Singer: A Dangerous Mind
transcribed by Steven Barney
Serendipity Productions, 2003
0:52 Peter Singer: Killing a disabled infant is sometimes not wrong. Given that the infant, like any infant, is not a person, as I see it, I think that it’s ethically defensible to say we do not have to continue its life. It doesn’t have a right to life.
1:06 Narrator: Peter Singer has been called the most influential and controversial philosopher of our time. He gained worldwide recognition as the driving force behind the Animal Liberation movement. Singer is now Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. At a time when medical science can extend lives almost indefinitely, bioethics has emerged as a field of philosophy to cope with increasingly complex ethical dilemmas.
1:36 Peter Singer: There are circumstances in which, if the parents believe that it’s better for the infant and for themselves and their family as a whole, that their child not live, when it should be permissible for them to make sure that that’s what happens, and that it happens quickly and humanely. And if a lethal injection is the best way to do that, then yes, that should sometimes be permissible.
2:12 Peter Singer: I don’t think any newborn baby has a right to life, until they’re capable of understanding that they’re a being who has a future, who lives over time.
2:22 Narrator: Professor Singer has arranged for his students to visit this neonatal intensive care unit, to see for themselves the complexity of putting ethics into practice.
2:32 Dr. Mark Hiatt: I know you guys have had a lot of philosophy, and philosophy is esoteric. Medicine is pragmatic. And I think that’s the difference. It’s a big difference between theorizing on who’s a sentient being, and looking at a 5 week old baby that weighs a kilo. It seems to me it’s a no-brainer: This is a sentient being.
3:02 Student 1: So, whenever you have Professor Singer come down to the hospital . . .
Dr. Hiatt: That’s why he’s standing over there, I’m standing over here.
Student 1: How have you dealt with some of the stuff in _Practical Ethics_? I mean, it’s a pragmatic book, in a sense. It’s going to provide . . . .
Dr. Hiatt: You know what? I practice practical ethics everyday. That’s what we do here.
3:20 Peter Singer: The real joy of teaching comes when you get your students excited; when you can see them thinking for themselves, perhaps for the first time, about some important ethical issues that they’ve never really contemplated before.
Narrator: This baby was born 3 months premature. Even with advancements in medical technology, babies born so early risk severe disabilities and often they don’t survive.
3:49 Dr. Hiatt: The reason she needs all this is her lungs are not quite perfectly ready to assume support without a little bit of help. She’s got 3 different monitors that will tell us if her breathing pattern changes, so we can quickly intervene. We insist everyone in here breathe, especially our patients. We try to use all kinds of interventions, besides ventilation. She’s also on medication to stimulate her breathing, and sometimes, when she stops breathing, somebody comes by and just pokes her. This baby is aware of her environment. She responds to it, and we have to be sensitive to that. And now she’s waking up, and she’s looking around. She’s seeing you, and she’s scared.
4:40 Smith: The largest objection I have to Peter Singer is that he is a self-proclaimed enemy of universal human rights. He’s a very smart man. He’s a very intelligent man. He’s a very articulate man. But I’m afraid that his attitudes and his ideas are going to lead to tremendous pain and suffering for people who cannot defend themselves.
Flashback to opening sentence of first scene.
5:00 Peter Singer: Killing a disabled infant is sometimes not wrong.
Protest at Princeton University, chanting “We’re not dead yet!”
5:03 Dan Rather: For the past few years, this mild mannered Australian professor has been imparting his unconventional, some would say dangerous, wisdom behind the ivy covered walls at Princeton University.
A peaceful Princeton University
5:19 Peter Singer: I was expecting some controversy about the appointment, because I knew that America was a more conservative place, politically and morally, then Australia, and I knew that there was a strong right to life movement. When I arrived, there was a certain tension in the atmosphere. There were also threatening letters and phone messages left to me. Don’t forget this is in a country in which doctors carrying out abortions have been murdered by right to life people. I think there have been 5 or 6 murders. So I expected that there would be some people who objected to me coming to Princeton, but I didn’t really think there would be much fuss about it.
Protest at Princeton University, chanting “We’re not dead yet!”
6:00 Protester 1: We’re moving backwards! We’re moving back into the dark ages. They want to kill us!
Protester 2: This is Adolph Hitler’s philosophy in academic robes.
Wesley Smith: You’re seeing the same ideas being advocated: that there’s such a thing as a life unworthy of life, and a human life that should not be protected. Indeed, that a human life is better off ended for the best and betterment of all concerned. And that is truly frightening.
People in concentration camps.
6:30 Wesley Smith: Between 1939 and 1945, German doctors murdered and killed 250,000 disabled people. Many of them infants, many of them mentally retarded and cognitively disabled people. And they didn’t do so because they were Nazis. They were not forced to do so because of Hitler. They did so because they called it a healing treatment. There is no separation between Peter Singer’s advocacy of infanticide, and that of such people as Karl Brandt, which is described in _The Nazi Doctors_. The distinction between their advocacy is non-existent. Yet Karl Brandt was hanged, after Nuremburg, and Peter Singer is teaching at Princeton University.
7:17 Peter Singer: The Nazis used this expression, “a life unworthy of life,” but what the Nazis meant by it was a life that was not worthy of continuing because it was somehow a blot on their Aryan race. I’m not advocating that anyone should be killed when they want to go on living. The Nazis killed 6 million people – Jews, gypsies, homosexuals – who wanted to go on living, desperately wanted to go on living. Of course, I also don’t support what they did to people who were disabled, because many of those were having good lives. Their families want them to go on living. The Nazis hid what they were doing from their families, because they knew that the families would not have accepted it. So that’s also totally contrary to what I advocate. And to just sort of run these things together, as if there were no difference between them, I just think is really camouflaging such huge differences that it degrades the whole level of the debate.
Flashback to “60 Minutes” interview (black and white).
8:20 Rather: I’ve been told you would favor running dangerous experiments on certain humans, as opposed to running them on animals.
8:30 Peter Singer: I think the statement that you just made is true, because you had the word “certain humans” in it. I think there perhaps are some things which could be done with people who are no longer conscious at all, and will never recover consciousness.
9:00 Peter Singer: But it’s a human life that I would suggest has lost what is valuable about human life. Without consciousness, human life has dropped to a level, in fact, below that of a chimpanzee or a dog. I feel that the traditional ethic of the sanctity of human life needs to be revised. That ethic doesn’t really say that’s because of any special qualities that human beings have that they ought to be kept alive. It simply says they’re human beings. That’s a very fundamental part of our traditional ethic: that somehow being a member of this species makes a huge difference to the value of your life.
9:40 Raymond Gaita: When Peter talks, for example, about the doctrine of the sanctity of life – and philosophers call it “the argument from the sanctity of life” – they look to the doctrinal formulations of it, either by theologians or by philosophers in the past. And the trouble with those doctrinal formulations is that they sometimes fail to capture what it is in life that makes people look for a word like “this is sacred,” or “this is something that’s awe inspiring,” or “this is something that has deep mystery,” or “this is something you ought to be careful dabbling with.”
Singer with his students at Princeton.
10:17 Peter Singer: I want to start off with a case that raises a number of different issues in bioethics, and specifically regarding the sanctity of life.
Wesley Smith: I think there’s a danger in allowing intellectuals to have undue influence in society, because, as a mind game, we can justify almost anything. But we have to understand that these intellectual exercises, when they become embedded in public policy, have consequences in real people’s lives. So, what may sound good intellectually may end up causing a great deal of oppression, exploitation, discrimination.
10:51 Harold T. Shapiro: I don’t believe thoughtful ideas can ever be dangerous, and I really admire Peter for trying, not only to work out a system of thinking about how we ought to behave, but for trying to apply it, as best he can, to individual circumstances. Many other philosophers – equally brilliant, or even more brilliant, in some cases, perhaps – will say: “Well, real life is too complicated. Real life has got too many contingencies. My theory has nothing to say about what to really do in an intensive care unit, or in a prenatal.”
Flashback to neonatal intensive care unit.
11:29 Dr. Hiatt: All of our training, all of our experience as physicians and nurses, is to save lives. I’m a physician. I will never be an assassin.
11:53 Peter Singer: I hope the students that I took too St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick would go away with the idea that you can’t avoid making life and death decisions, that the doctors in that neonatal intensive care unit are deciding on life and death. It’s not really a question of saying, well, every human life is equally precious. They do withdraw treatment from some babies when they judge that the condition is one that is really not worth prolonging the life of the baby.
12:27 Dr. Hiatt: Sometimes we have a baby who’s so sick that the chance that he would be able to fulfill any kind of neurologic development is so remote – they may be blind, they may be deaf, they won’t be able to recognize their parents, they won’t walk, or roll over, or be able to feed themselves – and in a situation like that we would tell the family what we think the prognosis is, and ask them what they want us to do. Now, they may say, “Doctor, what do you think?”, and then we give our suggestion. And if the parents say, you know, “I think you’re right. We don’t want to continue,” we have one more step in the process. Can you imagine what it’s like for a parent who loves this child and sanctions his death? So, withdrawing care means taking away the ventilator. What invariably happens is, these babies are so sick, sometimes in a few moments, they die. And every time we have to do it, it is a devastating, profound event in the unit. But, it is done. You need to understand what an awesome thing that is to do, especially for someone who spends their whole life trying to save children’s lives. To stop care, to turn off a ventilator, to extirpate a patient knowing that he’s going to die is very, very difficult. And you know what, it should always be difficult. I worry about someone for whom that is not difficult.
14:19 Peter Singer: Even though that life could be prolonged, they’re prepared to pull back and make a judgment and say there’s no moral obligation to prolong it. And I hope that my students understood that, and will realize that quality of life judgments inevitably enter into modern hospital practice.
Certainly, I think that there are cases where it’s justifiable to kill a baby. The clearest cases would be those where Dr. Hiatt also thinks that it’s justifiable to kill a baby, except that the way he puts it is to say it’s justifiable to withdraw extraordinary means of care. The result is that the baby is dead, in both cases. I don’t think that it’s morally important whether the baby’s death comes about because you withdraw the respirator knowing that the baby can’t breathe on its own, or whether you give the baby a lethal injection; so, what I’m saying is, rather than just take the view that we must never make this judgment, we should try to be more open about recognizing when we’re making the judgment, and allow that to be subjected to criticism and discussion. The alternative that some people want is essentially to say “let’s pretend we don’t make this judgment, let’s pretend that what we’re doing is just withdrawing extraordinary means of life support, and that somehow that’s different from making a judgment that this life is not worth living.”
16:00. Narrator: But some cases are anything but straight forward. What does make a life worth living, and who gets to decide? Peter Singer has come to Portsmouth to meet the Glass family. Their experience challenges the notion that medical experts, or, for that matter, philosophers like Peter Singer, should be the ultimate authority when it comes to decisions of life and death.
16:27 Carol Glass: When I read about you on the internet, I thought that you were a monster, and that you’d never agree with David being allowed to have any sort of independent life. [speaking to David:] David, where’s the bed? Hello nolly! . . .
Narrator: David Glass was born severely disabled. When he was 12, he was admitted to hospital with a pneumonia, but instead of working to keep him alive, doctors gave him a drug that would hasten his death.
Carol Glass: It was an end-of-life drug, they gave David. They didn’t give him ventilators, they didn’t intubate him or anything. It was just an end-of-life drug. No reason. Backdoor euthanasia. I’m certain of it. The way David was treated was appalling. I wouldn’t treat a dog like that.
17:13. Peter Singer: [speaking to David] Hi. Hello David! All right, well he’s certainly making eye contact. I can see he’s looking at me. . . . David is clearly a very severely disabled boy, but he’s not suffering. He’s not in misery. Perhaps his enjoyment of life is limited, but he seems like he can enjoy life. And what I thought was really wrong about the doctors’ refusal to support David, when he needed life support, was that they were putting themselves above David’s mother in being the judges of whether his life was worth continuing.
18:01. Carol Glass: I went to go back into the ward, and the police officer stopped me and said “You’re not allowed back up there.”
Peter Singer: So you’re the mother, and you’re not allowed into the ward to see your son.
Carol Glass: Precisely. And then a sergeant came down, Sergeant Bates, and said “the doctors want to have a meeting with you.” The chief executive said to me, um, “Mrs. Glass, how do you want David treated?” I said, “well, I want him to have intravenous antibiotics, I’d like him to continue with his oxygen, to be fed, and just treated like a normal child.” And he said, “well, the doctors want to give him diamorphine.” I said, “Well, you can give him other pain killers. Diamorphine will kill him. I will not agree to diamorphine.” Well, with that, he instructed his clinicians to give David diamorphine.
18:44. Peter Singer: Did the doctor sort of discuss with you the quality of David’s life, whether he was enjoying his life, whether you felt that he was living a happy life, or whether he was constantly in agony, or something like that?
18:55 Carol Glass: We’d had lots of conversations about David’s quality of life. I mean, David’s never known any different. He’s never been able to walk or talk, so he’s enjoyed his life. He’s got good life, and I explained this to the doctors, but they were adamant that David was going to die. So, I removed the diamorphine.
Peter Singer: You just pulled out the syringe?
Carol Glass: I just pulled out the syringe from his belly, and when I pulled it out David didn’t even bleed.
My daughter, she was 16 at the time, she became hysterical, she coughed, she had and asthma attack. And with that - when she coughed - David opened his eyes. You know, he wants to live! I got him back, and then at 7 o’clock that evening, the doctor came to me and said “Well, you can take David home” - “Richard home,” actually, he couldn’t get his name right - “You can take Richard home now.”
19:43. Peter Singer: But you feel that the hospital didn’t really listen to you, in terms of saying that David’s was a life worth saving.
19:51 Carol Glass: I think they thought: ‘Well, he’s a disabled child. What’s the point of spending all this money?’ They were adamant David was going to die the evening.
A BBC News broadcast.
20:00 BBC News Anchor: A mother has failed in her attempt to get a ruling, from the Court of Appeal, that would stop doctors withdrawing life saving treatment from her profoundly disabled son. Carol Glass wants hospitals to be compelled to consult parents, and, if necessary, the courts, in such cases, if there’s disagreement over the treatment.
20:19. Richard Stein, lawyer for Carol Glass: Clearly, the life and death cases make the news, and they’re the ones that are urgent and important enough to get to court, but, for me, what’s at the root of all of this is the question about who makes decisions when patient-doctor relationships are there. For me, the really worrying thing about the Glass case is that it tells doctors that they can listen to parents, but in the end they know best.
20:47. Peter Singer: I think for doctors to make those decisions independently of the wishes and views of parents will normally be the wrong thing to do. If you’d been asking the court to say that it’s always wrong to help a dying patient to die by giving some drugs that relieve their pain, or shorten their life, I wouldn’t - I have to honestly say – I wouldn’t be able to agree with that, because I think there are cases where the child’s life might be so miserable that that’s the best thing to do.
21:28. Raymond Gaita: Peter belongs to a group of philosophers that are seriously preoccupied with finding rational rules for conduct. Well, reason leaves out all that’s involved, sometimes, when we say, “Look, I know you see the fact, but you don’t understand what it means.” In giving an account of what it means, we elaborate what some people sometimes call an understanding of the heart. But, to understand that properly – it’s not so much that head and heart should be contrasted, because people really want to emphasize, well I would want to emphasize, that this is really a form of understanding, not just a form of feeling.
22::09. When people like Ray Gaita say that I’m a person of the head who doesn’t give enough weight to the heart . . . Of course we have emotions. Of course we need to take that into account. But to what extend do we really want our values to be derived from our emotional impulses. I always think of Göring, the Nazi leader who said “I think with my blood.”
22:49 Narrator: Singer has published over 20 books on issues ranging from practical ethics to globalization. But the book he’s writing in Austria is far more personal. Pushing Time Away explores Singer’s Jewish ancestry, and the fate of his grandfather, David Oppenheim, under the Nazis. Life Singer, Oppenheim was an academic who invested all his faith in reason.
23:20. Peter Singer: [reading excerpt from Pushing Time Away, pgs 5-6] “I walk through the courtyards of the imperial palace, and emerge in a vast open space: the Heldenplatz, or Heroes Square. . . . In the middle of the square are gigantic equestrian statues of two of Austria’s military heroes, . . . In my head, though, is a photograph of this square at another time, packed with people, tens of thousands of them, filling the entire square and swarming over the statues to get a better view. It is March 1938. A few days earlier, German tanks had rolled across the border. Now the people had come to cheer Adolf Hitler’s triumphal entry into the city and hear him announce the incorporation of Austria into the Third Reich.”
This was the city in which my grandfather had lived most of his life, but also, of course, it was the city in which Adolph Hitler had had some of his most formative years. They even shared their birthday. They were both born on April the 20th. No one could have anticipated, at the time, that their paths would cross. My grandfather had the illusion that because he had fought for his country in the first world war, and been wounded and decorated for his bravery, that he would be protected from the worst of the treatment that the Nazis were handing out to the Jews. But, in the end, the Nazis evicted all of the Jews from Vienna, and my grandparents among them. Within six months of coming to Theresienstadt, he had died of some combination of the diseases that were around the ghetto at the time.
What happened here in Austria and in Germany does mean that you have to stop and think about the role that reason really plays in people’s lives. You have to think about the fact that, in these highly cultured civilized nations, people accepted political leaders and a philosophy that essentially gave no role to reason, that essentially were thinking with their blood, or playing on there emotions, and, you could even say, their basest emotions.
Hitler speaking in the Heroes Square.
25:48. Peter Singer: I was always interested in finding out more about my grandfather. I knew that he’d worked with Sigmund Freud. I guess I knew that he was a classical scholar. When I climbed the stairs to Freud’s apartment, at Berggasse 19, I remember that I’m following in the steps of my grandfather, but I didn’t realize, until I started looking into his works more seriously, how great the parallels were between his thinking and mine. And, if you think about that, then, both in connection with my grandfather’s life and in connection with my own, you have to ask, well, was it a mistake to try and emphasize a rational approach to life, to try and think about ethics in a way that is based on reason and argument, rather than just appealing to people’s emotions. And I do think about that, and it’s obviously a troubling question, that everything that I’m doing might, in some way, miss the point of what really is going on in the way we live, and the way we behave. But on the other hand, I think you also have to ask, “What, really, is the alternative?”. And I suppose that I do ultimately think that, if we’re to make progress, if we’re to get further with these issues, we have to try and persuade people that reason does play a role.
Radio studio in Sydney, Australia.
27:15. Radio Host: Good day. This is Drive. Richard Glover with you as Quantas threatens to sack 2,500 in the even of a war downturn, as Pauline Hanson issues a new “please explain,” and a visit from philosopher Peter Singer. All here this afternoon, on 702 Drive.
You’ve been accused of being Hitler, haven’t you, by disabled advocates who say the way that you sometimes compare severely disable human beings with higher level animals is a Hitlerian way of thinking.
27:52 Peter Singer: They have said that. Obviously, I find the comparison quite odious, and also, I think, really misguided, because I certainly don’t want to kill anyone who wants to go on living. I want to offer people choices: to end their own lives when they feel that they’ve had enough, they’re dying, or perhaps parents to make decisions about their severely disabled infants. So, that seems to me the crucial distinction between what the Nazis did to my grandparents - who loved life, who had a lot still to offer - who herded into these camps and brutally murdered or starved to death . . .
Host: And so your parents never saw them again.
Peter Singer: Well, they saw my grandmother. . . . [unintelligible]. She survived. She was the only one of my four grandparents to survive.
Video Overlay: home movie footage from the Singer family archive.
28:40. Peter Singer: I think the fact of The Holocaust had some sort of effect in that this was such a conspicuous example of a terrible evil that had happened in the world, and also that it effected my family, and it seemed so difficult to believe in the God who was supposed to be omnipotent, and also all-good, having allowed that to happen. There are many very intelligent people who I like and respect, who believe in God. But I find they tend to put God in one compartment of their brain where they shield that belief from the critical intelligence that they bring to other issues. Because I’ve never met anyone who’s really given me a good answer to some of the basic problems I have with believing in the existence of God. I don’t accept the idea that, “Well, this is just a mystery.” I mean, if you throw up your hands and say “This is just a mystery,” we could say that to anything. I mean: “Why should we keep people alive? Well, it’s just a mystery.” “Why should we let them end their lives? Well, it’s just a mystery.”
Princeton Medical Centre.
29:45. Dr. David Nathan: Professor Singer is a Utilitarian, believing that the morality of an action depends chiefly on its consequences, not on its inherent goodness. He challenges the traditional Judeo-Christian approach to the sanctity of human life, and the relatively lower value ascribed to animal life. Importantly, he focuses us to confront and understand potential inconsistencies to in our long held beliefs about a seemingly simple question: What is a life worth saving? Today, professorProfessor Singer has agreed to speak to us in the format of a case conference. Dr. Jory Goldberg will present a case that came before a biomedical ethics . . . .
30:35. Narrator: The daughter of an elderly woman on life support, named here as DZ, wants everything done to keep her mother alive. Some of the doctors disagree. They think DZ’s case is futile.
Dr. Jory Goldberg: DZ is a densely demented, now 90 year-old, white female who was admitted here after being found unresponsive in her nursing home on December 18, 2001. On arrival in the ER, she was intubated because of hypercapnic respiratory failure. She had also suffered chronic pain from her back deformity. During her hospital stay, she required multiple intubations. Tracheostomy was considered, but was considered technically impossible by the surgical consultant, because of the patient’s body habitus. On May 11, the patient came back in respiratory failure, was intubated, and is currently in the ICU. The family insists on full support, despite clear-cut evidence of medical futility.
31:38. Peter Singer: Arguably, in an emergency, when one has little time to gather information, to access the patient and contact the family, the decision to intubate was a reasonable decision. On the other hand, if there was already evidence of the severity of the patient’s dementia, then, I think, that decision could have been questioned; that is, one might have paused and asked: What point is there in intubating an 90 year-old and severely demented woman with an irreversible lung disease? That best that can happen for her, and, of course, for you and indeed for all of us here at the medical centre, is that she should die swiftly and without further distress. And a judgment like that departs from the ethic that we try to pay lip service to, that all lives are of equal value; that is, we don’t get into the business of saying “Here’s a life with better quality of life, that’s more worth preserving, than another life with worse quality of life.’” That’s something that we’re not very comfortable in doing, but I believe that we do make that judgment. We just try and disguise it by the use of terms like “futility”. I don’t like the way the concept of futility is used in this sort of discussion. I believe that it’s a weasel word, or, if you like, a camouflage word: A word to try and disguise an ethical decision as a medical decision. I cannot see that it is now in the best interest of DZ to be kept alive any longer.
33:15. Peter Singer: Obviously, we think that there is a time at which life has ceased to be worth living, from the subjective point of view of the patient. I think the alternative, this vitalist idea, would actually be very cruel: To sort of keep intensive care going. And we have so much medical technology, it’s so powerful now, to try and drag out every moment of life, to try and get every last breath, to keep the patient going as long as possible, just seems to me to be a really cruel thing to do.
33:56. Wesley Smith: I had a friend who killed herself on her 76th birthday, named Francis, and it was a very difficult situation, because, while here friends were tying to keep her in life, it seemed that there were these whisperers pushing her towards death. I asked her executrix to send me her suicide file, and it was filled with what I thought was appalling literature from a group called The Hemlock Society, which is perhaps the biggest euthanasia group in the world. In which, it was like proselytizing for suicide. Witnessing, if you will, for suicide. In which they basically told Francis how to do it, told her suicide was moral and empowering, and then she killed herself in the very way that they suggested: Using a plastic bag and an overdose.
Gold Cost, Australia.
34:54. Peter Singer [in background]: She was fine in her head, and . . .
Narrator: Singer supports the right for people to be assisted in committing suicide. This is still illegal in most countries.
Wayne Crick: Because she was still in a great deal of pain.
Daryle Crick: She said to me: “They can’t cure me, I’ll cure myself.”
Narrator: But what were the Crick family to do, faced with their mother Nancy’s determination to die?
Nancy Crick [on archive footage]: I’d like to read a short statement I’ve written:
The Crick family home.
35:55. Daryle Crick: And when my mom first told me about the euthanasia, I said: “Mom, you’re still walking around the house.” I said, “you’re still young, ring on the phone.” She said, “you know, I don’t have got the babies anymore,”; said, “I don’t go to lunch anymore.” She said, “All I do is go from here to the letter box, and back.” She said, “You call that living?” And then, oh, about 5 times a week, I’d hear this noise, and then she’d be “eh eh,” with her head over a toilet bowl being sick. And that’s when I really started to understandunderstanding the pain that she was going thru.
36:32. Wayne Crick: It was just unthinkable to me, that mum would want to take her own life. I was thinking to myself: I’m looking at a person that’s got a healthy mind, but hasn’t got a healthy body. She can make decisions. She must be making the right ones. Who am I to stop her from suffering, you know? She does not want to be here. She definitely did not want to be here no more.
Kitchen in Crick family home.
36:58. Wayne Crick: She was going to take her life, whether voluntary euthanasia was there or not.
Peter Singer: So, it was here idea from the start. She said . . . . Nobody pushed this on her, or anything.
Wayne Crick: She said, even if I take a bottle of poison, she said, I am going to take my life. She said there’s no way I am gonna go back . . .
Wayne Crick’s sister: She said Rat Sack.
Peter Singer: Rat Sack! Oh, my god.
Wayne Crick: Yeah, she said there’s no way I’m going to go back in the hospital for another operation. Because, you know, I do not want to die in a hospital, she said, I just want to die for bitter dignity.
Daryle Crick: She was a bit scared she might of mucked it up, if she took these pills and it didn’t work. And then had her stomach pumped, and da, da, da. So she wanted the help to get some good stuff, and get it done properly. She said, you’re not gonna wake up and go through all this again.
Daryle and Wayne’s sister: She wasn’t scared to do it herself. She was just scared to botch it up.
Peter Singer: Yeah, that it wouldn’t work.
Wayne Crick: Wouldn’t work, yeah, would not do the job properly.
37:49. Nancy Crick archive video footage: The thing that most upsets me is that the law says I can kill myself anytime I want to, but no one can be with me, because they might have helped me. Well, it’s just rubbish. I don’t see why I should die alone. I don’t want to die alone.
38:10. Peter Singer: So, Wayne, you’ve told us that you left. That your mother told you to go away. But, Daryle, you were actually in the house?
Daryle: Yeah. She said, promise one of us would be there, and Wayne couldn’t handle it, so I said I’d be there. You wouldn’t let her die on her own.
Peter Singer: Right. And has anything happened to you in the way of police inquiries, or anything, because you were there in the house at the time?
Daryle: No one ever interviewed me, but they used to come around and I had my gates locked. And then, after a while I said I’d leave my gates open. I left my gates open and they didn’t come around. I’ve done nothing wrong, anyway.
Peter Singer: I think you’ve certainly done nothing wrong from an ethical viewpoint, but, of course, some people might think, in the law . . . Well, I don’t know. They might want to investigate, anyway, what role you played, because assisting someone to commit suicide is still a crime, even though committing suicide is not a crime.
Daryle: I just gave her a kiss and said good bye. On my life, when my mom died, there were 21 people in this room. Why we were here, it wasn’t to sort of break the law. It was sort of to . . . . Well, it’s an ass of a law. I’m going to let my mom sit in here and take and take a glass of cocktail, - barbiturates, - on her own?! And just let her die there on her own, with no one around. No one holding her hand, no one to kiss, no one to talk to. We wouldn’t do that to a dog.
39:23. Wayne Cricket: I was talking to a woman that was in a hurry to exit Australia, and she did not want to be here.
Peter Singer: Did you believe her at that stage? When she said . . . .
Wayne: No, I was still trying to talk her out of it. I grabbed her, and said, “look, I can stop this.” I said, “Look, there’s no problem. Don’t be embarrassed, or don’t think . . . .” She said, “Wayne, get away.” She said, “There’s no way,” she said, “you’re going to stop this.” She said, “You’re not going to spoil my party.”
Peter Singer: She actually said that: “You’re not going to spoil my party!”?
Wayne: “You’re not going to spoil my party.” She said, “Wayne, you don’t realize how much pain I am suffering.” And which, I don’t. Daryle would have. Daryle’s here every day of the week.
Daryle: My mom came in here, and she took a mouthful of the barbiturates. I couldn’t handle the taking of the second mouthful, so I went out side and I was crying. I come back inside again. I turned the light out, and gave her a kiss goodnight and goodbye. I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me, too, and, we’re going to miss her.
40:25. Wesley Smith: The answer isn’t suicide. The answer is proper medical treatment. Compassion means to suffer with. And it seems to me it is our human obligation to take each other’s burdens on our shoulders, and help carry them thru the difficult times. But euthanasia, to me, is basically saying you’re not worth the time and effort it takes to do that – to make it so that your life is liveable – and we will just end it now.
The ironic thing was that when Peter Singer’s mother got Alzheimer’s disease, and ceased, in his view, to be a person, he couldn’t have her euthanized. He said, well, it’s different when it’s your mother. Well, that just says that Peter Singer was raised well. Sometimes I think you can take the boy out of the sanctity of life, but you can’t take the sanctity of life out of the boy. Peter Singer proved that he had love in his heart by the fact that he wouldn’t kill his mother, and, in fact, that gives me hope that Peter Singer, someday, will see the error of his ways and realize that either all human life is equal, or none of it is equal.
Singer family archive footage.
41:31. Peter Singer: I don’t think there was anything in the way my sister and I cared for my mother after she developed Alzheimer’s that was inconsistent with things that I’ve done and said for a long time. She was not in pain, or suffering, from her condition. There were still things that she could enjoy about life. So, from the point of view of what I’ve said about euthanasia and the sanctity of life, there was no reason why she shouldn’t continue to live. My mother, at the time that I’m thinking of, was still conscious, but she wasn’t really self-aware; for example, she didn’t recognize me or my sister. Um, she, I don’t think, had any real sense of herself from one moment to the next, but she was conscious at any particular moment. So, I think she had probably lost the capacity for being a person, in the sense that I understand it; that is, being able to see yourself as someone existing over time. In terms of ending her life, there did come a time when we decided that the quality of life had fallen to the point where there really was no benefit for her, and we were able, at that time when a particular crisis came up, to decide not to intervene medically to prolong her life. But, beyond that, there were really no decisions to be taken because, after all, we were operating in a situation in which euthanasia was illegal, and certainly I didn’t feel that I was under any kind of moral imperative to risk imprisonment to end her life, because I didn’t think that she was suffering.
I don’t think my mother’s death really changed me. I think that being so close to someone about whom these decisions were made did give me an appreciation of the fact that the situation is sometimes more complicated than when you’re dealing with it as a sort of abstract case summary. Yes, you get a somewhat different sense when you’re really close to a case, but I don’t think that the basic principles that I would apply in any case were really any different here.
43:55. Gaita: I’m not sure that there is a serious contradiction in his philosophy. From what I’ve heard about it, he said that he now has a more generous conception about the conditions under which a life is worth living; or, to use that really ugly expression that is used constantly in bioethics, the quality of a person’s life. So, if that’s a change, it’s a minor change. If he is inconsistent, I think it’s nobody’s business, at this point, to press it. It is his mother, for God sake, and if a philosopher turns out to be inconsistent because he’s so overwhelmed by the suffering of his mother, then, I’m inclined to say, just leave it!
44:45. Wesley Smith: When I was advocating against assisted suicide, I found that it was actually the tip of the iceberg. That beneath that was a whole philosophical system that was seeking to transform healthcare and the ethics of medicine. And it was not based on an equality of human life, or Hippocratic value system that says every patient has equal moral worth, every patient deserves optimal care from doctors. Instead, it was more Utilitarian. It said, “our job is to maximize happiness, and minimize unhappiness,” but what happens in that system is that individuals mean nothing, and that those individuals deemed to cause unhappiness are expendable. And I found that bioethics, as a whole – and of course there are dissenters from that view – was actually moving us away from a system in which every human was deemed equal.
45:38. Peter Singer: We have an ethic that puts great value on preserving life, if it’s the lives of American citizens, but it doesn’t place much value on preserving the lives of people in other countries. It seems to me we’re often rather short sighted in talking about the sanctity of life in terms only of not taking life, but not really applying it to cases of saving life.
Narrator: A Utilitarian philosopher, Singer believes that you should not give your own interests greater importance than those of strangers. He gives away 20% of his income, and he has come to India to visit a project which his money supports. Singer argues that the money spent in the West on lives not worth living could save the lives of millions.
46:41. Peter Singer: Utilitarianism is an ethical view that says that the right thing to do is that thing that will have the best consequences for all of those affected. The Utilitarian says you should try to reduce suffering, and increase happiness, if you can. If you apply that in the global situation in which we live today, then it’s obvious that about 1/5 of the world’s population lives a very comfortable, affluent life with no worries about getting enough to eat, or basic health care, or an education for their children, or shelter. There is at least another 1/5 of the world’s population that does not have that comfort and that security, and looking at this from a Utilitarian point of view, it’s not hard to see that a dollar spent by someone who is one of the most affluent people in the world doesn’t really do very much to increase their happiness. Whereas it could, if transferred in the right way, make a big difference to some of the world’s poorest people, because that might be as much as they have to live on for an entire day.
Garbage dump in India.
48:02. Peter Singer: Tell me what it is, really, that they’re collecting, because it looks, to me, it looks like such rubbish that it’s hard to see what’s worth picking out in this pile.
Laxmi Narayan, Rag Pickers Cooperative, Pune: Well, for the poor, rubbish is very valuable. They collect all the plastic, paper, metal, glass, coconut shells – I mean wood, they use it as firewood. All the rest of it - all the paper, tin, metal, glass, and so on - gets recycled. Almost everything is recycled, here. They sell it to small scrap dealers, who would then sell it to wholesalers, who would be selling it to end users.
48:32. Peter Singer: For many years, I have been giving money to Oxfam, because I believe that we in the developed countries, in the developed world, we have a lot of money to spend on luxuries, basically. I sometimes present to my students examples of this; for instance, I give them an example about a man who has a very rich, a very expensive car – a Bugatti – and he is in a situation where he has to choose between saving the life of a child, or his car, because I imagine that there’s a runaway train. And I ask my students, I say, “Do you think it would be alright for him to save his luxury car by switching the train to another line where it will kill the child?”. And, of course, all the students say “No, how could you even think about comparing the value of your car with a child’s life?”. And then I say to them, “You, living in America or Australia, whereever you are, you could be helping the poorest people, and if you improve their living standards, you will save the lives of their children and give them better lives.
Singer family film archive footage.
49:52. Peter Singer: We are being who have evolved along roughly the lines that Darwin first outlined, and that means that we have strong instincts or desires for self preservation and for favoritism towards our offspring and our relatives, over those of strangers. And I don’t think we’ll ever completely overcome that. All I think is that we can make a difference. We can kind of push that nature in the right direction a bit, because it’s flexible. It’s not biologically rigidly programmed.
Singer’s family home in Australia, where his wife and kids chatter about what they want to eat, in the kitchen.
Renata Singer (Peter Singer’s wife): Esther, would you like some toast?
Esther: Sure. . . .
50:38. Peter Singer: I don’t know whether having 3 daughters, in particular, has changed what I think about the world. I guess one thing that you do think about is the extent to which, even though you bring up children more or less the same, they turn out to have quite different personalities. And this idea that we’re all just a blank page to write on, at birth, is really nonsense.
51:00. Ruth Singer (daughter): When people come to me with questions, when they’ve seen dad on TV or they’ve seen his views and they’re a little bit shocked, they’ll say to me “Oh, do you agree with him about that thing, you know, that’s terrible.” And I guess, for me, I’m never shocked about things that he might say, because I think he sees a need to stimulate public debate, and to take a philosophical viewpoint as far as it goes.
Singer family eating at dining table.
Peter Singer: Knowing my children from the moment they were born has made me feel that, when I say that a newborn baby is not a person, I can not only say it as a matter of theory, but I can say it as a matter of personal experience. I mean, they may be quite charming in some ways, when they’re very small, but you can’t effectively communicate with them. They really are little beings that are interested in feeding, and in being clean and dry and comfortable and warm, and not very much else. And it takes awhile, and you realize, as a father, how slowly the sense of bonding with you develops; so, I think that experience of early parenthood has reinforced my view that a newborn baby is not a person, in the sense that you or I are people.
52:19. Wesley Smith: If people look clear-eyed at what Peter Singer is saying, instead of thru the romantic notions that he’s just this wonderful compassionate caring man, and look at what he’s actually saying thru that passive prose and that very gentle personality, I think people will be repelled. It’s about an infant not being a person. And, if that not nonperson is deemed to cause more unhappiness than happiness, or conflict the interests of that family, that infant should be allowed to be killed – healthy or unhealthy. But the media refuse to look that in the face, because they can’t believe somebody as nice as Peter Singer would actually hold those views, but he does!
53:00. Peter Singer: For some people, just the idea that a Utilitarian could ever say it’s justifiable to kill a newborn baby, would be enough to say that theory must be wrong. But I think these people are not really thinking far enough. They’ve got an intuition - it’s like the idea that we should never lie, or never break a promise – and just say you must never kill a baby, an innocent human being - a baby is obviously innocent, that must be wrong. It just shows you take for granted something we’ve been taught when we were young, maybe even something that is instinctive in a way, and you’re not prepared to think more critically, and go a little bit further, and ask yourself questions about: “Why should I accept that as an unchangeable moral rule, no matter what the circumstances might be.”
53:54. End Credits.