Who should live and who should die (Ethics 4)

Peter Singer, an ethics professor at Princeton, is a well known advocate of animal rights. But his most controversial position is that killing some people is acceptable. He says killing a newborn child is acceptable because that newborn lacks rational thinking and a will to live. He says killing the mentally impaired is acceptable for the same reason.
When Singer’s own mother came down with a severe case of Alzheimer’s, she no longer qualified as a “person” according to Singer’s way of thinking. So, did he allow her to die? No, he spent large sums of money on her care. When asked about this he reasoned that his sister was also responsible for his mother’s care. If it were up to him, he said, she might not be alive (read his interview in Reason http://reason.com/archives/2000/12/01/the-pursuit-of-happiness-peter).
Every generation produces people who think some should die. Some believe this will make life better for the rest of us and seek to destroy some life (like the Nazis in Bonhoeffer’s time). Some, like Singer, just play intellectual games with life and death but do not live by their own ethical theories. But every generation sees the rising up of people who think certain segments of society do not belong.
How should we respond to such a perspective on the issue of life and death? What are the values of personhood and society that dictate whether someone should live or die?
Bonhoeffer addresses this question. He says that “the right to live is a matter of essence and not of any values. In the sight of God there is no life that is not worth living; for life itself is valued by God.”
It does not matter what kind of arguments might spring up against life. Social usefulness or certain definitions of “personhood.” The bottom line is that we must say no to killing those who are innocent. Bonhoeffer concludes by quoting Exodus 23:7, “the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.”


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