So claims an article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, published on-line on January 19, 2012. The article titled “What Makes Killing Wrong?” is co-authored by Duke University professor of practical ethics Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and NIH senior bioethicist Franklin G. Miller. They contend that “…what makes the act of killing morally wrong is not that the act causes loss of life or consciousness but rather that the act causes loss of all remaining abilities.”
According to their reasoning, the “dead donor rule”—that pesky regulation which stipulates that a person must be declared dead before doctors can remove his organs for transplantation—should apply to patients whose hearts have stopped and who are being removed from a respirator.
The problem, though, is that it is not uncommon for a person’s heart to restart after a cardiac arrest. Both researchers admit that the patient could, even after full cardiac arrest, make a complete recovery.
Sinnott-Armstrong and Miller imply that it is not morally wrong to kill patients who are “universally and irreversibly” disabled, because they have no abilities to lose. Apparently, one should take advantage of a medical emergency to quickly kill a mentally impaired individual, in order to harvest his organs.
Silly me: I had thought that it was the role of bioethicists to serve the common good—applying
the brakes when researchers overstep the bounds of moral decency in the interest of scientific advancement.
And I know about controversial ethicist Peter Singer, who believes that parents should have the right to “terminate” their own child before he or she reaches the age of two. Singer also asserts that “personhood” is dependent upon cognizance—so an infant or a person with dementia is not a “person,” while a dog or a porpoise may, indeed, qualify as a “person” with the capacity to think and to make mental judgments.
“When it comes to killing, I do believe that beings have different interests in continuing to live,” Singer said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. “I think killing a being that wants to continue to live and has designs for the future is very different from killing those that do not.”
I believed, wrongly, that Singer was a lone wolf—one crazed bioethicist, standing alone against a field of caring professionals. But No: Sinnott-Armstrong and Miller join the list of dangerous men who purport to speak ethically to the world; and now, I’m afraid there must be others.
God help us.