Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, and Nigel Cameron, a leading spokesman for Judeo-Christian perspectives on medicine and bioethics, exchanged ideas at the Barclay Theatre on March 12 in a debate entitled, ‘Is It Always Wrong to Take Innocent Human Life?’
Singer began the debate by arguing that the people who do not believe that others should take their own lives falsely base their arguments on religious beliefs.
‘The traditional ethic that says ‘it is always wrong to take innocent human life’ cannot be defended in the arena of public reason, without appealing to religious doctrines that not everyone may hold,’ Singer said.
Singer also talked about a person’s ownership of his or her own life and about the permissibility of taking one’s life. He said that it is permissible during physician assisted suicides when a patient is ill and it is certain that the person will not recover.
‘Whose life is it anyway? Singer said. ‘Isn’t it your life, and isn’t it your decision whether you want to go on as long as possible?’
When it came time for Cameron’s remarks, he accused Singer of using highly problematic situations to determine the fundamental question of whether it was wrong to take an innocent human life. Cameron proposed to look at things from a more historical view.
‘For all of its flaws, the story of Western civilization has been, above all else, the story of the slow, gradual flourishing of one idea, which is the dignity, freedom and inviolability of human life,’ Cameron said.
Cameron believed that the ultimate protection against such atrocities as Nazi Germany and the Cambodian killing fields is when people uphold human life.
‘Nazi Germany was a fundamental denial of human dignity, and operated precisely on the principal that the human race can be divided into two,’ Cameron said. ‘If we allow the human race to be divided in such a way, where should the line be drawn, and according to what criteria?’
When given a chance to respond, Singer said he did not believe that by saying there are certain instances when it is permissible to take an innocent human life, Western civilization will be put in peril.
In a subtle twist, Singer accused Cameron of saying that inclusion into the human species means a right to life