Wesley J. Smith: Peter Singer Says Full Moral Status Not Earned by Babies “Until After 2 Years”

Dostoevsky: When men stop believing in God, they will believe anything.

I was alerted by Nat Hentoff about an assertion made by Peter Singer–as reported in the Catholic Eye–at a Princeton conference around the abortion question, in which he claims that human beings don’t possess full moral status until after the age of two. I checked it out for myself. Yup. From my transcription of Panel II on 10/15/10 (press “Event Videos,” 20101015-panel two, to link to access streamed session):

Q (beginning at 1:25:22): When discussing at which point after birth we would give full moral status, you gave…a legal or public policy point about practicality… Forgetting the practical or public policy questions, if a person is a self aware individual and self awareness isn’t conferred by birth, and we use mirror tests to determine self awarness…at what point do you think an infant would pass the mirror test and therefore be self aware and be considered a person.

Singer (beginning at 1:27:18): … My understanding is that it is not until after the first birthday, so somewhere between the first and second, I think, that they typically recognize the image in the mirror as themselves…Really, I think this is a gradual matter. If you are not talking about public policy or the law, but you are talking about when you really have the same moral status, I think that does develop gradually. There are various things that you could say that are sufficient to give some moral status after a few months, maybe six months or something like that, and you get perhaps to full moral status, really, only after two years. But I don’t think that should be the public policy criteria.

If you declare a human being to be intrinsically unequal–which is what denying full moral status to young children does–it can’t help but promote discrimination, and must eventually affect public policy and law once anti equality attitudes become widely accepted. I mean, that is how slavery was justified–that people with black skin did not possess full moral status. A different, but certainly odious, outcome would similarly result by denying full moral status to children before the age of two.

That point aside, what did Singer say the public policy should be, which is just a way, in my view, of weaseling out of the implications of his beliefs. Starting at 56:22, after stating he no longer holds that an infant does not have a right to life until 1 month after birth because it is “not a practical suggestion,” Singer says:

Maybe the law has to have clear bright lines and has to take birth as the right time, although maybe it should make some exceptions in the cases of severe disability where parents think that it is better for the child and better for the family that the child does not live…The position that allows abortion also allows infanticide under some circumstances…If we accept abortion, we do need to rethink some of those more fundamental attitudes about human life.

The last comment is very telling. Abortion was once widely disdained, and was nearly universally illegal except for medical reasons. It is now broadly accepted because our perception of the value of fetal life changed, and is legal throughout most of the West. If we accept Singer’s views that children, perhaps past the age of two, do not possess full moral status, it would similarly change our perceptions about their lives, and ultimately lead to horrible practices and a concomitant change in public morality and law.

The Netherlands and its infanticide permissiveness further illustrates this process. Dutch doctors commit infanticide and nothing is done about it by authorities, even though it is technically murder, even though doctors have publicly published the guidelines they use in deciding which babies to kill. And there is already talk about full legalization of infanticide–which was the incremental method used to move general euthanasia for those age 16 and up to full legality in the Netherlands.

We need to hear very clearly what Peter Singer advocates, and understand the consequences that would flow from accepting his brand of utilitarianism. Then, we need to run in the opposite direction and fully embrace human exceptionalism. That is the only way to protect the lives of the weak and vulnerable specifically, and more broadly, guarantee universal human rights.


  1. Maybe the law has to have clear bright lines and has to take birth as the right time, although maybe it should make some exceptions in the cases of severe disability where parents think that it is better for the child and better for the family that the child does not live…


    The Nikonovs lived in such poverty that to feed and clothe a fourth child seemed impossible, and before the baby was born, Natalia decided to send it to an orphanage sponsored by Prince Golitsin in the neighboring village of Buchalki, where underprivileged and illegitimate children were brought up at the prince’s expense. Shortly afterwards, however, she had a prophetic dream. Her unborn daughter appeared to Natalia in the form of a white bird with a human face and closed eyes, alighting on her arm. Accepting the dream as a sign, the God-fearing woman decided to keep the baby, who was indeed born blind.
    Matrona often prayed for bedridden invalids, who would be raised to their feet, healed. Out of gratitude, they left food and gifts for her parents, so instead of being a burden, Matrona soon became the family’s main provider.
    At the end of the service at the Andreevskiy Cathedral in Krondstadt, he [St. John of Krondstadt] asked the crowd to make way for the fourteen-year-old girl to approach the solea. In everyone’s hearing he said, “Little Matrona, come to me. Behold, here is my replacement, the eighth pillar of Russia.” Matrona never explained the meaning of these words to anyone, but those close to her later understood that Fr. John had foreseen how she would serve Russia and the Russian people during the persecution of the Church.

  2. The direction of our contemporary world is becoming clear to all. We are heading towards a world which rejects as unfounded all traditional values and beliefs. This new world is based on secular values and materialism.
    Atheism and the rejection of God should not be a path leading us back to paganism (“that path has become a historical impossibility”). Nevertheless, modern practices, like abortion and assisted suicide, are disguised pagan (human sacrifice) practices.
    Truly, “He who is not with Me is against Me;” Matt. 12,30. Those who are not with God are against Him; they are on the demons’ side.


    Atheism is the greatest of all illusions, the ultimate self-delusion. It conceals reality. In fact, no such thing as atheism exists or can exist. Although the existence of God can be doubted, the possibility of His existence cannot be denied, nobody can honestly be an atheist. But once God is denied, the emptied human heart becomes the possession of the Evil One, the place where he can at last be enthroned once more.

    The Demon of Child Sacrifice & The Valley of Slaughter

    The practice of child sacrifice was universally condemned as an abomination by the prophets of the Old Testament. Ezekiel said to the people of Israel : “The sons and daughters you had borne me you took and offered as sacrifices to be devoured by them [false gods]![…]

    The abortion industry is our modern-day Valley of Slaughter, where abortionists offer ritual blood sacrifice to that ancient demon of child murder. Their work is in every way the key ritual of a demonic religion. Yes, a religion: Abortion has an infallible dogma (“choice”), a ruling hierarchy (Planned Parenthood), theologians (feminist ideologues), a sacrificing priesthood (abortionists), temples (abortion mills), altars of sacrifice (surgical tables), ritual victims (babies and also women), acolytes and sacristans (clinic workers and technicians), guardian angels (police and death-scorts), congregations (leftist foundations and private supporters), and its own version of “grace” that makes everything work (money).

    In modern abortion, the “drums” of the ancient rituals are now the buckets and containers used to carry out the obliterated dead bodies of the babies, and the sound of the abortionist’s suction machine drowns out the “silent scream” of the innocent one who is sacrificed. It ends with the burning of the victims as a holocaust to the demon. In ancient times, babies were “passed through fire”; nowadays, the babies sacrificed to Moloch are simply sent out and burned as “medical waste.”

    The sacrificial victim in this demonic religion is not a brute animal, as was offered by the priests of Israel. In abortion, the victim is an innocent human being made in the “image and likeness of God” and entirely unable to defend himself against the abortionist’s aggression. Furthermore, the baby is sacrificed by his own mother and father, who pay an executioner to perform the ritual. This combination of innocence, parental renunciation, and ritualized annihilation of the image of God in human form is the Devil’s way of blaspheming God. In this project he can count on the misguided participation of God’s own children. The systematic destruction of the human body, which St. Paul calls “the temple of the Holy Spirit,” is also a sacrilege. In short, abortion is a perfect demonic system that offers a perfect form of worship to the Devil. If the abortion business is not truly diabolical, nothing is.

    • George Michalopulos :

      This is profoundly disturbing. I’ve often wondered if there was a mystical element to abortion, does the evil one need the blood of innocents for his own sustenance?

  3. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The atheist, unbeknown to him because of his overweening arrogance, subjects himself to ideologies that appear compassionate on their face but in fact hide great cruelty and portend great suffering.


    The Gospel overthrew a world caught in the clutches of this barbarism (The world was turned upside down — Acts 17:5-7), and there is no reason why we should not fight its reemergence once again.

    We have to trust in the fact that the Word of truth (and we have to figure out how to speak properly in this new age) commends itself to the conscience because, when preached, reveals Christ who is the Truth. The apostles did not possess degrees from Princeton, but their words turned the world upside down.

    • The acts of the Apostles should strike the modern man as something impossible to comprehend. Under the pretext of education, we have reached such a darkness of ignorance, blindness and inability to properly grasp what the evidence shows: their extraordinary and inconceivable achievement. Not only didn’t they posses a degree from Princeton … they did not use cars, airplanes, mass media, internet or armies to conquer the world. Christ’s instruction to the Apostles was: “Go Like Lambs Among Wolves”. What they had on their side was God and the grace of His Holy Spirit.

      In the Acts of the Apostles (16:6-7) this text reads:

      When they had gone throughout Phrygia. and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

      Today, these passages are almost incomprehensible to us. Is really possible for people to sense God so openly? We have departed from the simplicity of the original Christian knowledge and filled our minds with worldly, useless and even destructive knowledge. Today, the ignorance of the Faith among people (many Orthodox included) is appalling!

      Apostle Andrew, the Holy and All-Praised First-Called

      On his journeys the First-Called Apostle endured many sufferings and torments from pagans: they cast him out of their cities and they beat him. In Sinope they pelted him with stones, but remaining unharmed, the persistant disciple of Christ continued to preach to people about the Savior. Through the prayers of the Apostle, the Lord worked miracles. By the labors of the holy Apostle Andrew, Christian Churches were established, for which he provided bishops and clergy. The final city to which the Apostle came was the city of Patra, where he was destined to suffer martyrdom.

      The Lord worked many miracles through His disciple in Patra. The infirm were made whole, and the blind received their sight. Through the prayers of the Apostle, the illustrious citizen Sosios recovered from serious illness; he healed Maximilla, wife of the governor of Patra, and his brother Stratokles. The miracles accomplished by the Apostle and his fiery speech enlightened almost all the citizens of the city of Patra with the true Faith.

Care to Comment?