Singer on parental rights, cognitive disability, and Ashley X


Now let me say something about the
views of parents on this issue. Because that, of course, is relevant. And this
is something about Down Syndrome. Obviously, people with Down’s are
not profoundly retarded; it’s not the kind of category I am talking about at
all. But I did want to just give you a couple of comments that I’ve had
when I’ve spoken about this issue, in terms of the views that parents have.
Parents obviously do have a say in how their children should be treated,
and I think that that’s tremendously important. So that in debates about,
for example, infants born with Down Syndrome and other complicating conditions
that required surgery, some parents have said that they didn’t
want surgery performed because they didn’t want to have a child with Down’s.
Other parents have said that they did. And some have said, as Ann Bradley
has said here [slide], that some people with children with Down syndrome
wish that all of their children had this extraordinary syndrome, which
replaces anger and malice, deletes anger and malice, replacing them with human
thoughtfulness and devotion
to friends and family. So that’s fine for parents who have
this view and make that choice obviously. But there’s also the contrary
view that I’ve had expressed to me in letters when I’ve … when my
views have been publicized on these issues, about parents whose children
have been saved by doctors when they were born, in this case, an extremely
premature baby, although not actually as premature as many who are
saved now, but who have had a lot of problems. And this woman wrote to me
that had she known what was in store for her son, and had the doctors asked
her whether they wished to incubate him, in other words, to keep him going
on the ventilator so that he would survive, she would have said “No”.
She would have would have said, that would have been a gut-wrenching decision,
but it would have been for the best, both best for her son himself,
and for the family and the other children. So, the views of parents on
these issues go in both directions. And I don’t think, therefore, resolve
the question in a way, if you like, in favour of protecting life, in all
cases. Rather, the arguments that I have suggested imply that parental
choice ought to have an important role in decisions. At least in decisions
for those with profound mental
retardation, maybe in others as well. I want to mention also the case of
Ashley that received a bit of publicity last year, for those of you who heard
about it. This was a case of a girl in Seattle. There was some dispute
about how profoundly or severely her cognitive disabilities were. It was
said that she can’t walk or talk, keep her head up, roll over, or sit up by
herself. She was fed with a tube, she didn’t swallow and the case was
controversial because her parents used growth attenuation to make her, to
keep her small, and make her easier to care for, which involved operations
like hysterectomy, removal of breast buds, and some hormone treatment,
to … so they could still pick her up and keep her with them. And they said
that this was in her interest, for her benefit, so that she could travel
on family holidays with them, and so on. Also, they said it would protect
her from possible sexual abuse. Now, it was a controversial issue. But one
of the things that I don’t really agree with is the claim made in this
Los Angeles Times article about it, which says that “This is about Ashley’s
dignity. Everybody examining the case seems to agree at least about
that.” Well, I mean again, as I a said before the term “dignity” is a very
vague term. I would say that it’s about what’s in Ashley’s best interests.
We are prepared to use the term “best interest” for animals without too
much hesitation. We know what that means. We’re not prepared to use it for
nonhuman animals . And I don’t really think that someone as developmentally
disabled as Ashley is described as being is actually someone with dignity
in a sense we’re prepared to
deny to nonhuman animals.”

9 comments

I cannot stand this man. At the end of this segment, he refers to a young 9 yr old developmentally disabled girl as having no dignity. If you read in the dictionary what dignity is, it's not only one's concept of self, but as a noun dignity, is the word that describes that one has "worthiness". Dr. Singer, you have no dignity OR worthiness in MY book!

And you shouldn't assume that I haven't read anything by this man. He is the Professor of Bioethics at Princeton and has debated with an acquaintance of mine on the topic of eugenics. In essence with his system of beliefs, my grandson should have been euthanized after birth because of his diagnosis of Trisomy 13. He thinks that those with profound birth defects lack"awareness" of self and cannot contribute to society. He's dangerous IMHO as young minds in medical school are listening to him.

P.S. I hope you're not planning a career in medicine.

And….I think that was the point of this Conference was it not? How can socialized medicine help those with disabilities better?

DoriMc,

Lack of awareness is an empirical fact, does not require Singer's judgment. The only thing required for the determination of lack of awareness is empirical data.

Furthermore, Singer does not say that your grandson should be euthanized or that he does not contribute to society. If your grandson bring happiness into the lives of your children and your own life than you grandson is making a tremendous contribution.

Singer simply argues that as severe mentally disabled people may not be self aware (which again, can be empirically determined by medical science) those who are directly impacted by the individuals life (parents) should be able to determine if that life should be preserved or euthanized.

I dont doubt that you have read Singers extensive work in biomedical ethics but evidently we did not interpret it the same way. Furthermore, obviously I think my interpretation captures Singers meaning for his work in biomedical ethics.

in my understanding of his position, he advocates euthanasia for severely disabled infants – those with disabilities so extreme as to render them incapable of developing beyond a vegetable-like state. He also advocates allowing doctors to administer a lethal injection to patients who, due to the seriousness of their state, would have had treatment taken away from them anyway and been allowed to die, some of whom suffer needlessly and for too long

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