Professors of bioethics seem to be a breed of their own. NYU bioethics professor S. Matthew Liao is suggesting that the human body should be engineered to combat global warming. Now, Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne is demanding that heavy airline passengers, who cause an "environmental cost, as higher greenhouse-gas emissions exacerbate global warming", should pay more for their flights:
Is a person’s weight his or her own business? Should we simply become more accepting of diverse body shapes? I don’t think so. Obesity is an ethical issue, because an increase in weight by some imposes costs on others.
An increase in the use of jet fuel is not just a matter of financial cost; it also implies an environmental cost, as higher greenhouse-gas emissions exacerbate global warming. It is a minor example of how the size of our fellow-citizens affects us all. When people get larger and heavier, fewer of them fit onto a bus or train, which increases the costs of public transport. Hospitals now must order stronger beds and operating tables, build extra-large toilets, and even install extra-large refrigerators in their morgues — all adding to their costs.
Many of us are rightly concerned about whether our planet can support a human population that has surpassed seven billion. But we should think of the size of the human population not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of its mass. If we value both sustainable human well-being and our planet’s natural environment, my weight — and yours — is everyone’s business.
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Maybe somebody should take a closer look at what professors of bioethics are teaching students these days. One has a feeling that something has gone seriously wrong in the academic ivory towers of this scientific discipline.
This is what the same professor Singer thinks about abortion:
"we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life".
Singer states that arguments for or against abortion should be based on utilitarian calculation which weighs the preferences of a woman against the preferences of the fetus. In his view a preference is anything sought to be obtained or avoided; all forms of benefit or harm caused to a being correspond directly with the satisfaction or frustration of one or more of its preferences. Since a capacity to experience the sensations of suffering or satisfaction is a prerequisite to having any preferences at all, and a fetus, at least up to around eighteen weeks, says Singer, has no capacity to suffer or feel satisfaction, it is not possible for such a fetus to hold any preferences at all. In a utilitarian calculation, there is nothing to weigh against a woman's preferences to have an abortion; therefore, abortion is morally permissible.
Similar to his argument for abortion, Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—"rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"—and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living."[