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DISABILITY-RESEARCH  October 1999

DISABILITY-RESEARCH October 1999

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Subject:

Re: Asch/Singer debate

From:

"Dr.Phyllis Rubenfeld" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 13 Oct 1999 17:03:15 -0400 (EDT)

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (213 lines)

Hi,
I didn't see it but 'am not surprised that he appeared to have the upper
hand-why does anyone think we should share a stage with him?  We should
understand how he feels about animals, after all he's the
founder of------I'm not sure that it was a tactic and I don't think that
it was wise for Adrienne to say that she'd consider his point.  He's a
Natzi. It's easy for me to question the presentation since I didn't
share the stage with him-I think he's both quite knowledgable and
slick-anyway I wouldn't give him the time of day-no less a stage-therefore
The newspaper coverage doesn't present him as the "monster" he
and his thoughts  are- I  think we should develop a strategy of how to
deal with him.  I am however pleased that Adrienne didnot represent
state that she was representing the disability community or SDS
or????????? The NY Times focused more on Adrienne's impairment than on
what she had to say.  Your thoughts???????//
In Unity,
Phyllis





On Wed, 13 Oct 1999, Susan Gabel wrote:

> Here's my quickly put together synopsis of the debate.
> 
> Singer went first and mapped out
> what we already know about his positions.  He separated his position on
> "euthenasia" for infants in general vs. "euthenasia" for disabled
> infants.  He
> backtracked and said the term "defective infants" was from earlier
> versions of
> "Practical Ethics" and last night he used the term "disabled infants" as
> a newer
> term.  He implicitly assumed that those are synonymous concepts.  I
> took notes so here's the scoop.
> 
> Singer made the following basic points:  1)  newborns are not "persons"
> because they
> haven't developed rationality, self awareness, etc.  2)  having
> potential for
> developing these things (as in being a newborn human) " isn't enough
> justification
> to protect a class of beings against euthenasia" (these were his exact
> words) 3)
> parents should be the ones to determine when to "allow a newborn to die"
> and
> should do so in concert with doctors 4)  parents should be well informed
> in this
> decision and should bring in dis. organizations to inform them (this is
> his
> response to the dis. activists).
> 
> Adrienne said she agreed with Singer on one account:  that his views are
> not outside the
> mainstream.  (This was a claim he made in his statement.)  Adrienne's
> response was
> that "there's a penchant for people to like a bad guy..." and she went
> on to say
> that Singer wasn't the bad guy.  He isn't a "monster" she said, "if
> there's a
> monster, it is not Peter Singer but the views that he holds."  She
> proceeded to debunk his facts and premises by responding on several
> accounts including that:  1)  you can't
> calculate happiness and value based on one
> characteristic of a person (e.g. disability) 2)  his presumptions are
> based on
> myths about disability and disabled people (she mentioned several
> examples, all  ones often used in disability studies) 3)  and that it's
> social conditions that create poor
> outcomes/quality of life for disabled people, not something intrinsic to
> the
> individual.  This was an important point because Singer kept using
> distinctions
> between extrinsic and intrinsic.  E.g., if a newborn has disability,
> that's an
> intrinsic trait that allows euthenasia but if a newborn's family wants
> the baby "in
> spite" of disability, that's an extrinsic situation that he allows for
> as long as the consequences are happiness for the parents.  I though
> this line of argument was weak but then, I've always questioned this
> line from utilitarians.
> 
> Overall, it was clear to me that Singer operates from two antithetical
> frameworks
> than do his opponents in the disability community.  First, he adheres to
> utilitarianism, which does not allow for broad social value judgements
> without taking measures of "happiness"
> into account.  Second, he doesn't recognize his need to question his
> assumptions, particularly those about disability.
> My reading of his statements is that his assumptions range from
> definitions of
> happiness to strongly held and widespread myths about life with
> disability and
> parental rights to "choose" life or death for a disabled newborn.
> Interestingly, he came out against euthenasia for disabled children and
> adults based on their disabilities alone.  His claim was that they have
> the same rights as other "persons" (i.e. self aware beings).  The one
> sticking point here is that he wasn't clear whether he considered
> "severely cognitively disabled" (his term) people to be persons.
> 
> His talk was full of disability myths.  Of course, I already mentioned
> the deficit
> model from which he operates.  One that bothered me in particular was
> his use of
> "evidence" at birth to help parents make euthenasia decisions.  Several
> times he
> argued that parents can only use the evidence available to them (i.e.
> what they
> see at birth or before birth and what they "know" about the prognosis
> for what they
> see).  Even when Adrienne pointed his fallacious argument out to him, he
> didn't
> "get" it...he never recognized that he needs to question his notions of
> "evidence," "knowing something," and being able to "predict" outcomes
> based on
> diagnoses of conditions in a fetus or newborn.  He seems to think that
> evidence
> and knowing remain constant in all situations and contexts.  He doesn't
> have
> enough knowledge about disability to understand that what we see when we
> look at a
> visibly disabled person (his idea of evidence) isn't necessarily what is
> there.  Futhermore, his notions of intrinsic and extrinsic break down
> here and Adrienne attempted to illuminate this.  For example, he argued
> that disability is an intrinsic thing, therefore what is seen when one
> looks at a disabled newborn is, in fact, an intrinsic deficit.  Of
> course, Adrienne's counter was that this was not, in fact, what is
> necessarily seen.  Rather, she argued, the disability is an extrinsic
> thing, resulting from social conditions.
> 
> Singer is so far from the disability studies community that arguing the
> distinctions between disability and impairment are probably useless at
> this time.
> 
> The age old disability hierarchy was in play last night, too.  Singer
> definitely
> devalues "severely cognitively disabled" infants.  My reading of his
> argument is that he's quite comfortable allowing
> them to die.  I'm not sure he even believes these individuals can
> develop a sense
> of self awareness.  Here, too, he doesn't question the "evidence" he
> imagines when
> "viewing" such a person...he assumes that because he sees no
> recognizable signs of
> self awareness (e.g. the ability to talk aloud about the self), there is
> no self
> awareness.
> 
> This leads to one of his last distinctions, and one that I'm glad he
> made because
> it gives me exactly the "hook" I've been looking for to make my
> aesthetic of
> disability more practical.  He talked about the difference between
> biological
> lives and biographical lives.  This comes from someone else's research
> but I
> didn't catch the name.  A biological life is one that goes through life
> stages,
> including birth and death, but that being doesn't "write" its own
> biography, doesn't
> even recognize itself in order to write a biography.  Thereforme,
> killing a biological life is
> sometimes ethical.  The biographical life, on the contrary, is one that
> is
> constantly being written, shaped, a text that is in construction (how
> discursive
> of him).  If that life is killed, a biographical being is destroyed
> before the
>  text is completed.  That, he claims, is unethical.  My reading of this
> example and his larger argument is that severely cognitively disabled
> people (his
> phrase) are in the biological life category, not the biographical.  What
> a sad,
> misconception!
> 
> Well, enough said.  Adrienne held her own and called Singer on some
> issues.  He, too, called her on the issue of eating animals and anima
> rights and she graciously recognized
> her need to think through those matters more carefully.  He did not,
> however, recognize a
> need to think through his arguments more carefully.
> 
> Oh, Singer used a tactic that I thought was a bit inappropriate.  In his
> first statement, he read two excerpts from letters he's received
> from parents of children with "severe disabilities."  Both parents
> agreed with him
> and encouraged him to keep speaking out.  They're stories were
> typical:   they
> wished the doctors hadn't saved their children after birth, they don't
> feel
> adequate to raise their children, they regret having them, etc.
> Adrienne pointed out this tactic as a tactic and argued that,
> indeed, those parents probably shouldn't be raising those children but
> that
> doesn't mean they shouldn't be born or shouldn't be allowed to live.
> 
> There were no surprises last night.  Singer was extremely well spoken
> and
> probably came across as highly informed.  That really stings, given his
> misunderstandings.
> 
> Do others who watched have any different observations or contrasting
> responses?    Susan Gabel, PhD, University of Michigan
> 
> 
> 
> 



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