There was some very bad news in the February 1999 issue of First Things. Peter Singer, professor of philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has been offered the “Professorship of Bioethics” at Princeton in the U.S.A. Singer (not to be confused with the Canadian Peter Singer) has been called the “darling” of Monash’s medical establishment in new reproductive technologies. Since 1980, when Candice, Australia’s first “test-tube” baby was born, Monash has been at the cutting edge of in vitro fertilization and human embryo research (accompanied by a financial bonanza). What pearls of learning can Princeton’s students in bioethics glean from their new professor?

Peter Singer’s views on the value of human life are well known. Sometimes in collaboration with his scientist colleagues, he has written that it is better to experiment on human embryos than on rabbits; that ranking human beings above animals is “speciesism,” which is as “evil as racism”; and that a creature is not a person until it is sentient, thinking, and aware of itself as an independent being with a past and a future and the ability to interact with others.

The “Singer School” suggests that this “creature” (which others call an embryo, fetus, baby, infant, etc.) becomes a person at about age three. But does loss of memory or mobility or feeling mean that one is no longer a “person”? Singer’s statement opens the door to many evils, such as embryo vivisection, euthanasia, and infanticide.

Amongst the other horrors supported by Singer are embryo experimentation; the creation of embryos to provide spare human parts; cloning; the use of artificial wombs; genetic engineering; surrogate motherhood; freezing of ova, sperm, and embryos; and IVF for lesbians.

It is relevant to add that Peter Singer was very successful in influencing Australian human rights rulings, and, according to many writers, he has held sway in government circles in Victoria.

In response to public demand for legal restrictions on new reproductive and genetic technologies, some of the state governments in Australia have imposed prohibitions, with limited success. However, when the Australian federal Senate Select Commission heard testimony from experts from around the world, and recommended national restrictions on IVF-related procedures, IVF teams led by the Monash group threatened to move to the United States. The reason? Money. Fortunes were at stake.

By the mid-1980s the IVF unit at Monash University and its affiliate Epworth Hospital was owned by a profit-making corporation, Infertility Medical Centre Pty. Ltd. This corporation also had a wholly-owned subsidiary, IVF Australia (USA) registered in Delaware. The group had first option world-wide rights to market Monash University technology and to provide information to other IVF units overseas on payment of fees, royalties, and possibly patent rights.

Not surprisingly, this blatant commercialization was strongly condemned on many grounds, by many groups, including geneticists, the American Fertility Society, other IVF teams, and many medical organizations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists condemned the Monash actions as unethical and unprofessional.

Peter Singer’s openly expressed contempt for the value of human life permeated the Monash-Epworth team. He is now to teach bioethics at Princeton. The term bioethics comes from bio, a Greek word meaning “life,” and ethics, which is the science of morals or moral principles. What moral principles concerning life and death matters will Singer discuss with his students?

I was told that the Roman Catholic Church penalty for procuring an abortion is greater than that for other any homicide. Is this true?