singer 1993 - practical ethics pp 083-134

singer 1993 - practical ethics pp 083-134 - 4 WHAT'S WRONG...

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4 WHAT'S WRONG WITH KILLING? A N oversimplified summary of the first three chapters of this book might read like this: the first chapter sets up a conception of ethics from which, in the second chapter, the principle ofequal consideration of interests is derived; this prin- ciple is then used to illuminate problems about the equality of humans and, in the third chapter, applied to non-human animals. Thus the principle ofequal consideration ofinterests has been behind much of our discussion so far; but as I suggested in the previous chapter, the application of this principle when lives' are at stake is less clear than when we are concerned with interests like avoiding pain and experiencing pleasure. In this chapter we shall look at some views about the value of life, and the wrongness of taking life, in order to prepare the ground for the following chapters in which we shall turn to the practical issues of killing animals, abortion, euthanasia, and environ- mental ethics. HUMAN LIFE People often say that life is sacred. They almost never mean what they say. They do not mean, as their words seem to imply, that life itself is sacred. If they did, killing a pig or pulling up a cabbage would be as abhorrent to them as the murder of a human being. When people say that life is sacred, it is human life they have in mind. But why should human life have special value? 83
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Practical Ethics In discussing the doctrine ofthe sanctity of human life I shall not take the term 'sanctity' in a specifically religious sense. The doctrine may well have a religious origin, as I shall suggest later in this chapter, but it is now part of a broadly secular ethic, and it is as part of this secular ethic that it is most influential today. Nor shall I take the doctrine as maintaining that it is always wrong to take human life, for this would imply absolute paci- fism, and there are many supporters of the sanctity of human life who concede that we may kill in self-defence. We may take the doctrine of the sanctity of human life to be no more than a way ofsaying that human life has some special value, a value quite distinct from the value of the lives of other living things. The view that human life has unique value is deeply rooted in our society and is enshrined in our law. To see how far it can be taken, I recommend a remarkable book: The Long Dying of Baby Andrew, by Robertand Peggy Stinson. In December 1976 Peggy Stinson, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher, was twenty-four weeks pregnant when she went into premature labor. The baby, whom Robertand Peggy named Andrew, was marginally viable. Despite a firm statement from -both parents that they wanted 'no heroics', the doctors in charge of their child used all the technology ofmodern medicine to keep him alive for nearly six months. Andrew had periodic fits. Towards the end of that period, it was clear that if he survived at all, he would be se- riously and permanently impaired. Andrew was also suffering considerably: at one point his doctor told the Stinsons that it must 'hurt like hell' every time Andrew drew a breath. Andrew's
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singer 1993 - practical ethics pp 083-134 - 4 WHAT'S WRONG...

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