Peter Singer, the Princeton professor, wrote in his ethics textbook, “The life of a fetus is of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc.”1 He also says, “Since no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same claim to life as a person.” (Parents paying for their children to attend Singer’s classes might want to consider that he also believes there’s moral justification for killing the elderly.)

Singer and others have proposed that children should not be declared alive until some time after their birth. That way, if the parents decide to dispose of them, they wouldn’t have to face legal consequences.

Singer says, “If we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or a pig, for example, we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication and anything else that can plausibly be considered morally significant.”2

Singer also suggests that individual human worth is based on nothing more than its usefulness to others: “When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.”3

When Singer came to teach at Princeton, he was protested by Not Dead Yet, a disabilities rights group. They took offense at Singer’s books, which say it should be legal to deliberately kill disabled infants, as well as children and adults with severe cognitive disabilities.

Prochoice logic started with abortion, but it hasn’t stopped there. Once it’s acceptable to kill unborn children, no one who is weak or vulnerable can be safe. Is the handicapped fully human? Is his life meaningful? How about the elderly? If those who cannot think do not deserve to live, what about those who think incorrectly?

Dr. Charles Hartshorne of the University of Texas at Austin echoes Singer’s ethic: “Of course, an infant is not fully human.... I have little sympathy with the idea that infanticide is just another form of murder. Persons who are already functionally persons in the full sense have more important rights even than infants.”4

Of the five thousand already-born in this country murdered every year, 95 percent are killed by one or both of their parents.5 The horror stories of young parents discarding newborns have been spawned by the notion that children belong to their parents, who believe they have the same right to dispose of them that society told them they had before the child was born. Once the child-abuse mentality grips a society, it does not restrict itself to abusing only one group of children. If preborn children aren’t safe, neither are born children.

Peter Singer says,

There remains, however, the problem of the lack of any clear boundary between the newborn infant, who is clearly not a person in the ethically relevant sense, and the young child who is. In our book, Should the Baby Live?, my colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggested that a period of twenty-eight days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others.6

Consider the worldview taught by this Princeton ethics professor. Children only have the right to live at twenty-eight days after birth? Why not three months? Three years? Twelve years? Should everyone just choose the figure they’re comfortable with? Isn’t the killing of any child simply a post-natal abortion?

Browse more prolife articles and resources, as well as see Randy's books Pro-Choice or Pro-Life: Examining 15 Pro-Choice ClaimsWhy ProLife? and ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments.


1 Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (1979).

2 Peter Singer, “Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life,” Pediatrics, July 1983, 129.

3 Singer, “Taking Life: Humans,”; excerpted from Singer, Practical Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

4 Charles Hartshorne, “Concerning Abortion: An Attempt at a Rational View,” The Christian Century, 21 January 1981, 42-45.

5 Cited by James Dobson, Focus on the Family radio broadcast, 21 June 1991.

6 Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996), 217.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of fifty-some books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries