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Rethinking Life and Death


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Peter Singer is Professor of Philosophy and Deputy Director of the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, Melbourne. He is the author of the Oxford Reader on Ethics, and Applied Ethics in the Oxford Readings in Philosophy. He is best-known for his books Animal Liberation, and The Way We Live Now.


In these brilliant essays, Singer (Animal Liberation), a founder of the Australian Animal Rights Movement, argues persuasively for a change in attitudes toward abortion, euthanasia, fetal transplants and animal rights. He considers that 20th-century advances in medicine, technology and anthropology have made traditional Judeo-Christian ethics irrelevant and hypocritical. He offers five new commandments: ``Recognise that the worth of human life varies'' because all life is not of equal value; ``Take responsibility for the consequences of your decisions'' because the old commandment ``never intentionally to take innocent human life'' is too absolutist to deal with all the circumstances that can arise; ``Respect a person's desire to live or die'' because ``incurably ill people who ask doctors to help them die are not harming others''; ``Bring children into the world only if they are wanted'' because being fruitful and multiplying now causes serious overpopulation; ``Do not discriminate on the basis of species'' because what is ``human'' can no longer be demonstrated to apply to Homo sapiens alone. Singer analyzes the history of traditional arguments about life and death, with man as the center of the universe, and makes a forceful case for his new ethic. (Apr.)

`With the philosopher's commendable lack of concern for the impact of his ideas, Peter Singer has written a wonderfully provoking book.' Dr Brice Avery, Catholic Herald `a work that promises to be deeply controversial and even shocking and, in part, it certainly is' Times Higher

Singer (Animal Liberation, LJ 3/15/90. 2d ed.) calls for a revolution in ethical thinking about life and death. Human beings, in his view, form merely one species among others, and obligations to humans do not always outweigh those to animals. Within the human species, not all life has equal worth. Singer's position has radical applications in practice, which he is at pains to spell out. In his view, people whose brains no longer function may have their vital organs removed, even if they are not legally dead. Abortion is almost always morally permissible and active euthanasia often justifiable. Even infanticide receives a sympathic hearing. Singer writes well and offers a detailed discussion of important issues in medical ethics. But he fails to address seriously objections to his brand of utilitarianism and inclines too readily to dismiss ordinary morality as "speciesism." For academic collections.‘David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio

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