What Does It Mean to Have Intrinsic Worth ?
The Peter Singer Mini-Series: Part 2
Last week, I posted about Peter Singer’s justification of infanticide using excerpts from his book, Practical Ethics. Having spent some time reading his views lately, I’m starting to wonder whether he came up with this infanticide argument as a way of dealing with his own experience of abortion. Seeing as he is almost 70, it’s very likely he has been involved with at least one abortion some time during his life. Perhaps he advised a student or colleague to abort. Perhaps he aborted a child of his own. We may never know.
I’d like to think he is not beyond redemption and that a lot of his ideas have emerged from a tormented conscience that can’t deal with its own involvement in denying life to a pre-born baby; that having failed to see the intrinsic worth in every human, he now focuses myopically on the value of sentient but non-human animals.
All this was on my mind, when today I found myself asking, “What does it mean to have intrinsic worth?”
The Catholic Church would say that Peter Singer has intrinsic worth. But does he believe that?
If he was a garbage man or accountant, who never left his own town, raised a small family, read the Sunday newspapers and lived out his days in obscurity, would he have intrinsic worth by his own utilitarian standards? Could he possibly be happy while being unknown and overlooked? If he lacked happiness as a wage-slave, would that be grounds for terminating his life?
And who would make that decision?
Does he only have worth because he has contributed to 40 books, or is a desirable speaker, or is an edgy atheist?
Intrinsic worth means that we each have a right to more than simply protection from mortal harm once we’re born.
We also have the right to be protected in our mother’s womb or even if we’re a frozen embryo in a laboratory.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 5, we also have the right to protection from unintentional harm; slander (harm to our reputation); scandal (harm to our souls) and war. If, in the unfortunate situation where we find ourselves in a war zone, then we have the right to continue our existence under the moral law; we have the right not to be kidnapped or tortured or raped.
We have the right to be protected from self-harm, even if we temporarily believe we want this for ourselves. We have the right for others to step in and usurp our autonomy in order to save us from hurting ourselves.
We have the right to health and to work that doesn’t harm us. We have the right to demand peace, and resolutions to conflicts in which we may be involved; both on a personal level, and on a national level.
We have the right to live out our days even in sickness, without being made to feel like a burden by our families or by medical staff. We have the right to medical care, even if it is expensive, and the right for comparisons not to be made about our relative worth. We have the right to be kept alive, even if we appear to be unconscious, and for our bodies to remain intact, unless our deaths are unequivocally proven.
We have the right to a burial and for respect to be shown to our deceased bodies. We have the right to a funeral and to prayers being said for us after our deaths.
All these things are safeguarded by a belief system that affirms the intrinsic worth of every human being.
But none of these rights can be guaranteed by an ideology that allows abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, such as that proposed by Peter Singer.
According to the Australian website, Abortion Grief, the initial male reaction to abortion is one of ‘denial and distraction.’ And there are some other typical male responses:
- self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs
- self destructive behaviours
- distractions that absorb emotional and mental energy
- sexual dysfunction
- sabotage of self in relationships, career and/or health
Could Peter Singer’s emphasis on altruism be his way of attempting to assuage his guilt, or of making reparation for his part in an abortion? Are his views on bestiality a manifestation of sexual dysfunction due to abortion? Is his desire to shock a way of sabotaging his career and relationships?
Or does this man who believes that the rich have a responsibility to help the poor, and who cares about animals to the point of veganism, honestly believe that his form of happiness-based utilitarianism can really form the basis for a just society?
I think not, and I will take my chances with the Church any day.